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Hi-tech hero

Toby Maguire... gaining acceptance as the webbed hero.

WHEN SONY Pictures, first announced last year that its studio, Columbia, had begun casting for "Spider-Man", rumours flew about the stars being considered for the title role. Was Leonardo DiCaprio of "Titanic" fame being considered? Had Ewan McGregor of "Star Wars: Episode One" been contacted?

It was Sam Raimi's wife, Gillian who drew the director's attention to the quietly understated performance of Toby Maguire as the returning inmate of an orphanage in the two-Oscar-winning 1999 film "The Cider House Rules".

Columbia executives who controlled the purse strings were less enthusiastic — Maguire had to sportingly undertake multiple screen tests before they agreed to go along with Raimi. The instinct of Raimi and his wife was right — and the enthusiasm of film critics as well as the public since the "Spider-Man" proves it. He has already been signed up to do two sequels. Once he was in, the 26-year old actor adopted a strict five-month regimen of gymnastics and martial arts to supplement his regular practice of yoga and vegetarianism. He had one advantage — the guy behind the mask did not always have to be Toby. Nevertheless, there were enough close ups and medium shots to make a wiry appearance necessary.

Born in Santa Monica, California, Toby Maguire took his first acting lessons at the age of 11, when his mother gave him $ 100. In 1993 he landed his first big screen role in "This Boy's Life", opposite another rising star who was to remain his life long friend: Leonardo DiCaprio.

At this point, Maguire succumbed to that scourge of Hollywood's brat packs: drink. In 1997, he overcame his problem to join an ensemble cast in Ang Lee's story of sexual goings-on in a New England family in the 1970s, "The Ice Storm". But his work remained unnoticed till he appeared opposite Michael Caine in Lasse Hallstrom's "The Cider House Rules". This was quickly followed a year later by "The Wonder Boys" where Michael Douglas leads the cast in a story of eccentric academics. None of these films has been widely distributed in India — which makes Maguire's Spiderman, virtually his debut here.

In the film, Spiderman says: "Who am I? You're sure you want to know? The story of my life is not for the faint of heart. If somebody told you I was your average ordinary guy — somebody lied!''

Those could as well be the words of Toby Maguire — the real flesh-and-blood actor behind the Spiderman costume.

— A.P

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