Tobey McGuire – At the height of his popularity he won’t talk about himself but then he opens up and explains why

                         June 2004  By Philip Berk

The last time I interviewed Tobey Maguire, I remarked how great he looked, in fact better than I could ever remember seeing him. 

At previous press conference  — is it because he’s a vegan? — he invariably showed up feeling under the weather (he was running a high temperature when he did the Wonder Boys interview) but for the Seabiscuit junket he looked the picture of health.

But this time I was apprehensive.

The night before I had seen Spider-Man 2, and even though the film is a blast, I sensed Tobey’s uneasiness on screen. Gone was his ingenuous, youthful innocence that made Peter Parker so endearing; he looked troubled.

In person he doesn’t look any better, with dark circles around his eyes.

And he’s lost a lot of weight.

Settling down for the press conference, uneasily I might add, it’s soon apparent that he’s not going to talk about his relationship with  girlfriend Jennifer Meyer, the daughter of Universal’s CEO Ron Meyer, who he’s been dating for over a year. 

Peter Parker has trouble expressing his feels. How does he express his feelings? 

“What do you mean by express my feelings?” he wants to know.

Feelings of love?

“How do I tell somebody I appreciate or love them or something like that?” 

After a moment, he continues, “That’s too personal.”

How about in general?

“Let me rephrase my answer. That’s too personal.”

If he had feelings for someone, how would he let her know? Love poems, coffee in bed?

“That all sounds very nice to me. I’m feeling romanced by your ideas right now, you’ve got me swooning. I’m confused.”

Is Spider-Man getting married?

“I don’t know.”

Is Tobey getting married?

“Wow! Is that like a trick question. Maybe you can catch me off guard, and I will answer the question.”

You’re too smart for that?

Mildly annoyed he responds, “Thank you. I appreciate what you’re saying.”

Okay, let’s rephrase it. What are the qualities he likes about his girl friend?

“What’s the next question?” 

Does he still have time to hang out with (male) friends like Leonardo DiCaprio?

“I won’t answer that question either.”

How come? I ask him. Over the years he’s always been so open. Now suddenly he won’t answer questions. Is he less happy now that he’s one of the world’s most famous celebrities?

The  question seems to sober him.

“I feel like I’m just starting to really get comfortable with all that,” he replies after a moment’s reflection.”

Then he continues, “After Spider-Man, it was a little jarring. I didn’t know how to react to it. It was a little strange. But I don’t take what’s written about me, especially that which is not true,  personally. What does get to me is getting in my car and realizing a few blocks later that I’ve got three or four cars following me. And you’re trying to figure out how do I loose them?  Then if I plan a vacation or go to dinner it’s like, ‘Let’s go here,’ but I don’t know if I want to go there because there’s usually fifteen paparazzi outside that restaurant. If I go there it will be a nightmare, and we’ll have to sit back in the corner somewhere, so they can’t photograph me from outside. It’s stuff like that makes me uncomfortable. Just recently I’ve gotten a little more comfortable with it. It no longer affects me, but it still influences all my decisions. Finally I’m letting go. And in terms of being happy, I think so. I think I’m interested in life. I feel privileged to be alive.”

Yet he’s forced to live the life of a recluse?

“It’s not quite that bad. It just means that I don’t go to anything that’s unnecessary, which I’m kind of glad of. I will go to something I’m really interested in, but I have no interest in going and posing for pictures. It just doesn’t interest me. And when the paparazzi follow me around, I don’t like what they’re doing; so it’s really a principle issue. I don’t want to give them photographs, and in fact unless it’s really inconvenient for me, I will make sure they don’t get a photograph because they’re extremely rude, the things they say to you. I was at a Laker game or something. I was walking out, and some kids come up to me for my autograph and I gave them my autograph because they’re kids. I don’t give autographs to the autograph people because they go out and sell it. But then I realized these autograph people were having the kids bring up things to sign and it really pissed me off. Now I ask them their name and I’ll sign on top of where they write it. And if I don’t sign for these guys, they go crazy and start saying nasty things to me, like “F— you f—— Spider-Man. I hope it bombs. The Lakers suck!’ I heard this one guy say the worst thing to me. Alicia Silverstone was there, and he said, ‘I hope your dog dies.’ It was so appalling to me. Then the guy says, ‘I hope your tire blows up on the way home and you crash and die.’ This time I reacted. Usually I don’t do anything. I rolled down my window, and I said some stuff to that fellow. I had to restrain myself from getting out of the car. But I’m aware they want to antagonize you to do something physical so they can sue you or whatever. So now I don’t engage with them at all. And that’s why I absolutely refuse to give them photographs because I won’t have those kind of people making money off me.”

Obviously like Peter Parker in Spider-man 2, he has to suffer a lot.

“I don’t know that I really suffer that much in my real life, not that I don’t feel pain or that things don’t frustrate me, but it’s all mostly trivial. I’m frustrated when the Lakers lose  — but I don’t know how much that matters — and I’m also a little frustrated that because of this press conference I’ll be late for tonight’s Laker game.” 

(The much favored NBA team went on to lose that game and ultimately the series.)

I remember three years ago he delighted in  talking about his family.

“I took my mom and two little brothers with me to Orlando, Florida, to promote Spider-man. We went to Disney World where they have a Spider Man ride, and that was a real treat. My mom was just floating, and my little brothers were very excited so that was kinda great.” 

And when asked about them, he was more than obliging.

“I have four half brothers, although I grew up pretty much as an only child. My parents were very young when they had me. My father was twenty and my mother eighteen. And after they broke up, I would go back and forth between them.”

Were either of them in show business?

“My father has been a cook and in construction,” he told me. “And my mother had office jobs; she dabbled a little in acting, took classes. But the closest anyone came to the industry was my mother’s father, who was a construction worker for Disney. He helped build Small World and Abe Lincoln at Disneyworld.”

Even the subject of what he looks for in a girl friend was fair game.

“I just like a genuine person who I can communicate with and who has a certain emotional and spiritual intelligence.”

Now suddenly, everything is off limits.

How come? I ask him.

Forgetting what he’d said in the past he replies, “I never talked about that stuff. Even when people didn’t care, I didn’t talk about it. As a matter of fact, I remember at the Ice Storm premiere people were trying to get some pictures of me, and when I walked away they were like, ‘Who do you think you are!’ and I said. ‘I don’t care. I’m just not interested in it. It’s not my thing.”

But isn’t it part of his job?

“I know there are people, you see them, they’re all over TV, the news, MTV; they like that stuff. I don’t. I am here to do my job. I don’t mind talking to the media, but walking the red carpet is not how I choose to spend my time. I know there are a lot of people who do. I see celebrities, when they see a camera, they run up to the camera. I’m always baffled by that. I mean, I chuckle. I just go, ‘My Lord, how badly do people want attention!’ Not that I don’t have some secret desire to tell kids in the seventh grade who didn’t think I was cool, ‘Look now, I’m a movie star. Ha ha ha.’  Maybe I have a little bit of that, but you won’t ever see me running after cameras. I’m just not interested!”

In Spider-Man 2, Spidey is finally unmasked. He on the hand seems to be hiding behind his mask. What does he think?

“It’s not that I’m hiding from anything. There just are certain situations I avoid. If I go to a premiere, I won’t pose on the red carpet. If I have to go somewhere that has press, I try to slip in the back. And if I can’t do that, I go to only those things I’m interested in. Generally I  avoid that stuff,  but in terms of living my life, I still go out to a restaurant or go to a museum or run around the city or whatever.”

After spending the better part of last year making the film, what does he do to reward himself? 

“I like to go on a vacation. I like tropical locations like Hawaii. I like going to places where there’s nice weather, a beach or something, where you just hang out for four or five days, and not do anything. I don’t always do that, but it sounds good to me.” 

How about colder climates. Does he ever go skiing? 

“I do. I haven’t been able to do much of that recently, but I do ski, and I’ve tried snowboarding a few times.”

His 29th birthday is coming up soon. Any elaborate plans?

“I’m not someone who wants some big hoopla. I like being with my friends. I’m more interested in being with people I generally care about, than that ego thing, where you’re surrounded by people who think you’re cool.”

How about philanthropy. He’s always talked about giving away some of the millions he’s earned.

Does he feel a responsibility?

“I do and I don’t. I don’t know exactly what I want to do. I mean, I want to give not just financially but of my time and creativity and intelligence, but I’m not sure what it is.” 

Why has it taken him so long to make up his mind?

“I guess it’s because I don’t know precisely what I want to do. Will it be for an organization or a foundation that already exists or do I want to create something and spread it out a little bit. I  am not quite sure yet; in the mean time I may do some things here and there, but I also want to proceed cautiously.”

Finally I ask him, Is it possible to have it all:  money,  fame, and personal happiness?

”I don’t know if we can have it all; all you can do is try to find some kind of a balance. Life is about finding balance.“

For the record, before  the first Spider-Man opened, when asked if he was prepared for the media circus that greeted his friend Leonardo after Titanic opened, he answered, “To be quite honest, I’m excited about it. I can’t wait for people to see the film. I can’t wait to sneak into a theatre and feel the energy of the audience.”

Will he be able to protect his privacy? 

“I feel I can manage it,” he replied. “I’ve been around. There’ll be a period of a few months when it’ll be really extreme,  but after that it’ll die down.”  

Little did he know!

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