Tobey Maguire is about as sorry as a movie star can be.
In a few short weeks this spring, he got himself dismissed from the next installment of "Spider-Man," had part of Hollywood's power elite work toward his reinstatement, won back his job, fired his agent and then was assiduously courted by the head of every major agency in town. He's back crawling the wall again, chastened by the whole experience.
"I feel like I learned a lesson," he says. "The movie is the most important thing."
The tale of how Maguire went from out-of-work webslinger to repentant star is a brief but engrossing saga of modern-day Hollywood. It takes place in a world where an actor's power can easily be miscalculated amid the multimillion-dollar paydays that accompany the big franchise movies driving the industry.
The first movie grossed more than $820 million worldwide, and in March, as filming on the inevitable sequel was underway, Maguire went astray. He had a notion that Columbia Pictures would arrange the shooting schedule for this costly and crucial project on his terms, to allow him to deal with a recurring problem: a bad back. "I was going ... 'They're going to have to make some accommodation for me,' " he says. Wrong. He was promptly dropped. He and Columbia Chairman Amy Pascal contend it was solely because of the concerns about his condition and poor communication on that subject. Even though he has an array of representatives that sounds like the setup for a Hollywood joke -- an agent, a manager and a lawyer -- Maguire takes full responsibility, saying his attitude going into the sequel was "inappropriate."
Whether he was let go simply because of a painful herniated disc or for more complicated reasons, Maguire had a narrow escape. He was saved, in part, by a highly unusual circumstance: He is dating the daughter of Universal chief Ron Meyer. Meyer not only convinced Maguire that he was making the mistake of his life to let the role go without a fight, but he was also willing to lobby on Maguire's behalf. Although Pascal minimizes Meyer's role, sources with firsthand knowledge of these events make it plain that Meyer used a career's worth of experience and good relationships to help get Maguire back into a film that is a major franchise for a rival studio.
For Maguire, the stakes were extremely high. In the past, rising stars have seen their fortunes change when they did not reprise their roles in major action franchises. It happened to Alec Baldwin after he balked at continuing as Jack Ryan in the Paramount Pictures films based on Tom Clancy's bestsellers. And it happened to Val Kilmer after a troublesome turn as Batman.
Maguire was seen as vulnerable in this case because, unlike his close friend Leonardo DiCaprio, he's not a conventional leading man. "You can be a really great actor without being a movie star," says a leading agent not directly involved in the situation. Had he not returned to "Spider-Man," that agent continues, "Tobey Maguire the actor would have survived. But Tobey Maguire the multimillion-dollar movie star? I don't know." Many also believe Maguire, 27, was especially replaceable in the "Spider-Man" sequel because, for a film of this nature, the concept overshadows the actor. After all, a number of actors have played James Bond -- and he works without a mask.
Maguire's career has had an enviable trajectory in the past few years. He cemented his claim to legitimacy with roles in such films as "The Ice Storm," "The Cider House Rules" and "Wonder Boys" before winning the role of "Spider-Man." Many doubted that he was right for the part. He is so small that "Cider House Rules" was shot to minimize the height difference between him and co-star Charlize Theron. He also follows a meatless diet -- his contract requires that his chef travel with him -- and that made it harder for him to bulk up in a manner befitting a superhero.
The skeptics were silenced when "Spider-Man" opened to $115 million and went on to become one of the biggest blockbusters of all time.
Before starting on "The Amazing Spider-Man," the sequel, he worked on "Seabiscuit," the highly anticipated film about the legendary racehorse. (Universal will release the movie in July.) Maguire plays jockey Red Pollard, and he says the filmmakers did what they could to keep his back from bothering him while that film was in production. But as he prepared to move on to the second "Spider-Man," he got nervous. "I was getting frustrated out of pain," he says. "I came out of 'Seabiscuit' going, 'Wow, I hope I don't have to do this movie and be in a lot of pain.' "
At this point, Maguire says, he made some mistakes. Although he felt obligated to disclose his back pain, he says, he failed to discuss the situation appropriately with "Spider-Man" producer Laura Ziskin or director Sam Raimi. "A lot of this problem comes from me not having gone to them personally and trying to resolve it," he says in his first public comments on the dust-up.