‘Spider-Man 2’ Almost Had Jake Gyllenhaal Play Peter Parker Instead of Tobey Maguire

Rumor has it Tom Holland’s third Spider-Man solo film will unite him with previous Spider-Men Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield. Jamie Foxx and Alfred Molina have already joined the cast, and J.K. Simmons already debuted as the MCU’s J. Jonah Jameson. Maguire starred in the trilogy directed by Sam Raimi, but almost lost the role to Jake Gyllenhaal. Gyllenhaal appeared as Mysterio in Spider-Man: Far From Home.

Tobey Maguire Spider-Man 2
Tobey Maguire Christophe Simon/AFP via Getty Images

Here’s what happened around 2003, smack dab in the middle between Spider-Man and its sequel. Had things gone differently, it might be Gyllenhaal for whose return fans clamored.

Tobey Maguire said ‘Spider-Man 2’ never fired him

By the time Maguire’s film Seabiscuit opened in 2003, the actor was already answering questions about the following year’s superhero sequel. At the Seabiscuit junket, Maguire affirmed he never lost his Spider-Man job.

“It’s not true that I was fired,” Maguire said in 2003. “Basically, I had some concerns, as did the studio, because the level of stunts are so much greater on the second picture than the first. We both wanted to make sure I could do it. So, we went through some tests in terms of me getting into harnasses and performing some of the stunts. We were pretty close to production, so I think things got blown out of proportion. We were three weeks out and we were making sure, or you could say questioning, whether I was able to do it. After I did the tests, we all felt good about it and off we went.”

‘Spider-Man 2’ filmmakers never mentioned Jake Gyllenhaal’s name

In 2003, Variety reported that Sony was considering replacing Maguire with Gyllenhaal. The trade wrote that Maguire’s back problems may have been a ploy to negotiate for more money. At the Spider-Man 2 press junket in 2004, director Sam Raimi said he was only concerned about Maguire’s well being. Raimi did not mention Gyllenhaal though.

“I was told that his back was in such a state that if it got injured anymore, it could maybe lead to paralysis,” Raimi said in 2004. “I can’t be irresponsible, I can’t make a movie about responsibility and then grab this kid and do these stunts where he’s going to be paralyzed. And, I can’t compromise the movie either.”

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When Maguire passed his medical tests, Raimi felt comfortable continuing. Raimi famously likes to beat up his actors, like Bruce Campbell in the Evil Dead films. He draws the line at permanent injury, but as long as Maguire could recover, Spider-Man 2 was fair game. 

“The doctors came to us and said, ‘Look, he is okay. Yes. He can bend his back more. It’s more about pain. He won’t be paralyzed.’” Raimi said. “Well, I like causing actors pain. So if it wasn’t about the paralysis, that became a whole different issue. So at that point, I thought that Tobey was responsible enough to take the choice onto himself, and I felt okay with that.”

Recasting was on the table, though

Producer Avi Arad still didn’t mention Gyllenhaal, but would have supported Raimi’s decision had it come to that.

Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Holland
L-R: Tom Holland and Jake Gyllenhaal | Jay Maidment/CTMG/Sony Pictures

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“We would have supported the recasting,” Arad said in 2004. “It would have been a tragedy, because Tobey is Peter and Peter is Tobey.”

‘Spider-Man 2’ did not ultimately require Jake Gyllenhaal’s services

By 2004, Maguire was tired of explaining his back problems. 

“First of all, this is a back condition I’ve had for three years or four years, on and off,” Maguire said in 2004. “Sometimes it doesn’t really bother me at all, sometimes it bothers me a little, sometimes a lot. Coming off of Seabiscuit it was bugging me a lot, not because of Seabiscuit. I did not injure my back on Seabiscuit. That was a false report.”

Maguire confirmed the only issue was his back. He did not mention his potential replacement either, but alluded to it.

Spider-Man 3
Kirsten Dunst and Tobey Maguire | James Devaney/WireImage)

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“I felt it was responsibility to disclose my back discomfort to the studio, to the insurance company and to the filmmakers,” Maguire said. “They were understandably concerned. Any of their actions that resulted in that report did not offend me or bother me in any way. I understood that they have a multi multi-million dollar investment that they had a start date for and an entire crew hired for, and everything was rushing towards a date five weeks away, to start this picture.”

Once Maguire got the medical clearance, he said Spider-Man 2 posed no problems. 

“After I reported the stuff to them and told them about my condition, my back started getting better,” Maguire said. “Within about a week my back got better than it had been in three years or so. So it was much ado about nothing at that point…I did the film and it didn’t bother me throughout the whole filming.”