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Seabiscuit - I think this Summer saw a kind of return to a lot of classic movie-making

Feature by: Jack Foley

IF THE real-life story behind Seabiscuit could be summed up as being about the Depression-era racehorse who inspired a nation, then the movie itself could almost get away with being described as the film which defied the odds to show true pedigree at the US Box Office this Summer.

On the face of it, Seabiscuit might seem like an also-ran. For as director, Gary Ross, admits, 'this is not typical Summer fare; it doesn't have a high body count, or shell casings; we don't blow anything up; it's not a sequel, and it was
never a comic book'!

Yet, contrary to popular predictions, Seabiscuit emerged as one of the hits of the blockbuster season, thanks largely to its quality cast, heartwarming and inspirational story and old-fashioned approach to movie-making.

It is a point which Ross was keen to elaborate on, when speaking at the London press conference for the film, held recently at the Dorchester Hotel.

"We can all think of movies that failed, this Summer, yet this was a huge success in the US. Sometimes, what one considers to be the safe choice, is not necessarily the safe choice," he adds, when asked whether he had been aware of the risks when taking on the project.

"I think this Summer saw a kind of return to a lot of classic movie-making.

"I mean, Pirates of the Caribbean was a really old-fashioned movie, and Finding Nemo is a really heartwarming tale about the reconstitution of the family.

"Even something as pop culturish as Freaky Friday, which was a big runaway hit in the US, is a mother-daughter relationship.

"A lot of people have come to this character drama in the Summer-time and I think that's heartening - not just for us, but for a lot of people who make movies; we don't just want to see the same kinds of films get greenlit all the time."

So what was it about the story that particularly drew both Ross, and its star, Tobey Maguire, to the project?

"It had tremendous heroes, it had a wonderful, wonderful underdog story, just at a basic level, that I'd loved growing up," continues Ross.

"I had faith in that. Yes, it was horse-racing, which was an obstacle to overcome, but I was also heartened by the fact that the story had become the largest selling sports book in the history of the world, so something must have gone right."

For Maguire, however, the risk factor was not just about the financial success of the movie, but the physicality of the role, particularly in terms of the riding it entailed.

Had the Spider-Man star thought about the tragedy which befell Christopher Reeve when agreeing to ride tall in the saddle?

"I talked to Gary about how that was all going to be done. I was on horseback, I was on a racehorse, and I did get to go on the track and gallop a racehorse.

"But I was never in the most dangerous situations, as that would not only have been dangerous for myself, but the people around me. These guys are professional jockies and I don't belong in a tight pack with them.

"So, to be honest, I never really considered the risk involved. I guess it would run through my head, but it never occurred to me to not do it because of that."

Maguire, it seems, can do no wrong at the moment, given the range of hits he has appeared in, from the blockbuster, Spider-Man, to the less obvious hits, such as The Cider House Rules, Ride With The Devil and Wonder Boys.

But while both he and the director speak eloquently about Seabiscuit, mention of the publicity surrounding the commencement of shooting on the Spider-Man sequel got both pretty riled.

Maguire, especially, was keen to set the record straight, when asked whether he had, during the course of the past year, been worried about his place in 'Hollywood's pecking order'.

"I had some discomfort that I've had for several years and it goes up and down, depending on what I'm doing," he explained.

"In terms of sports, you know, if I'm playing lots of basketball, or running a lot, it can aggravate it.

"So before I was to do Spider-Man, I had been experiencing some discomfort for a while and I looked at the script, and saw the storyboards, and saw that the level of stunts I was going to have to do was many times more difficult than the first Spider-Man, so I felt it was my responsibility - to myself, my own health and the studio - to say, 'hey, you know, I'm a little concerned, I want to make sure I can do this stuff', and they wanted to make sure I could do it, too.

"I went in and did some test days, where I was testing myself, and they were making sure I could do it, and then several hundred people wrote a few stories about it , and there you go..."

Adds Ross: "To be absolutely frank with you, this is a normal conversation that should go on, responsibly, before any movie.

"Tobey and I had this conversation before Seabiscuit... and he had it responsibly with the studio before Spider-Man.

"The only thing that was irresponsible was the media coverage of something which is just a normal part of the filmmaking process. I think, frankly, a lot of the stories that went on were absolutely reprehensible."

Quibbles aside, however, Maguire is pleased with his position within the industry, and the opportunities that committing to a project such as Seabiscuit afforded him.

"I've never really had a tremendous amount of fear that I wasn't going to be able to work, maybe even in a way that I didn't deserve to have that attitude," he continues.

"But listen, I'm very grateful for my opportunities, I think it's a good thing, and it's a good thing to be able to work with people I want to work with.

"That's the thing for me, you know, I get to come and work with Gary again, and work with Jeff Bridges and Chris Cooper, and the kind of crew that we had. That's what's amazing to me, and what I feel great about."

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