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Tobey Maguire likesgoing incognito

The ‘Spider-Man 2’ star almost didn't do the sequel due to a bad back
/ Source: The Associated Press

Under cover of darkness, Tobey Maguire will wear a disguise and sneak around town.

The date remains a mystery — maybe on Wednesday, when “Spider-Man 2” opens, or maybe on Friday, when the crowds will be at their largest for this guaranteed blockbuster.

His mission: to watch some of his own film — a movie in which he almost lost the starring role, despite the huge success of 2002’s “Spider-Man.”

“It’s exciting. I’ll sneak in one night. You want to go when the fans are crazy into the film, and that’s when it’s fun, to catch that energy,” said the 29-year-old actor.

The star of “Seabiscuit” and “Pleasantville” says this won’t be his first incognito cinema experience.

“I’ve done it a few times. I’ll go and just watch 15 minutes of the movie in two or three different theaters, just to feel how the audience is digging it, get that immediate reaction.”

But isn’t that a risky move for one of the summer’s most famous faces, likely to get him mobbed if someone recognizes him?

“I’ll be fine,” Maguire responded. “I’ll wear a hat and go in, wait until it’s dark, stand there for 10 minutes and leave. They’ll never know.”

It may not seem like much, but that’s a daring move for the boyish actor with the puppy-dog eyes and tousled hair — he has a reputation for being almost pathologically withdrawing when it comes to high-pressure public exposure.

At a recent press screening of “Spider-Man 2,” the ArcLight theater in Los Angeles dimmed the lights for several minutes before the start of the show — so Maguire could grab a seat unnoticed.

A few weeks ago, his representatives also asked MTV to shut off its own backstage camera at the MTV Movie Awards whenever Maguire passed by, even though he was about to go on stage in front of thousands in a live audience.

Like his superhero alter ego, would Maguire rather have the secret identity of an ordinary guy?

“I AM an ordinary guy,” he insisted in a recent interview at the Culver Studios lot. “I guess if the question is, ‘Would I like to be anonymous in all situations?’ Sometimes, sure. But I can remain somewhat anonymous, or just not go to a place where I’m going to (be recognized.) Then I’m not aware of it at all.”

He shrugged. “I chose to give up my general anonymity,” he said.

Back trouble plagued MaguireMaguire came close to getting an unwelcome dose of anonymity shortly before shooting began on “Spider-Man 2,” something that could have tanked his young career.

In what is becoming a famous piece of Hollywood lore, the actor nearly lost his Spidey suit to someone else in March 2003 because he told the producers he had a bad back.

After doctors eventually OK’d his back, Maguire’s motivation remains a mystery. More money? A later production start date? Less time swinging from wires in a skintight suit?

The actor said he was just trying to do the right thing — the same reason the director gave for almost replacing him.

“First I was just disclosing it — you have to fill out insurance industry forms that say, ‘Do you have any back problems?’ This is something that I have to say, ‘Yeah, I have a condition.’

Maguire said he didn’t want to be responsible for derailing a movie that costs $200 million midway through the shoot.

“If something did happen — God forbid — and they investigated, they would learn that I knew I had back problems. If I didn’t disclose it I could get in trouble. I felt like I didn’t have a choice.”

After finishing the physically grueling role of jockey Red Pollard in “Seabiscuit,” Maguire said his chronically pained back was the worst it had been in three or four years.

“I saw all the stunts I had to do for (‘Spider-Man 2’). I thought, ‘Wow, that’s a lot. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do all that stuff.”’

So his representatives took the back problem claim to director Sam Raimi and producer Laura Ziskin. They turned to a possible replacement, Jake Gyllenhaal — the similarly puppy-dog-faced star of “The Day After Tomorrow.”

“It was implied if there was an injury on the set in one of these stunts, (Maguire) might become paralyzed permanently,” Raimi said. “I thought, ‘Well, I can’t make a movie about responsibility then ask this kid to do something that might paralyze him.”’

Raimi suggested there was a disconnect between what was really wrong with Maguire’s back and the dire complaints the actor’s representatives — one of whom has since been replaced — took to the “Spider-Man 2” filmmakers.

Raimi said he called Maguire to tell him “It breaks my heart to say this ... but I can’t work with you anymore.”

“So it was a really weird, awful call,” Raimi said. “I think Tobey may not have known that someone suggested he might be paralyzed.”

Raimi said Gyllenhaal — who’s also the boyfriend of “Spider-Man” co-star Kirsten Dunst — agreed to consider the role.

Then Maguire came back with a new revelation: He would be fine doing the stunts after all. And the stunts would not paralyze him.

“Pain for actors, I can deal with,” Raimi said. “So all of the sudden, it changed everything.” After doctors certified his fitness, Maguire was back in the tights.

Recovering from the controversyDespite the debacle, Maguire ended up getting a reported $17 million for the sequel. That’s about $13 million more than his salary on the original — which earned more than $400 million domestically and became one of the top five biggest blockbusters in history.

But does a scene in the sequel rub salt into Maguire’s wounded pride?

Maguire recalls the experience with a grimace that suggests the pain in his back has since become a pain somewhere lower on his anatomy.

In one sequence, Peter Parker struggles to regain his superpowers so he can face off against villain Doc Ock (Alfred Molina).

Parker attempts to leap from rooftop to rooftop and ends up falling into an alley and smashing his body against a car. He groans and walks away doubled over, moaning: “Owww...my back!”

Maguire doesn’t think it was written as a reference to the negotiations, “although, I was aware that people might see it like that,” he said. “I think it’s funny. I say it like I surely meant it.”

There are already plans for a third “Spider-Man” movie, and No. 2 is already poised to be one of the year’s biggest hits. The original holds the record for the biggest weekend debut in history, earning $114.8 million over three days.

So when Maguire prowls from theater to theater disguised in a low-slung cap, will his ticket purchases contribute to the sequel’s expected stash of cash?

“Nah,” he said. “They let me in.”