I've Learned How to Survive


I can't wait! I think I have a thing for geeky guys :)
By Robert Masello
Published: April 8, 2007

When you’re tracking down Spider-Man—a.k.a. Tobey Maguire—you expect a little intrigue. In his office just above Sunset Boulevard, Maguire has no sign on the door—only an intercom button. Press it, and you are buzzed into the hushed lair of the 31-year-old actor who has laid claim to what is arguably the richest superhero role in Hollywood history.

Just don’t expect a superhero entrance.

“Hi,” he says, shuffling into the conference room with an armful of cobalt-blue water bottles. “ Want one of these?” (In Hollywood, the offering of bottled water is a ritual akin to passing the Native American peace pipe.) In person, Maguire is slight—maybe 5 feet 8 or so—and with his thick mop of neat brown hair, he will probably always remind you of a kid who has just been to the barbershop. The white sweatshirt, jeans and sneakers do nothing to offset that impression. But talking to him does.

Just back from a photo shoot—where he was, of course, shrouded in cobwebs—he is wryly amused and accepting of his fate. “Yeah, I do get a lot of spidery stuff in my life,” he admits in his very distinctive voice—high and scratchy, like an old record. The conference room, adorned with Spider-Man snow globes, lunch pails and cereal boxes, makes the point. “It’s probably going to get insane again now,” he says, laughing about the imminent May 4 opening of Spider-Man 3.

Not that Maguire, who reportedly earned about $17 million for this latest installment, is complaining. He has worn the spandex well. And barring the occasional bump in the road—a testy contract renegotiation before undertaking Spider-Man 2—he has taken his lumps as Peter Parker, the high school nerd who contracts miraculous powers from the bite of a bioengineered spider, with consummate grace. Despite all the acrobatics, he says, “Probably the hardest thing I’v e had to do as Spider-Man was kiss Kirsten Dunst.” Come again? Maguire laughs and hurries to explain himself:

“When we shot that scene where we kissed in the alleyway and I was hanging upside down, it was really late at night, it was raining, and the whole time I had rainwater running up my nose. Then, when Kirsten rolled back the wet mask, she cut off the air completely.” (OK, I get it, but I’m not shedding any tears for him.)

Still, life for Maguire hasn’t all been kissing Kirsten Dunst. When he was born in Santa Monica, Calif., his mother was only 18 and his father, a cook, was 20. By the time Tobey was 3, they’d separated for good. As a result, Tobey bounced around from one relative’s home to another throughout his childhood, from Southern California to Oregon to Washington.

“They were just babies,” he says of his young parents, “doing whatever the heck they thought they should be doing.” Maguire says it with great compassion, the way a dad might explain away his own kids’ misbehavior. “But I always felt that there were people in my life who cared about me—that I was special to them. It’s very complicated. But the truth of the matter is, I realized at a young age that I was responsible for myself. My feelings of love or security or happiness—they were all in my own hands. I had plenty of difficult emotional and scary times as a kid, but I don’t dwell on it.” And then he adds with great conviction, “I am not a victim.”

Indeed, Maguire gives off a surprisingly businesslike, though always affable, vibe: Despite all the roles he has played as lost and forlorn young men in everything from The Ice Storm and Wonder Boys to The Cider House Rules, he comes across in person as thoughtful, deliberate and downright driven. “If there’s one thing I know,” he says, “it’s that I don’t want to play any more wide-eyed high school kids who are awkward with girls!

“Growing up the way I did, I had a very serious ambition to make some money, to have some security and comfort in my life,” he adds.

And $100 was all it took to set him on his way. When he was 11, Tobey was planning to enroll in a cooking class at school. Instead, his mother, who’d had some showbiz dreams of her own, offered him $100 to try acting classes. “It was the best money she ever spent,” he says. Soon Tobey started auditioning for everything from TV sitcoms to movies, and he began landing parts pretty much from the get-go.

“When I first started being successful at this, financially speaking, I was very conservative with my money. That was definitely a product of where I came from. You know those Lotto winners who win big and then blow through all the money? That would never happen to me. I just never wanted to put myself in the position where my spending was so huge that I had to keep making movie after movie. My mentality about that has changed a bit,” he concedes, now that he’s a bona fide superstar.

Besides, Maguire now has a family to plan for. He’s engaged to Jennifer Meyer, an L.A. jewelry designer who also happens to be the daughter of Ron Meyer, the president of Universal Studios, and together they have a 5-month-old daughter, Ruby. “L.A. is my home, and I have a lot of friends here,” Maguire says, “but I’m at that stage where I have to start thinking about where I want Ruby to grow up and go to school. And even though L.A. is pretty laid-back, maybe it would be a good idea to try a different, less ambitious kind of atmosphere.”

For a guy who dropped out of school after 10th grade, Maguire exudes a sophistication and maturity far beyond his years and his looks. Whatever he takes on, he takes on for real. An ardent vegetarian for 14 years, he even has forsworn a leather interior in his new car (“I ordered it with canvas”) and also is starting to wear shoes “made from hemp and things like that.”

Not to make too much of it, but it’s worth noting that the name of his most famous character is Spider-Man, not Spider-Boy. Those pale-blue eyes look like they’ve seen a lot, and when he says, “I feel like you could drop me anywhere in the world, anonymously, and I’d figure out how to survive,” you believe him. “If you stripped away everything I’ve got—the money, the fame, the possessions, everything—I know that I’d find a way to get along,” Maguire declares in a confident but not boastful way, “because, basically, that’s what I’ve had to do all my life.”