What the Hell Happened to Tobey Maguire?
In 1999, Maguire reunited with Ang Lee for the Civil War drama, Ride With the Devil.
Skeet Ulrich co-starred as a man whose father was killed by Union soldiers. Maguire played Ulrich’s friend who follows him when he joins the Bushwhackers, an informal group that fought for the South. When the group takes refuge on the property of a sympathetic family, Ulrich becomes romantically involved with a young widow played by world-renowned poet and yodeler, Jewel. Maguire ends up befriending a freed slave played by Jeffrey Wright which causes him to question the righteousness of the Confederacy.
Reviews were mixed. Several influential critics complained that the movie was boring. Roger Ebert compared it to a history class while Entertainment Weekly called it “unengaging”. Ride With the Devil never received a wide release. It played in at most 60 theaters and peaked at 50th at the box office. It grossed just over $600,000 with a $38 million dollar budget!
Later that year, Maguire starred opposite Michael Caine and Charlize Theron in director Lasse Hallström’s adaptation of John Irving’s novel, The Cider House Rules.
Maguire played an orphan who is raised by the doctor who runs the orphanage. Caine played the doctor who takes on Maguire’s character as an apprentice. He intends for Maguire to take over the orphanage, but with no formal medical training Maguire doesn’t feel qualified to do so. Instead, he runs off to an apple orchard with a young couple played by Theron and Paul Rudd. When Rudd’s character goes off to fight in World War II, Theron and Maguire have an affair.
Irving wrote the screenplay adapted from his own novel and won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. The Cider House Rules was nominated for seven awards and took home two. In addition to Irving, Caine won for Best Supporting Actor. Reviews were mostly positive, but there were a few notable holdouts. Roger Ebert, for example, felt like the story lacked focus.
Reportedly, Maguire and Theron didn’t get along on the set. Off the record, several sources described Maguire as being “unpleasant” towards Theron to the extent that the studio had to tell Maguire to be more civil. Maguire has said that he likes Theron but added ,”Making a movie isn’t always completely harmonious.”
Miramax gave The Cider House Rules a limited release in December of 1999. Once it had built some positive word of mouth, the movie opened wider in January. During its long run, The Cider House Rules topped out in 6th place at the box office. Ultimately, it performed well enough to be considered a modest hit.
Maguire had a supporting role in Curtis Hanson’s follow-up to LA Confidential, the comedy-drama Wonder Boys.
Michael Douglas starred as a novelist who teaches creative writing at a university in Pittsburgh. He’s dealing with a massive case of writer’s block after the success of his first novel. He’s also having an affair with the wife of the university chancellor played by Frances McDormand. Katie Holmes played a young student who rents a room from Douglas and Maguire played her friend, a talented writer. Robert Downey Jr. appeared as Douglas’ editor who takes an interest in Maguire.
Following LA Confidential, Hanson was looking for his next project. He received a tip from actress Elizabeth McGovern that he should get in touch with writer-director Steve Kloves about his script for Wonder Boys. Kloves had previously written and directed The Fabulous Baker Boys and Flesh and Bone and had intended to direct Wonder Boys as well. Wonder Boys was Kloves’ first attempt at adapting a novel (he would later go on to write the Harry Potter adaptations). When Hanson expressed an interest in directing Wonder Boys, Kloves stepped aside.
Douglas took a substantial pay cut in order to get Wonder Boys made. Downey was still dealing with substance abuse problems at the time and had to convince Hanson that he could be counted on to behave professionally. Hanson was convinced and Downey stayed on his best behavior during the four-and-a-half-month shoot. But he violated parole as soon as he returned to Los Angeles.
Despite mostly positive reviews, Wonder Boys flopped at the box office. It opened in seventh place behind The Tigger Movie which had been in theaters for three weeks. Many critics blamed Paramount’s marketing campaign which focused heavily on Douglas to the exclusion of the ensemble cast. Hanson lobbied successfully to have Wonder Boys rereleased in theaters later that fall with a different marketing campaign featuring Maguire, Holmes, Downey and McDormand. Ultimately, the rerelease didn’t help. It ended up grossing less than half of its production costs.
In 2001, Maguire hosted an episode of Saturday Night Live. The opening sketch was a satire of The Cider House Rules with the not-ready-for-prime-time players as orphans and Lorne Michaels as their care-taker. During a Celebrity Jeopardy sketch, Maguire played Keanu Reeves.