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Roles wearing Maguire out

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After making "Spider-Man," "Seabiscuit" and "Spider-Man 2" back to back, Tobey Maguire isn't necessarily looking to play a couch potato, but he'd like something less strenuous than his recent roles.

"I definitely would like to do a film where I didn't have to work out three or four hours a day," Maguire said. "I don't mind if the film itself is kind of physical, but maybe where my physique didn't matter as much. I'll take an hour a day."

It's tough playing a young man whose encounter with a genetically altered spider has turned him into a superhero able to fly through the canyons of New York City by means of webs he shoots from his wrists. In "Spider-Man 2," opening in theaters on Wednesday, Peter Parker (Maguire) questions the crime-fighting lifestyle he has adopted and the sacrifices it has elicited from him.

In particular, he hates the wall his secret identity has built between him and his true love, Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). And his cover might be blown when scientist-turned-monster Doc Ock (Alfred Molina) uses the people Peter loves to get to Spider-Man.

"Peter Parker's just in a different place in his life," Maguire tells reporters during interviews on the Sony Pictures lot in Culver City, Calif. "It's wearing on him, being Spider-Man and not having a life of his own.

"I always thought it was peculiar how this kid couldn't see how he could just have a little balance in his life and things would be a little better for him. But there are complications to that, which I understand. He doesn't want to put his loved ones in danger. . . . But he also has these gifts and wants to use them responsibly."

The phenomenal success of 2002's "Spider-Man," which earned $820 million worldwide and made Maguire a household name, guaranteed the creation of a sequel, and the actor had no hesitations about reuniting with the "Spider-Man" team.

"I like everybody," he said. "It's a good show, and it feels like a family situation."

Director Sam Raimi wanted to do more than rehash the first film's plot and pile on the special effects.

"I really wanted to please the audience," said Raimi. "There were a lot of different directions the story could have taken in the second 'Spider-Man,' so I tried to think about what they must have been attracted to in the first one, and I think I came up with the answer that they were probably most attracted to the characters and the stories of Mary Jane Watson and Peter Parker versus the bigger extravaganza type of effects or visuals or making it louder or bigger."

The action elements almost knocked Maguire out of the Spidey suit. Shortly before production was to begin, Maguire was experiencing so much pain from a chronic back problem (not caused by injuries from "Seabiscuit," as has been reported), that he felt compelled to tell Raimi, the studio and the film's insurers that he might have trouble pulling off Spider-Man's high-flying moves.

"I told them about it, and within about a week my back got better than it had been in three years or so," Maguire said. "So it was kind of like much ado about nothing at that point."

The weeks when Maguire's status was up in the air were a nightmare for Raimi.

"I was so worried about Tobey's back that I didn't think we could make the movie with him," he said. "I was told . . . his back was in such a state that if it got injured any more, maybe it could lead to paralysis.

"When a doctor came to us and said, 'Look, he is OK. Yes, he can damage his back more, but it's more about pain; he won't be paralyzed' — well, I like causing actors pain, so if it wasn't about the paralysis, that became a whole different issue."

Work is already under way on "Spider-Man 3," which is set for a 2007 release, but Raimi and Maguire dismiss the idea of another sequel.

"I can't imagine that I'd have the strength to direct another one after the third one," said Raimi, 44.

"I don't anticipate doing a fourth movie," Maguire said. "I think that three's probably enough for me, but you never know. If they sent me a script that was better than any other script I've ever read and offered me a piece of Sony Corp. — never say never. Sony's a big company."

Contact Betsy Pickle of The Knoxville News Sentinel in Tennessee at www.knoxnews.com.