Tobey Maguire on how he played the American chess prodigy, and why the game is not for him
When Tobey Maguire hung up his Spider Man suit, he also slid into anonymity. Though he resurfaced briefly with The Great Gatsby and Brothers—for which he got a Golden Globe nomination—acting jobs were few and far between. But now the Sea Biscuit star—who recently added to his real estate value by snapping up a quaint 1920’s-inspired bungalow in California—has taken up production seriously. Currently hogging headlines for playing US chess prodigy Bobby Fischer in Pawn Sacrifice, the actor-producer talks about his career change and why chess can never be his game.
What made you turn producer?
I had some time on my hands. I just started going, ‘All right, let me find things I want to develop into movies that I want to make, because I’m not seeing scripts I want to do. It was primarily that. My interest started about 13 or 14 years ago. I’ve gotten more serious about it in the last six years.
How keen were you initially to tell Bobby Fischer’s story?
Gail Katz, our fellow producer, came to me with the idea of doing a movie about Bobby Fischer. I was aware of him, but I didn’t know a whole lot about him. I dug in, did some research, and contemplated a bit. Fischer was a recluse, really harsh and critical of things in a way that was inappropriate. I didn’t like that. But digging deeper into his life and compartmentalising different things, I thought it would be a really fascinating thing to do—to try to tell the character’s story, but in a kind of sports movie way.
Was it easy to prep for the role?
I watched everything and listened to everything that, as far as I knew, existed or that I could find. I talked to anybody and everybody who would speak to me and knew Bobby Fischer. I read several books on Bobby, and articles. Throughout the whole process, I would listen to Bobby or watch him. You know, just submerse myself in it.
So you think Bobby played chess keeping the war situation in mind?
I think he had an awareness of that, but I don’t think he was really concerned about it. He was concerned with beating Boris Spassky. In my own interpretation, he was using his leverage to negotiate better conditions and money, but I also think he was afraid, which we talk about in the film. I think he was afraid of losing, but he was equally afraid of winning. Maybe not equally, but he was also afraid of winning because that would have sort of been—he would have reached all the goals in his life. I think even before that he knew he was the best player, believed that wholeheartedly. And you know, he’s a good judge of it because he knows the level of play for everybody.
Since it took 10 years, what was the tipping point in getting it made?
I think we had gone through different iterations and different writers. I got to a point where I felt I’m ready to make this movie. Shortly after, Ed and I got together and decided to make it. That was a normal process but took a while.
How do you fare in chess?
What I learned through this movie is that I’m not a good chess player. I know enough about it to not play. It was sort of discouraging as I was learning about chess and talking to international masters and grandmasters about the game—about what it takes to be really, really good at the game.
This isn’t just another biopic, is it?
The story is quite fascinating, in particular the time we focussed on—this really difficult, fragile, paranoid guy at the centre of a kind of sports movie trajectory set in this really tense political climate that I thought would be a fascinating framework. So basically, you have a sports movie structured with a character study at the centre.
Pawn Sacrifice is scheduled to release today.