Spider-Man 2, which opens in theatres June 30, was almost made without its star Tobey Maguire, Newsweek reports in the June 28 issue (on newsstands Monday, June 21). Under pressure from Columbia Pictures to get the sequel on screens this summer and with expectations high that the movie should surpass it’s box-office record of $820 million worldwide, director Sam Raimi reached the conclusion that his star would be unable to meet them. After much agonizing, he phoned Maguire. “Given this situation, I don’t think we can make the picture with you,” Raimi told him. “I have to hire somebody else.”
In it’s exclusive cover story, “The Secrets of Spider-Man 2,” Newsweek reports the tangled backstory of the making of what is sure to be the summer’s hottest movie. For a brief time in 2003, the future of that franchise — the entire weight of the “Spider-Man” juggernaut — balanced on the fragile spine of one 28-year-old actor. Maguire had suffered from recurrent back problems for years. As the Spider-Man sequel was gearing up, he was just coming off “Seabiscuit,” a movie for which he’d had to lose a lot of weight and do a lot of horse riding, neither of which helped his condition. “My back was the worst it had ever been,” he says. “I looked at the stunts I was going to have to do for ‘Spider-Man 2,’ which were going to be three times as difficult as the stunts on the first movie, and it became a little overwhelming.” And that became an overwhelming problem, reports Senior Writer Sean Smith. Soon, Maguire found himself fighting to hold on to his Spider-Man tights.
At the time, Maguire was finishing “Seabiscuit,” working 14-hour days, six days a week. He was also in the middle of contract negotiations with the studio. His agent asked for $25 million, or 10 percent of the gross-whichever was bigger. The studio said no. In the middle of those negotiations, Raimi, who was prepping the special effects for Spider-Man 2, asked Maguire to come in on his day off to do about 10 hours of scans, in which computers would map every point on the actor’s body to help create a digital double. Maguire declined. “I was on the verge of being sick, my back was killing me, and I was like, ‘If I go do this, ‘Seabiscuit’ is going to suffer’,” he says. “It was a tricky situation. I didn’t want to hurt the movie. I didn’t want to offend Sam. I was just trying to balance everything in my life. So I postponed it for three weeks, and they got pissed off. I didn’t realize that at the time.” He didn’t realize it because he wasn’t talking to Raimi or anyone at Columbia directly, but through his representatives, Smith reports. Meanwhile, Raimi and top Columbia execs were doing the same.
Eventually the studio agreed to give Maguire a raise, bringing his total salary package to about $17 million. But that didn’t solve the problems. When Maguire began preparing for Spider-Man 2, he realized his stunt work was going to be much more intense, something Raimi had warned Maguire’s reps about. Maguire’s doctors were concerned, and his reps began insisting on limiting the amount and difficulty of his stunts. Eventually, Raimi says, “it got to me that if Tobey’s back was hurt seriously it could cause paralysis. I didn’t want to ask an actor to do something that would cause permanent injury. Yet, as a director, I didn’t want to compromise my movie. I realized, I’m going to have to lose Tobey.” Hence the phone call telling Maguire he was out.
Around the industry, speculation was rampant that the actor had exaggerated his back problems in an effort to hold the studio hostage for even more money. Columbia chairman Amy Pascal won’t say whether she agrees with that analysis. “I love Tobey, and I did not want to replace him,” she says. “Did he have a bad back? Yes. Was it exacerbated by the situation on ‘Seabiscuit’? I think it was. Was it exacerbated by the fact that we didn’t want to pay him more money? You can ask him that.” Maguire insists it wasn’t. “All that stuff about money was total bull—-,” he says. “I was never worried about my compensation.” He pauses. “But you know, on the first movie I was like an excited little monkey. I’m a passionate actor-maybe obnoxiously so sometimes. On this movie I wasn’t talking to them. I think [Raimi and the studio] probably felt like, ‘What happened to Tobey?’ But when I figured out what was happening, I dealt with it.” By then, of course, someone had leaked the news that actor Jake Gyllenhaal might replace Maguire to the media, and the story blew up around them. Fences were finally mended in March 2003, at a meeting between Pascal, Raimi and Maguire at Pascal’s home, and Maguire was rehired.
By the time production began last spring, everyone was grateful to have the mess behind them. They even managed to have a sense of humor about it. In one scene in Spider-Man 2, (Spoiler Ahead) Maguire plummets from a building and crashes into parked cars. He hobbles away, moaning, “Oh, my back! My back!” Mention it, and Raimi laughs. “My brother wrote that,” he says. “Tobey was really game for it. He’s not afraid of poking fun at himself.” (Spoiler Ends)
Spider-Man 2 retains the angst that plagued Peter Parker in the first movie. “Sam’s smart,” says Dunst. “He knows that you might spend five hours on one special-effects shot, but at the end of the day, if it’s not emotional, nobody cares.” That might have worried some studios, but Columbia Pictures was onboard. “In the past, these kinds of movies tended to focus just on who the next villain was going to be,” says Pascal. “But the heart of ‘Spider-Man’ is Peter Parker. It’s about making sure his story is as complicated and angst- ridden as it was before, if not more so.”
And it seems to work, Newsweek reports. In a review of the film, Senior Editor Jeff Giles writes that “Sam Raimi has made a terrific film” that is smart and deeply felt. Maguire and Dunst, he writes, “are the real attraction. They look gorgeous, and their chemistry is deeper, quirkier and utterly convincing.” Maguire and Dunst are already signed on for Spider-Man 3, and Raimi’s already at work on the script for the film, which is slated for 2007. “As a child, I dreamed of being Spider-Man, and I always wanted to be a motion-picture director,” says Raimi. “So in writing, I get to be both. I really relate to Peter Parker. I really worry about him.” Is there life for the franchise beyond part three? Not for Dunst, sadly. “Three’s enough,” she says. “I’m retiring. If they want to hire another girl, that’s fine. I don’t want to be known only as Mary Jane. I’m sure Sam will have a heart attack if he hears I don’t want to do it. He’ll have a nervous breakdown.”