As You Wish: An Inconceivable Interview with Cary Elwes

Photo by Thom Stanley

Cary Elwes is well known to Dragon Con attendees for his iconic role as Westley in The Princess Bride, but this versatile actor has played many parts during his successful career: from Robin Hood in the comedic Men in Tights to Dr. Jonas Miller in Twister, Ted Bundy in The Riverman, and Dr. Lawrence Gordon in Saw. Elwes has been a soldier in Glory, an astronaut From the Earth to the Moon, and a race car driver in Days of Thunder.

Shifting into a new gear, Elwes has taken on the challenge of writing a book. His first foray as an author is titled As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride, to be released this October. The book is a compilation of behind-the-scenes stories, photos, and interviews with the cast of this well-loved classic. Elwes kindly took time from his busy schedule to answer a few questions for the Daily Dragon.  

Daily Dragon (DD): What inspired you to write your upcoming book As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of the Princess Bride, due to be released this October?

Cary Elwes (CE): The fans have pressured me over the years. They’ve always asked me, “Why don’t you write a book? Why don’t you share all these stories you’ve shared with us?” I realized that no one else in the cast was going to do it… and I was approached by a publisher. I realized now is a good time, before my memory completely starts to fade and I won’t remember any of it. It was a joyful experience for me. It was wonderful going down memory lane.

DD: Did you keep a journal? Or did you just remember it all?

CE: I didn’t keep a journal, no.  I was very lucky. I went to lunch with Norman Lear, and I expressed my fear to him—how was I going to remember all this? It was over 25 years ago. He said, “Here’s what I’m going to do for you. I’m going to give you all the call sheets from the movie.” A call sheet is what you are given every morning that tells you what time you have to be on the set, what scenes you’re shooting, and all of that.

He gave me every single call sheet from the movie. As I started reading them, I remembered where I was, what I was shooting, and who I was with. He was right. It brought it all back to me. I’m so grateful. That’s the beautiful thing about memory. It’s amazing what it takes to jog it.

DD: What was it like to be on the opposite side of the process, writing instead of acting?

CE: This was a real journey for me because I’d never written a book before. I had a great deal of help from Joseph Layden, who is a very talented, accomplished writer. And what was great is that all the cast contributed to the book. The publishers asked me if I thought they’d like to be a part of it, and I said, “I don’t know, I’ll ask them.” And God bless them, to a single one, they all agreed to be a part of the book. They all shared their memories as well.

So it’s really an ensemble book.  I can’t take full credit. It was a real journey for me. I learned a great deal about myself and about writing. It was a lot of fun.

DD: What was it like to work on The Princess Bride with such an amazing and well-chosen cast?

CE: Rob Reiner is an amazing director. He’s got a great eye, and he’s obviously got a great sense of casting. The first two people he chose were his best friends, Billy [Crystal] and Chris Guest. He didn’t do it out of nepotism. He knew they were right for the parts.

I was blown away.  I couldn’t believe it. Here were all these thoroughbred American character actors, Carol Kane, Mandy [Patinkin], Chris Sarandon, who got nominated on his first role. I was in awe of all these people. I knew all their work. I’m a film fanatic myself. I was pretty intimidated. [Laughs.] I was 23, definitely the new guy on the block. Robin was on Santa Barbara, which was a daytime soap opera, so she already had a huge amount of experience behind her. When you shoot a soap, it’s hard work. So for her, a couple of scenes a day was a breeze. Five or six scenes was no big deal to her. She would routinely do 20 pages of dialogue a day on the soap.

I was very intimidated, very nervous. But I had my birthday on the movie—I turned 24 during the shoot in October—and Rob really made me feel part of the family.

DD: I hadn’t realized before researching for this interview that you were so young when you played Westley.

CE: I know. I was a baby. A baby!

DD: You had just done the film Lady Jane about a year earlier, in which you played the wide-eyed, idealistic youth, and yet in The Princess Bride you excelled as the brave, dashing Westley. How did you make such a big change in so little time?

CE: It’s called acting, my dear. [Wide smile] Just acting.

DD: The transformation was astonishing.

CE: Thank you. That was very kind of you.

DD: I imagine you’re always asked to say a particular three-word phrase, but if you could choose one line out of the entire movie as your favorite, what would it be?

CE: It would be, “Anybody want a peanut?” I love that. I don’t know why. It was so silly.

DD: When you fought Fezzik [André the Giant]—he’s huge, and you were tiny in comparison—what was it like, trying to act as if you were taking down someone that size?

CE: Oh, gosh. Obviously it’s a great deal of smoke and mirrors. [Laughs] There’s a shot in the book of me trying to give André the Heimlich maneuver. It’s hilarious. He’s just laughing at me.

DD: Could you get your arms around him?

CE:  I couldn’t have. Please, no. I came up to his belly button. It was ridiculous.

André was so sweet. He never complained, but he was in a lot of pain. He shared with me later that, because he was a giant, when he was fighting his opponents in the ring, they would literally not hold back when throwing a punch or jumping on his back or hitting his neck with one of those metal folding chairs. They would really go for it because they thought, well, he’s seven-foot-four or -five, he can handle it.

But over the years, if you get bashed on the back of the head—I don’t care if you’re ten feet tall—it’s going to take its toll. And he had to carry around all that weight as well. He had terrible back problems, poor guy. He was due to have an operation when we wrapped the movie. He was going to have it before, but they were concerned it might interfere with the shoot and whether it would be successful or not. So he medicated himself. That’s why he drank. People think he drank just because he was André, but in fact, he was dealing with a lot of pain, God bless him.

He was never drunk. He was never sloppy. He never missed a line, never missed a cue. I saw the drinks he was mixing. It was unbelievable. He called it the American. He let me sip it one day—cognac, vodka, gin, whiskey, bourbon, red wine, white wine—whatever he felt like putting in there. He drank out of a pitcher that looked like a cup in his hand. I took a sip, and it was like sipping airplane fuel, but it got him through the day. Because he was in so much pain, it was the only way he could do it.

But I don’t recommend this, kids. Don’t try it at home. André was a unique individual. I can’t say enough about him. He was truly a gentle giant.

DD: You’ve played many roles during your successful career, from the daring Westley to Ted Bundy. Did you choose unusual roles to keep from being typecast as the handsome hero?

CE: One doesn’t want to eat the same meal twice if one can help it. I did get offered a lot of swashbuckling roles after The Princess Bride, of course. A lot. I didn’t know there were that many scripts on people’s shelves waiting to be made.

It’s nice to get those offers, but I thought, “I want to mix it up. I don’t want to be just the one guy, even though when I pass away, they’ll say, ‘Westley’s dead’.” [Laughs.] I’m fine with that. But in the meantime, I’m certainly going to have fun exploring other roles.

DD: Thank you so much for the interview. May you have many more roles to explore!

Find out more about Elwes’s new book, As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride, or preorder a copy from Amazon.

Author of the article

Debbie Yutko lives near Atlanta with her husband and two cats. When she isn’t gardening, rescuing homeless kittens, or cramming math formulas into teenagers’ brains, she can be found stringing words together at her computer and dreaming of adventures in far-off lands. She is a lifelong reader of Science Fiction and Fantasy and a veteran of Dragon Con, where she enjoys attending panels and working with the talented staff of the Daily Dragon.