As The Great Gatsby’s Nick Carraway, Tobey Maguire helps reunite lost loves Jay Gatsby, his neighbor (Leonardo DiCaprio), and Daisy Buchanan, his cousin (Carey Mulligan). Only in Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation, Carraway tells the story from inside a sanitarium, where he’s taken to writing it all down as a form of therapy. Vulture spoke to Maguire ahead of this week’s 3-D release about Luhrmann’s tweak to the novel, mental health, and on-set injuries.
At one point, Baz Luhrmann was hit in the head with a camera crane. Did you see it happen?
We were shooting, but we were separated because of the room we were in, so I saw him after, and he had a bandage wrapped on his head, and I was like, “What’s going on here?” He needed stitches, but he just continued, which was kind of crazy, even though he ended up being fine. I didn’t get hit in the head, not that I can recall. My only injury — which isn’t even really an injury, but it hurt — was in a scene in Myrtle’s apartment. I don’t even know if I told Joel [Edgerton] this, but when he grabbed me and brought me back into the party, I had grabbed some part of the door. I think I was opening the door and my finger was on the little kind of latch thingie right when he yanked me, so it just peeled a bunch of my skin back. At the time, I was like, “Oh, no big deal,” even though it was kind of deep. I just put it back there and didn’t worry about it. But it ended up being sore for like nine months! I was going, “I can’t believe this is still sore!” I was actually concerned because it wasn’t going away. I was like, “I hope my finger pad isn’t going to be sore for the rest of my life!” [Laughs.] But it worked itself out.
Did it hurt during the writing scenes?
It wasn’t unbearable, just annoying.
What was your reaction when you found out Nick was going to be in a sanitarium? Was that in the first draft?
It was in the first draft, but when we first met — Leo, Baz and myself — there was no script. And one of the things I talked to Baz about pretty early on was that Nick is clearly an observer, and in a lot of the scenes, in terms of Nick’s action, he’s not participating a lot. In the book, you see his point of view, you hear his feelings about it, so he’s really present, even when he’s not the focal point. So I really wanted to make sure that we understand how this story affected Nick, and Baz and [his co-screenwriter] Craig [Pearce] came up with that idea, the framework, which worked really well for me. It allows the story to affect Nick, so he’s looking back over this story and he’s writing it, which also gives us license to use the language of Fitzgerald and justify the poetry of it. And I also think — and I’m not a mental health expert …
Are you sure?
[Chuckles.] No. But I think our state and our perception of reality is pretty fragile, and it’s not as clearly delineated between sane people and crazy people, as I might have understood it when I was younger. I think even the manual — DSL? DSM? DSL?
DSM. I think DSL is the Internet connection.
DSM, right. I think in the DSM, the diagnoses are really symptom clusters. There’s nothing really official about it, you know? Not to say that that’s not official, but to label somebody, to put labels on things, I guess that’s the best we’ve got right now, but it’s more complicated than that. It’s an interesting topic, and I’d love to do more research on that. That’s veering off course there, but I think Nick being in a sanitarium becomes a healthy step in the process for him and ultimately Nick comes out of this story in a very hopeful and positive way. Because he is not directionless. He was heading in a direction that is maybe not completely suited to him. And I think that’s a common story.
I’ve worked with so many people, particularly young people, coming out of college or whatever, who are trying to figure out their way in life, and you’re watching them really searching: “What is it that resonates with me? What is my passion?” And also, “How can I success in this world? How do I get ahead?” So I think Nick is in a similar space. He had gone to war, he’s back at home, his family is in wholesale hardware, I don’t think he particularly wants to do that, so he convinces his family to support him to go back east to get into the bond business, to strike it rich on Wall Street, which was something that was happening. It was a story he could sell to himself, and to his family.
Easier than saying, “Let me go be a writer.”
Right, exactly! He really in his heart is a writer. That’s his passion. He’s a poetic soul. He’s a thoughtful guy. He’s an observer. He’s got a talent for writing. And maybe there was a step there that he wasn’t quite ready for, and he needed to build up his courage or confidence, and so he goes to do something that’s an easier sell, basically. But it’s not really him. So he gets distracted. Has all these experiences. And ultimately, even though he gives people a lot of latitude for being human, he says, “Even I have a limit.” Ultimately, he’s disgusted by these careless people, who are careless with other people’s lives.
And they’re judgmental, condemning Gatsby for being a bootlegger even as they drink his liquor.
Yeah, of course. And now in retrospect, Prohibition didn’t really hold, didn’t work, so even though Gatsby was not obeying the law of the land, was he actually sophisticated? Was he a guy who was bending the rules that support our reality? People ask, “Why does history repeat itself?” And to me, an answer to that is our external reality is a manifestation of our nature and our imagination, and that evolves fairly slowly, but it does evolve. We’re still pretty similar creatures, and we’re dealing with the same infrastructure before us, so we’re iterating on the past, and it is cyclical, even though I think we’re moving forward.
If you had someone like Gatsby living next door to you now, would you wait for an invite, or would you crash the party?
Well, I would wait for the invite. I’m a family man with kids, so I’m probably falling asleep and the noise didn’t even bother me — I slept right though it, I was so tired. No noise complaints from me.