BYT Interviews: Cary Elwes
jenntisdale | Sep 12, 2017 | 12:00PM |

Carrying the weight of the concept of true love must be kind of a burden, but it’s a burden Cary Elwes happily accepted 30 years ago when he stepped into the actual swashbuckling boots of Westley the Poor Farm Boy turned Dread Pirate Roberts in The Princess Bride. However, this literal love affair began long before the film because the book, The Princess Bride by William Goldman, was Elwes’ favorite growing up.

“I recommend it highly. I know I sound biased, but the reason I recommend it is it’s not like the movie at all. The book is a great satirical look at what it’s like for a writer who is searching for the truth behind the Princess Bride,” said Elwes. “Bill Goldman wrote The Princess Bride but in it he talks about a fictional author (S. Morgenstern) based on himself telling the story of how his father read the book to him and now he’s on a mission to find out if the book really exists. It’s very funny.”

This was a book Elwes cherished his entire life, which means being able to take on the role of one of his heroes was a dream come true. “I completely freaked out because I knew the history of the film, of several filmmakers trying to make it,” said Elwes. And like the fictional author in The Princess Bride it was a family affair. “I’ve always been a huge Bill Godman fan and so is my stepfather and so is my actual father so he loomed very large in our household,” said Elwes. “Obviously I was very intimidated. I’d never met him but when I knew Rob Reiner was coming to Berlin to interview me I was extremely nervous.”

Elwes didn’t even believe he was going to get the part. After all he had roles in a few movies until that point but was really just starting out. “I thought ‘It’s such a long shot that I’ll get this.’ I didn’t put too much investment in it to be honest with you because I didn’t want to get my hopes up too much.”

It all worked out of course because years later we’re still captivated by this movie. “I call it the gift that keeps on giving,” said Elwes. “It’s provided me with the career and the life I have today and so I never take it for granted,” he said. “Here we are 30 years later and we’re still selling out audiences. The book is still selling very very well. It’s extraordinary.”

This experience was so deeply embedded in Elwes that a few years ago he decided to write a book about his time making this movie. As You Wish: Tales from The Making of The Princess Bride is an adventure in its own right and like all adventures, it was a bit of a journey. “The idea for the book really came because I was always asked by fans of the film, ‘Was it as much fun making the film as it looks?’ and I always tell folks it was more fun,” said Elwes. “I always get asked, ‘What it was like working with AndrĂ©? What was the filmmaking like? Did you know it was going to be successful?’ There were so many questions all the time.”

It was at that point Elwes knew, based on the good old fashioned law of supply and demand, that he had to answer these questions for the fans. And he couldn’t do it alone. Most heroes can’t. “I approached Rob Reiner and Norman Lear and obviously Bill Goldman, and they all agreed to it,” said Elwes. “Not only did they agree to it, but they wanted to be part of the book. It’s a wonderful opportunity to write a memoir where you’ve got all the actors from the movie and the director and the producers and the writer all chiming in from their memories as well. I was very fortunate in that respect.”

Of course everyone is pulling from something they did 27 years ago. Memories fade with time so how does one go about such a task? “I don’t have a terrific memory so I was a little nervous about that because the publisher said they definitely needed x amount of pages for the book and I thought to myself ‘Gosh, how am I going to do that?’ I only remembered maybe 5 or 6 good stories,” said Elwes. “So I called Norman Lear up and Norman said ‘Come to lunch with me and we’ll discuss it.'”

At lunch, Lear told Elwes he would be able to send him all the call sheets from the film. Call sheets are the work orders actors and the crew get to tell them what they’re shooting that day. He was sure this would help Elwes jog his memory. “A week later this beautiful bound copy of the call sheets arrived and all in order,” said Elwes. “I opened the first one to the first day of rehearsal with Mandy (Patinkin), learning how to sword fight, and it all came rushing back to me. I could remember literally almost every day of shooting which was amazing.”

That famous sword fight with Mandy Patinkin, who we all affectionately know as Inigo Montoya, was actually carried out by Elwes and Patinkin who learned to sword fight with both hands because that’s what the scene called for. “It’s very hard to do and requires a lot of training,” said Elwes. “We had great trainers. Rob found the very best guys, Bob Anderson and Peter Diamond, who were the guys that designed all the light saber sequences for the first three Star Wars films. No pressure at all.”

Of course no film is without its mishaps. Despite the arduous training Elwes still found himself in the hospital a couple of times. “I was very accident-prone on the film. I broke a toe and Chris (Sarandon) knocked me out with the butt of his sword during that scene when I say ‘We are men of action. Lies do not become us,’ and he knocks me on the head. The screen went black and so did I,” said Elwes. “I wound up on the same operating table with the doctor who fixed my toe, still in my costume, and the doctor said ‘You’re very accident prone aren’t you Zorro?'”

It was all worth it in the end because we have a film that spans both age and time. We also have a pretty high standard to meet as far as true love goes, but does true love exist? “It’s the number one subject written about since man could start telling stories,” said Elwes. “There is nothing more important than true love. There really isn’t. It’s the one emotion we’re still trying to figure a way to describe in words. Poets have tried and authors have tried. It’s still a great mystery. What happens to us when we fall in love. What happens when we lose that love,” he said. “I think that’s one of the reasons why the film has the longevity that it has, because it has a lovely theme. It’s about true love and the sacrifices we make for true love and that’s a very enduring theme.”

Cary Elwes will be at the Strathmore this Saturday for The Princess Bride: An Inconceivable Evening with Cary Elwes which will feature a screening of the film followed by a Q&A