Agencies in stiff competition to represent actor

HOLLYWOOD — Tobey Maguire, who began shooting “Spider-Man II” for Columbia Pictures on Saturday, will earn $17 million for the role. The Gersh Agency negotiated that deal, but it won’t handle the actor’s next one.

Indeed, as Maguire returns to the role that made him a star, the top five agencies are in the midst of a competitive melee to represent him, a battle that the biz hasn’t seen for years.

However, even as Gersh is being discharged, Daily Variety has learned that during the week of March 10, it was Maguire who was nearly let go by Columbia Pictures.

Money wasn’t the problem. While there was a moment when Maguire felt his sequel compensation didn’t reflect the more than $30 million that producer Laura Ziskin earned from the first “Spider-Man,” Maguire’s reps resolved that issue to everyone’s satisfaction by February.

But Maguire’s behavior during pre-production didn’t seem to reflect gratitude toward the studio. Columbia felt that Maguire’s reported back problems — which he is known to have had in the past — were now being used as a threat during negotiations if the actor’s list of demands wasn’t met.

Finally, the production decided that star’s conduct could cost so much time and money that it endangered the film. Unwilling to put its 2004 tentpole in jeopardy, Col decided to recast the sequel.

Studio brass informed Maguire that they would proceed without him, since his back was continuing to be problematic, and made an offer to Jake Gyllenhaal, the promising young star of indies “The Good Girl” and “Lovely and Amazing.” Negotiations were quickly under way.

No doubt adding to the awkwardness was the fact that Maguire’s ex-girlfriend, Kirsten Dunst, was dating Gyllenhaal, and that all three actors have managers at Management 360.

At that point, Maguire’s team of reps stepped in to save the day — as did Ron Meyer, president and chief operating officer of Vivendi Universal, founding partner of CAA and father of Jennifer Meyer, who is currently dating Maguire. They all assured the studio that Maguire would behave — as would his back.

However, Maguire’s previous protestations over his temperamental back now had the studio’s back up, too. The star agreed to medical tests that would prove his fitness for duty after Col took the unusual step of insisting that the renegotiated contract contain specific clauses stating that Maguire’s back was in good condition.

Even though his reps put “Spider-Man 2″ back on track with an assist from Meyer, Maguire now felt that he needed an agency that could make “the big call” in life-or-death scenarios like the one he just faced. Meyer suggested that the actor take meetings with all five top agencies –WMA, ICM, UTA and Endeavor, in addition to Meyer’s alma mater CAA. He also counseled that Maguire hear out his current agency, Gersh.

Technically, Maguire has not yet fired Gersh, although last week he delivered the bad news that he does intend to leave.

Maguire’s erstwhile Gersh reps declined to comment for this story, though his soon-to-be ex-agent, Leslie Siebert, was quoted in the New York Daily News gossip column Rush and Molloy as saying that it is “an unfortunate end to a very successful seven-year relationship.”

So, is there any reluctance to sign a star who has displayed such difficult behavior? Of course not.

As one major agency’s insider put it, “Look, it’s a free-for-all. Everybody’s meeting with him. It’s a chance you have to take.”

The good news for Maguire is that, at both WMA and UTA, a masseur makes occasional visits to tend to several agents’ aching backs. Should he sign at either shop, they’d be happy to let Maguire have their slots.

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