Movie Interview by Reece De Ville
Q&A with Tobey Maguire and director Gary Ross at the London press conference
Do you think the film would have been more difficult to pitch if the original novel hadn't been such a success?
GARY ROSS: Yeah. Actually it was hard to greenlight the film, and the fact that there are three financing entities really speaks to that. You know, this is not typical summer fayre. It doesn't have a high body count, there aren't a lot of shell casings in it, we don't blow anything up, it's not a sequel, it was never a comic book. But there were a lot of movies like that which failed, and this was a huge success in the United States, so I think that sometimes what's considers the safe choice is not necessarily the safe choice.
How did you prepare physically for the role?
TOBEY MAGUIRE: I had to just diet and exercise. I was burning fat and muscle. I just needed to look as skinny as I could.
Did you consider the risks involved in getting up on a horse for months on end?
TOBEY MAGUIRE: 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 to take the part because of that.
With the success of SPIDERMAN (and the forthcoming SPIDERMAN 2 assured), how relaxed do you feel with regards to the amount of competition for leading parts in Hollywood?
TOBEY MAGUIRE: 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.
How dangerous was the film to shoot?
GARY ROSS: Any time you do a movie like this, safety is the first thing you think of. Horseracing already has the highest mortality rate of any sport in the world per capita to the people who do it. If you crash in Nascar you still have a roll bar, and a cage, and a lot of protection. It's built to crash, but if you fall off a racehorse we all know what can happen, so it's tremendously dangerous. Your jockey is riding along at 45mph and there's bumping and jostling, and everyone's tightly packed. Then if you add a camera on a crane inches from somebody's head in the middle of all that, it's going to make that even more dangerous. So obviously safety is one of the first things we thought about. In terms of Tobey's safety and his training, we discussed it extensively.
How did you handle filming the horse racing sequences?
GARY ROSS: Every movie has its unique set of challenges, so you have to become a quasi expert and do a tremendous amount of research. Chris McCarron, one of the best jockeys in the world, had just retired and worked full-time with us on the movie. He became Tobey's mentor and taught him how to ride, and he helped me choreograph all the races. We used real jockeys, not stunt people, because no stunt person could ride well enough to pull this off. In a race-riding situation, riding long, whether in a western or an English saddle, and riding short in a race saddle, could not be more different. I mean, they're balanced on their big toes and two little pieces of metal hovering over a racehorse at 45mph, flying around curves and getting bumped by other horses. It's an extreme sport, so we had to choreograph these races with an amazing amount of specificity.
Each race was like its own character, in a way. I'd have a meeting with all the people involved, and I had all these little Velcro horses I would use to explain where all the horses and the cameras would be at all times. From that we developed a playbook, like a football playbook so everyone could see and memorise their parts. We also rehearsed the races on foot in somewhat comical fashion, running down the track as if we were on horseback.
How do you feel about the finished product?
TOBEY MAGUIRE: 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.
Were there any 'unprofessional' moments on set?
TOBEY MAGUIRE: 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.