To be Bilbo Baggins, or not to be Bilbo Baggins... that is the question.
The online world has changed in many ways over the last 12 years, since I've been an active online presence, and in other ways, it's exactly the same as it's always been. One outlet writes something they believe as fact, another outlet runs a piece calling them liars, and then the flame wars start. I've been the guy who has been the source of many of these rumors, and I know that when I run something as a fact... even if it's being denied in public by the parties involved... I've been right a large majority of the time. I know the difference between a rumor and a fact, but I'm also aware that merely reporting on something can create a Schrodinger's Cat effect on the story, which makes things even more slippery.
El Mayimbe over at Latino Review is wired deeply into the agency community. That's not guesswork... it's a fact. His sources are agency sources, and 12 years of doing this has taught me that agency sources are some of the best. Everything passes through agencies at some point, and so if he's adamant that CAA is having the conversation about Tobey Maguire as Bilbo Baggins in "The Hobbit," rest assured... they're having that conversation. Doesn't matter what Movieline or The Hollywood Reporter says. Doesn't matter how many publicists offer carefully worded denials. Doesn't even matter if Tobey Maguire himself plays coy with the press and says he's not sure what they're talking about. There's no way to know at this moment if he will end up in the movie or not, but have those conversations happened? Count on it.
What may factor into the final decision far more than whether or not Maguire is right for the part is whether or not Maguire is available for the part. The story is spreading today that "Spider-Man 4," which is evidently being called "Spider-M4n" internally, may be on indefinite hold over script disagreements between Raimi and the studio.
If there's any lesson Sam Raimi must have learned from "Spider-Man 3," it is that he can't roll film on a script that he doesn't like, featuring villains he doesn't want, because the final product will reflect his indifference clearly.
Frankly, I'm surprised Raimi still has any fire in his belly for this franchise. If he really does direct the fourth film, he will have stayed aboard long past the expiration date I predicted. Very few filmmakers ever direct four films in a franchise, especially inside of a decade. It's basically unprecedented. And with Maguire, it's got to be harder and harder to muster the enthusiasm. They are notoriously demanding films, physically speaking, and Maguire has back issues that must make it difficult to harness up and swing around each time out. Yes, something like "The Hobbit" would also be a demanding shoot, but I don't remember Bilbo Baggins using webbing to swing everywhere, which is what Maguire's specific issue with the "Spider-Man" films seems to be.
Do I think he's the right man for the role? Not really? I love the notion of Martin Freeman playing Bilbo, and I thought the rumors of David Tennant were appealing as well. I have no problem with the idea of an American hobbit... Elijah and Sean did just fine in their roles... but I just don't think Tobey's got the right charisma for a Bilbo. There's a twinkle of mischief to Bilbo that defines him, and I don't think that's Tobey.
Still, this isn't happening tomorrow. Guillermo Del Toro is still working with Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Phillippa Boyens on the script for "The Hobbit," and when I saw Peter recently, he said that they were planning to cast a very, very wide net for Bilbo because they wanted to see all their options before making any choices, and he was very open to the notion of an unknown if that's the person they feel would work best.
The real lesson here is (A) don't tell El Mayimbe he's dead wrong about something, because the guy does his legwork, and if something changes after he reports it, that doesn't mean he had his facts wrong when he published and (B) actors and publicists lie to the press, and acting like every word they speak is truth is just ignorant.
Time will tell.
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