It's a wonder-ful life for young star

Hollywood Stories

Tobey Maguire is regarded as one of the best young actors in recent years. Such respected directors as Ang Lee, Lasse Hallstrm, and Curtis Hanson have all seconded this conviction by starring him in their films.

Maguire, soft spoken and slender, still mirrors the unabashed excitement of a teenager at the senior prom. He has made three films in the past 18 months: Lee's "Ride with the Devil," Hallstrm's "The Cider House Rules," and the Hanson drama "Wonder Boys," opening next week.

The newest teams Maguire with Oscar-winner Michael Douglas. His starring role in "Cider House" - which was just nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture - paired him with another Academy Award-winner, Michael Caine.

"I'm really with the pros," he enthuses. "I wouldn't think of arriving on the set without being on time, knowing my lines, and having 10 different ways to play the scene."

After this spate of movies, the young actor is taking some time off. "I began to feel burned out," he says. "I just wanted to get a little place, buy some furniture, and cook dinners for my friends. I have faith that nothing will be lost by relaxing. I act as if I have all the opportunities in the world. I think this helps to manifest it in my life.

"Recently I was sitting in my newly rented house mentally turning things down - roles which may not have been offered me," he says. "I'd hear about this or that part, and something in me just said, 'You don't really want to do that.' People around me may think I'm crazy, but I just have faith that the right stuff will come to me...." He pauses, his boyish face lights up, and he adds, "For me, that's the way it happens."

How it all began is a case in point. Maguire's dad had always worked as a chef, so in the seventh grade, the youngster decided to enroll in a cooking class at school. His mom told him, "Tobey, I'll give you $100 if you will take a drama class instead."

"Do you know what $100 means to a 10-year-old kid?" Tobey asks, slightly lifting his eyebrows. The amazing thing was that after a week he really enjoyed the class. He began looking for ways to begin an acting career.

What sealed the deal was his first audition. He was 13. A casting director was looking for three boys to play fans in a Rodney Dangerfield TV special. Maguire got the job and his first paycheck.

"Since I was a kid, they sent my mom with me to Las Vegas to film the two scenes I was in. I remember we got $50 a day, each of us, a salary, plus a fancy room and all the food we wanted. It was so exciting, everything was larger than life. As fan No. 2, I even had dialogue. When Dangerfield jumped off the high diving board into the pool, I said, 'Wow! Look at that!' "

Maguire enjoyed even the cattle call auditions. Now in his early 20s, he says, "I look back and think some of the things were embarrassing. But at the time, I thought they were sensational."

He once auditioned for Nickelodeon's "Hotrod Brown, Class Clown." Most of the other kids were experienced actors. "After my fifth audition, just as I was leaving, the director called me over. 'You know, I really like you, and I sort of want to go with you for the part, [but] everybody else around me is pretty concerned, because you are new. You would be a real risk. This other kid has been there, done it.' "

Fourteen-year-old Maguire looked the director right in the eye and said, " 'Sometimes in life, it's good to take risks.' I knew I got him; I saw a light go on in his eyes....

"With every little step along the way, it's been exciting.... I know I lack faith in some areas of my life, and it's something I'm conscious of and working on. But I do believe in a higher power that is basically my supply - and it's an infinite supply, therefore I can never be lacking. It's infinite so I'm completely taken care of."

As Maguire leans back in his chair, it's evident he has a story to tell. Maguire and actor Leonardo DiCaprio ("Titanic") are the same age, and through the years have auditioned for the same roles. In 1993, when they read with Robert De Niro for the movie "This Boy's Life," there were several roles to be cast. DiCaprio and Maguire promised if one of them was selected for the top spot, the other would help get a role for his friend. "Leo got the starring role in the movie, and put in a good word for me. I got a smaller role...."

Maguire and DiCaprio have remained fast friends. It's ironic that when the script for "The Cider House Rules" was sent to DiCaprio, he turned it down. It was then offered to Maguire (who had won favorable notice in "Pleasantville") and it's proved to be a starmaking role.

How is Maguire handling his new stardom - after all, he is billed right under Douglas's name in "Wonder Boys"?

He's into buying furniture, and having pieces designed: a dresser to fit perfectly into a closet, a tiny table for his dining room that expands when family comes over.

When he wants to go out to dinner, he now has the luxury of hosting his friends. Plus he can give gifts to his two younger brothers. "My eight-year-old brother came to me on Christmas Eve asking if he should write to Santa Claus. 'What would you write?' I asked. 'For a game, Nintendo 64,' he replied. I told him it was too late. Santa was already loaded up and on his way."

Maguire, who as a kid had spent hours playing video games, had already bought the Nintendo and had it wrapped and waiting under the tree. "I try not to spoil [my brothers], but I remember when I was their age it was all, 'What are you bringing me?' Then as you get older, you begin to think, 'What can I give back?' "

Tobey Maguire is giving back much by sharing his talent.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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