Tobey Maguire (John Shearer / Invision…)
Actors routinely end up on the cutting room floor, particularly lesser-known names in small parts. But the performer excised at the last minute from director Ang Lee's upcoming release "Life of Pi" was neither obscure nor played a minor character: It was Tobey Maguire, who co-starred as an author in a crucial role that opens and closes the movie.
The problem? Maguire was simply too famous for the role, meaning test audiences were overly focused on the actor himself, rather than his character.
Premiering Friday night at AFI Fest, "Life of Pi" is a 3-D adaptation of Yann Martel’s bestselling novel about a shipwrecked 16-year-old named Piscine Molitor Patel (played by newcomer Suraj Sharma), who is forced to share a lifeboat with a Royal Bengal tiger. In screenwriter David Magee’s adaptation, an adult Pi (played by Irrfan Khan) relates what happened at sea to a novelist looking for inspiration.
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Lee, who won the directing Academy Award for "Brokeback Mountain," cast the "Spider-Man" alumnus as the writer. It was not the first Lee-Maguire collaboration: The actor had lead roles in the filmmaker's movies "The Ice Storm" and "Ride with the Devil.”
Lee shot all of Maguire's scenes, and for a while the actor was very prominent in the film. But when 20th Century Fox tested "Life of Pi" earlier this year ahead of its Nov. 21 release in theaters, the feedback from research screenings showed that moviegoers were talking about Maguire as a real person, not the fictional role he played.
"They kept referring to Tobey, and not the character," said Elizabeth Gabler, whose Fox 2000 Pictures production unit made "Life of Pi" for parent studio 20th Century Fox. "And [the confusion] was especially so with kids," Gabler added.
Lee recast the Maguire role with British actor Rafe Spall, who played William Shakespeare in "Anonymous" and had parts in "Prometheus" and "Shaun of the Dead," and reshot all of the sequences of the writer with the adult Pi.
Though it may have been a tough break for Maguire, it's not as if he's not busy with other movies. He stars as Nick Carraway in "The Great Gatsby," due from director Baz Luhrmann next summer, and has a role in writer-director Jason Reitman's adaptation of the Joyce Maynard novel "Labor Day," also due out next year.
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