Cary Elwes has become a familiar face to film fans over the years with memorable roles in many different genres. However, it is his iconic role of Westley in ‘The Princess Bride’ that has engrained the actor in the hearts and minds of film fans around the globe. A true classic, ‘The Princess Bride’ has been a family favorite for close to three decades and was ranked by the American Film Institute as one of the top 100 Greatest Love Stories and by the Writers Guild of America as one of the top 100 screenplays of all time. Clearly, it isn’t inconceivable to think ‘The Princess Bride’ will continue to resonate with audiences for years to come!
Offering an amazing gift to fans of this amazing tale, Cary Elwes goes back to his roots with his new book, “As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride.” Offering a first-person account and behind-the-scenes look at the making of the cult classic film, the book is filled with never-before-told stories, exclusive photographs, and interviews with costars Robin Wright, Wallace Shawn, Billy Crystal, Christopher Guest, and Mandy Patinkin, as well as author and screenwriter William Goldman, producer Norman Lear, and director Rob Reiner, who also offers the book’s foreword. Another amazing addition to the book is a limited edition original poster by acclaimed artist Shepard Fairey, which is included on the inside of the dust cover. “As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride.” is a must-have for all fans of this beloved film.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Cary Elwes to discuss his amazing career, the challenges of bringing ‘The Princess Bride’ to life, what fans can look forward to with back at the film, his work with The Mercy Corps and much more.
They say a career in the entertainment is not for the faint of heart. How did you get started on your journey and what made you pursue acting as a career?
That is a good question. I was always fascinated as a kid. I watched a lot of TV even though growing up in England we only had two channels! [laughs] If you can believe that! My viewing was very specific and it became refined towards comedy and it was really my first love. I started to get into the likes of Peter Sellers and then, a little bit later on, Monty Python. I just loved the idea of being in entertainment and acting specifically from watching these actors. Then, of course, I started watching a ton of movies and became an assistant director at one point. I talk about that in the book, when I went to work at Pinewood Studios on a Bond film. I wanted to be a part of the business, learn my craft and become an actor like some of my heroes, you know?
You have been at it for quite a while now and have become such a familiar face to audiences around the world. To what do you attribute your longevity?
Where do you look for inspiration these days?
I always look to my peer group for inspiration. I am reading a great book on Marlon Brando right now called “Brando’s Smile,” which is a new biography about him. I also watch movies of the people I admire to fuel the creative fire.
You have an awesome new book on the way called “As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride.” How did you become involved with the movie many years ago?
I was working on a film in Berlin, a little independent movie, when I got a call from my agent in London saying Rob Reiner was flying from London to Berlin with his producer and wanted to meet with me. They did! He and Andy Scheinman flew all the way to Berlin. We had a wonderful meeting. I thought it went well but I wasn’t sure but we definitely hit it off.
What was it about the film or character that made you want to pursue it and what did you bring to the character that wasn’t on the written page?
Let me answer the second part of that question first. William Goldman is one of the great writers in literature. I grew up admiring him. I had seen all of the films he had either adapted from his own novels or been hired to write as a screenplay writer including “All The President’s Men,” “Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid,” “Marathon Man,” etcetera. I had read the book of “The Princess Bride” when I was 13. When I got the script he had had it for over a decade trying to get it made as a movie. He bought the rights to the book back from the studio. By the time we came to shoot it, the script had been refined over and over again. It was a script where there wasn’t a lot of wiggle room for improvising. The only person who was really allowed to improvise was Billy Crystal, as Miracle Max, when Rob told him to do some yiddish standup. What did I bring to it? I don’t know. I like to think I was in the right place at the right time. I had all the qualities that Rob was looking for in Westley. When I say we hit it off, what we hit off was the fact that I had enormous respect for him and his work. I had seen “This Is Spinal Tap” several times before he showed up in Berlin. I was a big fan of his work and had seen “All In The Family” as a kid, when I visited The States on holiday and found out you had more than two channels in the United States! [laughs] You’d have to ask him what I brought to the part but I like to think I was lucky because I think there were several other actors who could have played the part just as well.
I’m sure you had no idea the film would become the hit that it did but was there something different about this film while you were on set?
Absolutely! William Goldman refers to the film as an “oddball movie.” That is one of the reasons why he loved it so much. In England, they call the movie set the circus when you are traveling around and this film really felt like one with giants, little people inside rat suits and lots of clowns clowning around. I just felt like it was an incredible experience of a tale of true love complete with pirates and princesses. It was really magical. People ask us all the time, I can speak for the rest of the cast, “Was it as much fun making this film as it looks like it was?” I tell people it was more than you imagine! Often times, you work on a film and it is fun but that doesn’t necessarily translate at the box office. With this film, we had such a good time. We didn’t think it would become the success it has now become but we certainly had an incredible time making it! That is why I wrote the book because I wanted to share with the fans how incredibly fun everything was!
What made now the time to write the book?
I wanted to do it before my memory completely failed me! [laughs]
Clearly, putting a book together is no easy task. What were your goals or expectations for the book when you started down that path?
I was very blessed that Simon and Schuster partnered me with a wonderful writer, Joe Laden, number one. Number two, the whole cast and the filmmakers agreed to share the writing of the book with me, so I can’t take all of the credit. It is really a combined effort and I think it is going to be the definitive book about the making of this film. I don’t think there will be any others.
What can you tell us about the process of bringing it all together into book form?
It’s teamwork. You work with editors and my co-writer, it is a process. I’ve never done it before so it was an incredible eye-opening journey for me with a big learning curve.
What did you discover about the film?
Absolutely! It was great to hear some stories I had never heard before from the rest of the cast. Mandy [Patinkin] reminded me that we had to improvise part of the fight sequence at the last second because it didn’t work for the camera angle that Rob was shooting from. We were able, in 20 minutes, which was the time Rob gave us to fix it and come up with a new half minute sequence of the fight right there on the spot. That was fun to remember and was something I had forgotten about. I also didn’t know anything about why Wally Shawn was so anxious during filming but when you read the book you will find out why!
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in making the film?
In making the film, the biggest obstacle was when I broke my toe. That was definitely a challenge, especially since I broke it before we shot the fight sequence and it hadn’t fully healed by then.
Are there parallels between acting and writing?
I would say that both are a matter of research and being focused.
What impact did your role in “The Princess Bride” have on your career?
Well, it made my career. It was a turning point for me as an actor. I made the film when I was relatively young and I was definitely the least experienced among the cast. Everyone else had worked far more than I had at that point, so it was a little intimidating. Everyone made me feel so welcome and it was a really joyous experience. I can’t remember a day going by where I don’t remember laughing, let’s put it that way.
“The Princess Bride” featured an amazingly talented cast. What did you take away from this project that really stuck with you through the years?
Yeah, I learned that you can have a good time making a film and have it be successful. It doesn’t always work out that way. I have worked on some films that were great fun but sadly didn’t perform as well as everyone had hoped. I watched these actors who were very focused in their roles and characters and yet were able to laugh at themselves and have a good time while making the film. There were no egos. It was a real life-changing experience for me.
“The Princess Bride” still attracts fans both old and new. What is it about the film that still captivates audiences?
It is a tale of true love and it is done in a very warm, whimsical way. It is also a family movie. Parents, grandparents and children can all sit down and watch it together and that is rare nowadays. It’s a really sweet story written by Bill Goldman for his two daughters, and it’s a love letter to them. Both the book and the film have a lot of heart and that goes a long way.
Was there ever talk of a film sequel to “The Princess Bride?” From what I understand, William Goldman was working on a book sequel that he never quite finished.
Correct. Bill had started writing that sequel himself as a book called “Buttercup’s Baby.” However, he was having a really hard time with it and couldn’t make it happen. As I’ve said, he is a truly great writer and if he couldn’t do it, then who else was could? You know what I mean? Honestly, I think it’s nice being left as a single film without a sequel and it is a film that would be very hard to remake.
That is probably for the best! Another very cool addition to the book is the limited edition poster Shepard Fairey brought to the table. How did that come about?
I just asked him! I met him at party and we became friends. It turns out he’s a big fan of the movie, and I just called him up. We’re very blessed to have him be a part of the book. It’s an absolutely beautiful piece of work.
“The Princess Bride” doesn’t easily fall into one genre, which parallels your career in a lot of ways. What do you look for in characters you play these days?
Anything that intrigues me. I try to find characters that resonate with me on one level or another. I try to read the scripts as though I was an audience member. My criteria is typically, “Would I want to go and see this movie even if I weren’t in it?”
What project do you have on the horizon?
I did a film called “Sugar Mountain” with Jason Momoa and Melora Walters. We shot that in a town two hours north of Anchorage. It is a beautiful family drama made by this wonderful Australian director, Richard Gray. That should be out sometime in the spring of 2015. Then I shot another drama with Catherine Keener, which I believe is still being edited, but that should be out in the spring as well. It is called “The Greens Are Gone.”
You also have another big milestone this year as we celebrate the 10th anniversary of “SAW.”
Yeah! I’m pretty fortunate in that I have two films that clearly have resonated with fans in two different genres. I can’t believe it! We couldn’t believe it making it. We shot the film in 18 days at the cost of $1 million dollars and it made over $100 million over the opening weekend. We were all thrilled about that, obviously, because it was a passion project for everyone concerned.
Is there a role or genre that eluded you at this point that you are still eager to play?
I wouldn’t mind trying a western some day.
What is the best piece of advice you can pass along to aspiring actors that might look to you as an inspiration?
I go back to that one word – perseverance.
Your work isn’t limited to the screen. What can you tell us about your involvement with the Mercy Corps?
Oh, thank you for asking! The Mercy Corps is very near and dear to my heart. They are a very unique non-profit organization in that unlike other NGOs [Non-Governmental Organizations], they have personnel that they fly out to places that have been hit by manmade or natural disasters. Most NGO’s fly to the disaster areas and provide all the necessary immediate needs that the community is immediately lacking: food, water, shelter, clothes, medicine, etcetera. Mercy Corps is different in that after all those NGOs have left, Mercy Corps send in their NGOs and help that community get back on its feet. In other words, their philosophy is, “If you give a person a fish, you can feed them for a day but if you give them a fishing rod, you can teach them to feed themselves for a lifetime.” They help the affected community by helping them start up small businesses, micro-loans, getting the farmer’s fields back to being irrigated, opening little shops in the camps and so on. This helps the community get back on its feet so they have a long-term way of sustaining themselves, rather than band aids that last only a short while. You can learn more about them and their work at www.mercycorps.org.
Thank you for your time today, Cary! As a fan of the film, a huge thank you for bringing both the film and this new book to life!
Thank you, Jason! God Bless!
“As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride” hits stores on October, 14th, 2014.