LOS ANGELES—“I looked at this skinny kid throwing karate kicks down the hall, and I went, ‘He definitely doesn’t have a chance,’” Tobey Maguire described one of his first encounters with Leo DiCaprio when they were about 14 years old and auditioning for the same part in a pilot for the TV version of Steve Martin’s film, “Parenthood.”
“There were four of us kids auditioning for that part,” Tobey recalled in our recent chat at New York’s famed The Plaza Hotel. “I remember looking around at my competition. I had seen Leo around one or two times before. But, this was the time when our friendship really began.”
The two teens kept bumping into each other and auditioning for the same role, including “This Boy’s Life,” which Leonardo clinched. It gave him the chance to act opposite Robert De Niro. Tobey landed a minor part. The competition for the same roles didn’t dampen the boys’ friendship.
Today, after more than two decades, the two pals are starring as, well, friends, in Baz Luhrmann’s take on F. Scott’s Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby,” with DiCaprio in the title role. Carey Mulligan (Daisy Buchanan), Joel Edgerton (Tom Buchanan), Isla Fisher (Myrtle Wilson), Jason Clarke (George Wilson) and Elizabeth Debicki (Jordan Baker) also star.
Tobey, sporting a beard and dapper in a suit, shared how he landed the role of Nick Carraway, the story’s narrator. “I had not read ‘The Great Gatsby’ prior to getting a phone call from Leo that he had just spoken to Baz, who was in town. I was living next door to Leo at the time. Baz was thinking about doing ‘The Great Gatsby.’ We got together with Baz at Leo’s house. We spent a few hours together, catching up and talking about the book and its characters.”
“I was so charmed by Baz. He is very charming, but he has substance. You go to work with him, and it’s fun—yet, you’re exploring, and he encourages you to be bold. I’ve always wanted to work with Baz.”
There was genuine respect and admiration in Tobey’s voice and tone when he spoke about his buddy. “Leo’s one of our great actors,” he began. “He happens to be one of my best friends. So, it was a treat to get to spend time and play with my friend, and also observe both Leo and Baz’s processes. Leo’s like a detective. He’s very studious, like he goes deep into the books and research.”
On his life as a dad to a boy and a girl, his kids with wife Jennifer Meyer, a jewelry designer, Tobey said, “I have a lot less free time. I can’t watch as much TV. Life changes. The biggest turning point in my life is having kids. It just changes how you manage your time. All of that time is really precious, so it puts a great urgency on prioritizing.”
“My kids are terrific,” he enthused. “They’re just great. I have a blast with them. I face challenges as a parent. I have to figure it out and enjoy that. I also feel the weight of that responsibility, I want to do everything I can as a father.”
Now a producer, as well (“Rock of Ages” and the coming “Pawn Sacrifice,” where he plays the late chess champ, Bobby Fischer), Tobey said, “I love making movies! I’m a storyteller. I like collaborating with people.”
He shared his thoughts on the public and media attention that he received when his “Spider-Man” movies became huge hits. “I felt overwhelmed,” he admitted. “I got a lot of attention, and it was uncomfortable! I didn’t know how to process it, or what to do with it.”
He continued, “Given some time to figure it out, I’ve been able to set up my life in a way that works and make me feel that my life is grounded, real and authentic. I’m learning how to utilize my position and not be like a victim to it.”
“Gatsby wasn’t operating like that. I do think that a certain level of fame or success can bring that on. It’s a challenging thing to figure out, but that’s part of my journey!”
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