Tobey Maguire

Seabiscuit

Interviewed by Stella Papamichael

“I think I'm more competitive in games and sporting things than with my career ”

Despite an early start to his acting career, it was 1997 when Tobey Maguire finally 'made it', starring in The Ice Storm. Probably most famous for swinging between buildings in Spider-Man, he now takes on a role more his own size as a jockey in the true story of Seabiscuit.

Why has this racehorse became such a legend, and why did you think his story would make a great film?

Other than being an exciting horse racing movie, it's also a movie about these broken down people who come together, become a family, and succeed together. The country was in a very difficult time, during the Depression. This is a classic underdog tale of a horse that was a loser at the start of his career. He didn't look like a winner. The jockey also didn't have a winning record and was blind in one eye. They all just came together as underdogs and they became this great tale. I think the country was looking for heroes at the time to give them some hope and inspire them.

Did you consider the risks involved in getting up on a horse for months on end?

I talked to Gary [Ross, director] about how that was all going to be done. Although I was on horseback and did go out on the racetrack and gallop a racehorse, I was never in the most dangerous situations. Doing that would not only have been dangerous for myself, but for the people around me. The other guys are professional jockeys and I don't belong in a tight pack with them. To be honest with you, I never really considered the risks involved. I guess it would have run through my head, but it never occurred to me not take the part because of that.

How did you prepare physically for the role?

I had to just diet and exercise. I was burning fat and muscle. I just needed to look as skinny as I could.

How many horses were there playing Seabiscuit?

There were around eight horses. Seabiscuit had different behaviours. He liked to sleep a lot. He liked to eat a lot. He was very temperamental at times. So we needed horses that could portray all the different aspects of his character.

There's a lot of buzz surrounding this film. How do you feel about the finished product?

I'm really proud of it. I love movies when you see male characters who also have a sensitive side. I think a lot of movies tend to lack that. All the characters here have a tough side and a sensitive side, and that's something I really appreciate.

You developed a friendship with Gary Stevens - one of the jockeys in the film...

Yeah [laughs]. Gary Stevens, who plays the jockey George Wolf in the movie, was acting for the first time. He was green to the profession, and we were doing a scene and he does such a good job on this one take that everyone was applauding. So I went up to him afterwards and I said, "Gary, uh, that was really good. Really good. But you don't understand the etiquette of how things work here on the set. You're going to have to tone your performance down a bit.... it was a little much, and you're stealing my thunder." He thought I was serious, and said "Oh my God. I'm so sorry, man! I won't let it happen again!" That kicked off a really fun relationship for us and we would tease each other all the time.

Do you feel pretty secure of your footing in the Hollywood hierarchy?

I feel fine. I can be competitive in a healthy way, but I think I'm more competitive in games and sporting things more so than with my career. I've always felt comfortable. I've never had a tremendous amount of fear that I wasn't going to be able to work. In a way, maybe I didn't deserve to have that attitude, but I am grateful for my opportunities. It's a good thing to be able to work with the people I want to work with, and that's the main thing for me. I got to work with Gary again [after Pleasantville] and with Jeff Bridges, and Chris Cooper. We also got the crew together that we wanted to work with, and that's what's amazing to me. In terms of pecking order and other actors out there, listen: there are certain actors whose movies I look forward to seeing, so I feel fine about it.

Seabiscuit is released in UK cinemas on Friday 31st October 2003.