May 20, 2002 12:00 PM

He prefers board games to bodybuilding. He gets queasy at the thought of eating meat. But mild-mannered Tobey Maguire is no slouch as a superflirt. While filming some banter with Elizabeth Banks, who plays a Daily Bugle secretary in Spider-Man, Maguire veered from the script and began spinning a web of charm. “He was like, ‘Hey, why don’t you give me your phone number?'” says Banks. Confused, she improvised in character-until she realized Spidey was slinging a practical joke. Director Sam Raimi “finally yelled, ‘Cut,'” she says, “and everyone cracked up.”

More than a decade into a career built on playing nerdy loners, Maguire, 26, is determined to defy expectations. Spider-Man netted a record-smashing $114 million in its opening weekend, dwarfing Maguire’s well-received art-house outings like 1997’s The Ice Storm and 1999’s The Cider House Rules. His reported $4 million paycheck portends a big change for an actor known more for brains than brawn, but “I’m not worried about being pegged as only Spider-Man or a superhero,” Maguire says. “I waited long enough in my career to show that I obviously have other characters in me.”

He is equally self-assured about his offscreen choices. Though he hits hot spots with pals like Leonardo DiCaprio, Maguire quit drinking at 19 after realizing his precocious parrying was getting out of control. “Tobey made a conscious decision that he didn’t need any alcohol to buffer himself from the real world,” says friend Morgan J. Freeman, 32, a director. Instead, he busts stress by playing basketball or backgammon. “Tobey doesn’t just play backgammon,” Freeman says. “It’s like, ‘I’m going to slice your throat, take every red cent out of your pocket.'”

Maguire applied the same grit to Spider-Man. Before he was cast, he hit the gym to show skeptical studio execs he could fill out the suit. He trained up to four hours a day for five months, doing gymnastics and yoga as we” as weight lifting. “I worked very hard to get that body,” he says.

Less arduous were his romantic scenes with Kirsten Dunst, who plays Spidey’s neighbor Mary Jane. Even an upside-down smooch—”Rain was going up my nose,” says Maguire—wasn’t all bad: “I still managed to derive some pleasure.” Maguire and Dunst, 20, have stepped out to restaurants and L.A. Lakers games, but as for reports of a romance, he is mum and Dunst scoffs. “We really bonded,” she says, but “we weren’t dating.” (Maguire spent Spider-Man‘s opening weekend palling around with Nicole Kidman in L.A., but they’re just friends, say their reps.)

Maguire, whose 2 ½-year relationship with Boston Public actress Rashida Jones ended in ’00, is closest to friends from his early acting days. Born in Santa Monica to construction worker and cook Vincent and secretary Wendy, Maguire moved frequently after his parents split when he was 2. When Tobey, at 12, wanted to take a cooking class, Wendy, who had once dreamed of becoming an actress, scraped up $100 to bribe him to study acting instead. He found gigs on TV shows like Roseanne and acted with DiCaprio in 1993’s This Boy’s Life. Roseanne alum Sara Gilbert, 27, a friend, calls Maguire “a little bit reserved. It takes a while for him to show you who he is.”

With two Spider-Man sequels in the works, he might just shake that shy-guy image for good. “He has a strong side, a very masculine side, that people have not seen much of,” says Gilbert. “It’s not that surprising to people who know him. It’s just not the side that Hollywood saw first.”

Samantha Miller

Michael Fleeman, Alexis Chiu and Carrie Bell in Los Angeles

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