Although boyishly-handsome dark-haired player Tobey Maguire
got his big break with the Fox sitcom "Great Scott!"
(1994), the critically acclaimed series' short run failed
to attract a sizable audience, and Maguire would wait until
his 1997 starring turn in Ang Lee's "The Ice Storm"
for his career to really take off. A product of a turbulent
background, Maguire moved house frequently as a child, living
with various familial permutations of his parents, grandparents
and aunts. This unsettled childhood may have contributed to
the young actor's drive and unique presence, evincing at once
mature clarity and childlike vulnerability in his performances.
After his mother offered him $100 to take drama instead of
home economics as a school elective, Maguire, encouraged by
a neighbor who was an entertainment manager, studied acting
and soon landed TV commercial work. He lensed his first television
acting role in 1988, with a small part in the HBO comedy special,
"On Location: Rodney Dangerfield 'Opening Night at Rodney's
Place'" (aired in 1989). Maguire could next be seen as
the title star of the 1990 Nickelodeon special "Tales
from the Whoop: Hot Rod Brown, Class Clown" and that
same year took on a guest role in the NBC series "Parenthood",
marking his first collaboration with fellow acting pal Leonardo
DiCaprio. More TV guest work followed, including performances
in the series "Roseanne" (ABC), "Jake and the
Fatman" (CBS), "Eerie, Indiana" and "Blossom"
In 1992, Maguire landed the starring role on the Fox series
"Great Scott!" playing Scott Melrod, an adolescent
with an active fantasy life played out in interesting episodic
asides. While the show was refreshingly original and critically
lauded, it failed to grasp an audience, and Maguire's engaging
portrayal went virtually unseen with the series' cancellation
after only six episodes. While he took on other television
roles, including his impressive work in the 1994 TV dramas
"Spoils of War" (ABC) and "A Child's Cry for
Help" (NBC) and 1996's fact-based "Seduced By Madness:
The Diana Borchardt Story" (also NBC), Maguire would
really shine on the big screen.
He made his film debut in "This Boy's Life", the
1993 adaptation of Tobias Wolff's seminal coming-of-age memoir,
in the supporting role of Chuck Bolger, a schoolboy friend
of Leonardo DiCaprio's Toby. His next feature outing was in
the forgettable killer toy horror vehicle "The Adventures
of the Red Baron" (1994), co-starring Mickey Rooney.
Neither his small role in "S.F.W." nor his cameo
as a drunken teenager in "Healer" (both 1994) offered
much to make audiences take particular notice. More impressive
was the actor's turn in Griffin Dunne's 1995 Oscar-nominated
short "The Duke of Groove". Maguire deftly played
a self-conscious teenage boy attending a pop icon populated
party with his mother (Kate Capshaw) during which the two
learn about themselves and each other. Also in 1995, he lensed
the low-budget "Don's Plum", a film later the subject
of a lawsuit brought by both Maguire and co-star DiCaprio.
The outcome of the lawsuit insured that the film, initially
set to be a short and later lengthened and set for 1998 release,
seemingly to capitalize on the popularity of the young stars,
would not enjoy showings in the USA or Canada.
Maguire hit a rough patch in 1995, which culminated in the
loss of a primary role in the cult hit "Empire Records"
after a botched audition dissuaded director Allan Moyle, one
of his greatest supporters. After a soul-searching break,
he returned triumphantly to acting, now more centered and
focused on his craft and his goals. Maguire starred in the
1997 independent feature "Joyride", before being
drafted by director Ang Lee to play the conflicted but comparably
clear-headed narrator of Lee's remarkable adaptation of the
unsettling 1970s affluent suburb-set drama "The Ice Storm".
Maguire more than held his own in an ensemble that featured
excellent performances by the likes of Joan Allen, Kevin Kline,
Sigourney Weaver and Elijah Wood. The role, superbly handled
by the young actor with a affecting mixture of knowing cynicism
and unspoiled innocence, would prove his mettle, and make
him a sought after property. After a small part as a fictional
alter ego of Woody Allen's Harry Block in "Deconstructing
Harry" (1997), he landed a starring role in "Pleasantville"
(1998), playing a thoughtful modern-day teen obsessed with
a 50s sitcom world who is transported there along with his
sexually liberated sister (Reese Witherspoon). The subtly
moving film was a perfect match for Maguire, who turned in
a characteristically understated but powerful performance
alongside veterans William H Macy, Joan Allen and Jeff Daniels.
In 1999, the actor reteamed with Ang Lee for the director's
epic Civil War drama "Ride With the Devil". Maguire
starred alongside Skeet Ulrich and Jeffrey Wright as Jake
Roedel, a Missouri-bred son of German immigrants who joined
up with the Confederate-sympathizing Bushwackers in the unorganized
neighbor versus neighbor battles that made up much of the
war. Again, his talent for drawing out the vulnerability in
a hard character added to the film, and lent a palpable humanity
to those historically considered villains. A notable year
for the actor, 1999 would also mark the release of "The
Cider House Rules", Lasse Hallstrom's film of John Irving's
adaptation of his novel about a young orphan raised by an
idealistic abortionist. Maguire's nuanced turn as the sensitive
but upstanding Homer Wells was applauded by critics and served
as the anchor for the feature. The demand for his talents,
despite his stated wishes to only work on one film a year,
kept him busy. He next played a college student to Michael
Douglas' blocked writer who joins the older man on journey
to self-awareness in "Wonder Boys" (2000), directed
by Curtis Hanson. With a full slate of work in production,
and a level-headed attitude towards stardom, the talented
Maguire emerged as an actor with a particularly promising
career, which he solidified by landing the lead role in the
Sam Raimi-directed "Spider-Man" (2002), based on
the popular Marvel comic.