NEW YORK - Tobey Maguire didn't have to go far when Leonardo DiCaprio called him about meeting to discuss an adaptation of "The Great Gatsby" with Baz Luhrmann.
"I happened to live next door to Leo at the time, so it wasn't a far journey," Maguire says. "I was like, 'Oh, yeah. Sure. I can be over in 30 seconds if that's good for you.'"
"The Great Gatsby" is the first film of note co-starring the two longtime pals. It's fitting, too, because they play the classic tandem of the desperate romantic Jay Gatsby (DiCaprio) and his lone friend, the narrator Nick Carraway (Maguire) - who, not unlike Maguire, lives adjacent to Gatsby.
Working together on a film is a long time coming for DiCaprio and Maguire, brought together as child actors vying for the same parts.
"After I met Tobey at an audition, I felt like I wanted this guy to be my friend," recalls DiCaprio. "I remember driving back from school and he was doing 'Hot Rod Brown Class Clown' with Whoopi Goldberg outside Hollywood High. It was a high school. And I jumped out of my car in the middle of the scene, as they were shooting, practically. I was like, 'Tobey! Tobey! Tobey! Give me your number.' He was like, 'Yeah, who are you again?'"
That began some 25 years of a friendship that hasn't been warped by time or fame. They've remained steadfast while their careers ascended from frantically chasing parts in "Critters 3" (DiCaprio's film debut; Maguire got turned down) to being among Hollywood's top leading men.
They've taken different routes. DiCaprio broke out as a teen idol in "Titanic," star power he then used to tackle ambitious roles with top-tier directors such as Martin Scorsese ("The Aviator," "Shutter Island"), Steven Spielberg ("Catch Me If You Can") and Clint Eastwood ("J. Edgar"). Maguire built himself through acclaimed dramas ("The Ice Storm," "Wonder Boys," "The Cider House Rules") before landing the "Spider-Man" franchise.
"Every project we do, we talk about," says DiCaprio. "Every single choice I've made, I've talked to Tobey about and vice versa. We've had endless conversations about certain projects and argued with one another and supported one another along the way."
Maguire, 37, and DiCaprio, 38, both grew up in divorced families of modest means in Los Angeles.
"We both came from similar upbringings," says DiCaprio. "We had humble beginnings, let's put it that way. We both were these young, very enthusiastic, ambitious young men that really wanted to get our foot in the door."
They share two previous credits: The first is the 1993 Tobias Wolff adaptation, "This Boy's Life," in which DiCaprio beat out Maguire for the role opposite Robert De Niro's domineering stepfather. The two, though, had made a pact that if either got the lead, he would help the other get cast in a supporting role. Maguire played a smaller part.
The two also starred in the 2001 low-budget, black-and-white film "Don's Plum." The actors discount the film, which spawned lawsuits over attempts for it to be theatrically released.
The film (which remains unreleased) was shot in the '90s by their then-friend R.D. Robb, and captures Maguire and DiCaprio in a fictionalized version of the late-night carousing they were infamous for as young actors in Hollywood. They, along with other friends such as Lukas Haas, Kevin Connolly and others, were memorably branded with an alliterative label for their girl chasing. Maguire is now married to Jennifer Meyer with two children.
Over the years, DiCaprio and Maguire have often sought to do something together, but the right movie didn't come along until "Gatsby."
"It's always been about having enough meat on the bone for two actors to be in the same space," says DiCaprio, laughing as Maguire nods. "Is there enough to do? I mean, you've got a great role, but is there enough for me to do?"
Luhrmann calls them "a true partnership."
"I would have looked at Tobey anyway in the role of Nick Carraway because Tobey is exquisite with the still-waters-run-deep characterization," says Luhr-mann, who also directed DiCaprio in 1996's "Romeo + Juliet." "He and Leonardo's relationship really counted for something. We all knew that if we were going to go through this journey, it would be a plus that we were friends."
On "Gatsby," the pair swore to be "brutally honest with one another," DiCaprio says, depending on their years of friendship to make them "partners in crime."
Their chemistry together is obvious in the film. As Gatsby, DiCaprio embodies both his charismatic aura and the tortured longing beneath the "old sport" veneer. And as the on-looking Carraway, Maguire is a solid vessel for F. Scott Fitzgerald's prose.
"I can't tell you how many countless times on set we would do a scene and come up to one another and say, 'What's your take on that? What was I doing, do you think?'" DiCaprio says. "We had our own very distinct private conversations about everything."
Maguire says he thinks they each have healthy attitudes about how the movie business fits into their relationship - spurred by ambition but also able to root for one another. When Maguire played a traumatized Afghanistan War veteran in the 2009 melodrama "Brothers," DiCaprio held a party to celebrate the performance - a soiree widely believed to help Maguire score a Golden Globe nomination for best actor.
But on the basketball court, where they often play, the competitiveness comes through.
"If you're picking on a playground, you'd pick Leo first because of the kind of position he plays and the game he plays and his physicality," says Maguire. "But I would argue that I end up having a better record."
Howling, DiCaprio responds: "Tobey is great at, you know what he's great at ..."
"GM-ing a team?" offers Maguire.
"Yes," confirms DiCaprio, calling Maguire a "strategist." "He will find a way to win, and that's what I've seen happen in his life, too. ... I've seen Tobey, like Gatsby, say, 'This will happen for me.'"