Pawn Sacrifice: the Tobey Maguire’s All In


T1This could be the year for Tobey Maguire to finally get his work recognized with an Academy Award nomination. His portrayal of American chess prodigy Bobby Fischer in Pawn Sacrifice is haunting and mesmerizing. The story of this controversial figure was a difficult one to bring to the screen. The movie was ten years in the making and had several false starts and setbacks.

It all started in 2004 with producer Gail Katz, “It was something that happened in my lifetime. What a remarkable character Bobby Fischer was and I wondered why nobody had made a movie about him. I did a little research and there were two projects in progress but I decided to move forward anyway.”

Katz wanted to do the movie with a studio, but she was well aware that this kind of picture is not something that a studio does easily these days, as they have shifted their priorities to big franchises. She thought the selling point would be having a star portray Bobby Fischer, “and Tobey Maguire came to mind. I pitched the project to him and he was interested. Together we took it to Sony Pictures and developed it there for nine years.” Maguire stands corrected, “Gail, like a good producer, is saying – ‘and he was in’; but it took me several weeks to figure out if I could do it. I didn’t know much about him. I knew he had a difficult personality, but I wasn’t really aware of it all. I started doing some research and I discovered things about him, and I found out why people were not eager of doing a film about him. He said some things, he was anti-semitic and anti-American. And that gave me pause.”

PAWN SACRIFICE- 2014 FILM STILL - Liev Schreiber and Tobey Maguire -
PAWN SACRIFICE- 2014 FILM STILL – Liev Schreiber and Tobey Maguire –

The story would focus primarily on the 1972 World Championship against the Russian champion Boris Spassky; during the height of the Cold War. Maguire taking the role of producer alongside Katz followed the development all the way through. With him attached, it was time to find a director. The original script was much darker and wasn’t really working for a number of reasons. It wasn’t really until Steven Knight came on board that the screenplay clicked. Knight decided not to do rewrites, instead he started from scratch. He delivered his version in 2009 which, according to both Maguire and Katz was “pretty sensational.” Katz explains, “We wanted to be careful which draft we turned in to the studio but Knight gave it to his agent and suddenly it was all over town. A lot of directors wanted to do the movie. Initially we were going to go with David Fincher; we met with him when he was completing The Social Network. It looked like it was going to be his next movie and then The Dragon Tattoo came along, which was the same studio. We waited and then House of Cards came along.” Maguire jumps in, “It wasn’t only the schedule; there were other factors. Ed [Zwick] and I had been talking about the film and he expressed interest in the film. David [Fincher] said, if you are ready to make the movie and I’m not, I will step aside.” That’s almost unheard of in Hollywood. Usually when somebody is attached for a long time and it doesn’t end up working out, his name remains as an executive producer or in some other capacity. It was very classy of Fincher to step aside, something he was definitely not required to do. With Fincher out, Sony was gone too; the film had to find independent financiers.

Although Edward Zwick is known for big scope adventure films, what always attracts him is doing a true story. He also had the right approach which agreed with what Maguire had in mind, “To have a sports movie structure and a character study in that.” In fact Pawn Sacrifice feels very much like a sports story; there is a driving energy to it and tension builds up to the chess games in Iceland. “And then it was about discovering as much as I could about Bobby and pack as much as I could into that framework,” adds Maguire. Zwick brought also a high level of authenticity to the shoot. “Ed is very precise. The clocks had to be correct, the chess pieces had to be correct, the chess board had to be correct. We played with the actual board Boris and Bobby played on; we had that shipped form Iceland. The extras are actual chess players, so if the camera would pick up on something it would look realistic.” Maguire takes on the main role but the movie’s got a great cast all around. Liev Schreiber plays Spassky with such grace that at times it’s hard for the audience to decide who to root for. Gail Katz confirms how Schreiber was always her first choice, “He is like a doppelganger for Boris. He had worked with Ed before in Defiance and he did that part in Russian. He does not speak a word of Russian; that’s great acting and good memorization!” Maguire deserves all the praises he’s been getting; he immersed himself completely into the subject. “I spent some time with different chess players.

At first, like a good actor, I wanted to get good at chess and all the chess players laughed at me. It’s pretty impossible to do that in a few months. The level of dedication and study, all of the theory, it would be years of playing often to actually get any good. So I did my best to understand the game and Bobby’s style of the play. I’m often asked about method acting; as it goes I’m spending fifteen hours a day with it, it sort of takes over your thoughts. As an actor you try to absorb that but I don’t have that sense that I loose myself and than I have some identity struggle. But I remember on another film, Brothers, going through difficult things and the last day of shooting I started joking around and laughing and I realized at that point of not having laughed for a few months. It’s a weird feeling not being aware of. In the past my answer has been – I finish the work, I go home and leave it behind. And my wife would say – what are you talking about? You were miserable for three months.” He then smirks and adds, “To be around, she meant.”


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