In one of the last events of New York Comic Con, Cary Elwes told stories from the set of “The Princess Bride” and talked up his new memoir, As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride, out October 14 from Simon & Schuster. The actor rejuvenated a tired crowd on Sunday night, taking the stage to prolonged applause and shouts of, “We love you!”
At first he refused to say the title of his book, saying “I don’t know what it is about those three words.” To shouts from the crowd, he responded, “You don’t want to hear me say that, do you? For real?” before finally speaking the iconic line: “As you wish.”
Elwes expressed gratitude to the fans that have granted The Princess Bride its lasting popularity. “I think I can speak on behalf of all the cast and all the filmmakers involved with this film, that we feel incredibly blessed that all of you, and all the fans out there, have embraced this film into your hearts the way you have. It is something phenomenal; we’re blown away by it all.”
The actor first met director Rob Reiner while he was filming Maschenka in Berlin. He was excited about both the director and the project itself, he said. “Now, I knew the book, I read the book when I was 13. And I knew who Rob Reiner was. I had seen All in the Family as a kid and I had seen a pretty cool movie he made called Spinal Tap. I didn’t know what I was more excited about: the idea of Marty Di Bergi being in my hotel room or Meathead.”
At his first meeting with Reiner, Elwes said, they bonded over a shared appreciation for popular culture. “Somehow Bill Cosby came up, and for some strange reason I found myself doing an impression of Fat Albert. To this day, I don’t know why. Probably nerves,” he said. Elwes recreated his impression for the audience, and continued, “For some reason Rob burst out laughing when I did that. And I thought, well I’m in good shape, I made the director laugh, this is cool.” But when Reiner asked him to read lines, Elwes went back to being nervous. “I’m terrible at reading, I really am, to any casting directors present today,” he said. Elwes admitted to being unsure if he had gotten the part at the conclusion of the meeting, but “About four or five days later, my agent called and said ‘Are you sitting down?’”
During production of the film, Elwes said, Reiner mentioned his impression once. “Rob brought it up later on, he said, ‘You know, we thought you were kinda funny but when you did that Fat Albert thing, that really sold it.’”
Elwes discussed at length his relationship with costar Andre the Giant. “I loved Andre. He was honestly one of the sweetest guys I ever met,” he said, but he admitted that he was intimidated at their first meeting: “Rob said to me, ‘We found a guy to play Fezzik, Andre the Giant.’ And I said, ‘Wait, his last name is The Giant?’ He goes, ‘Yeah, you get to fight him, how about that?’ And I tried to act really cool, but inside I’m going, I have to fight a giant? Are you kidding? As soon as I thought that the door opened and in walked Andre. And, God bless him, he had to bend down to get through any regular door. And as he walked in it was like a Western, when the piano player stops and everybody turns. The guy couldn’t make a subtle entrance. I look over at him like, Oh my God. And Rob’s like, ‘Eh, eh, what’d I tell you?’”
After his strong first impression, Elwes had nothing but nice things to say about the wrestler. “He’d give you the shirt off his back. It would be enough for five people, but he’d give it to you willingly,” he said.
The giant was not indestructible, Elwes explained. “Fighting with him was interesting in that Andre had a bad back. He’d been in the ring fighting something like 200 fights a year. People thought because he was so big that they could jump up and down on his back or smash a chair on his neck, whatever, they felt they didn’t have to hold back when it came to fighting Andre in the ring. So over the years, carrying all the weight that he had and being jumped up and down on, he developed a rather serious back problem, poor guy.” To manage the pain, Andre self-medicated with alcohol. On set he was constantly seen drinking his signature cocktail: “It was a pitcher filled with vodka, gin, brandy, whisky, sometimes wine, vermouth, you name it. And he called ‘the American.’ I never got him to explain why.” Elwes said that he had tasted the mixture once: “I’ve never tasted airplane fuel, but I imagine that’s the closest thing to airplane fuel. I coughed up and he laughed so hard. And he proceeded to finish it in one gulp.” But despite his constant drinking, Elwes said, “The guy never fumbled a line, never blurred, never stumbled.”
About working with Robin Wright, Elwes said, “She’s amazing. We all felt the same way that most of you feel about Robin now, back then. First of all, she’s an incredible talent. And Robin has an incredible sense of humor. And her mimicry, by the way, for doing accents, is extraordinary. She was the last person cast in the movie because Rob was so dead set on finding English actors to play Buttercup and Westley that he didn’t even think of looking at American actresses.”
His worst injury on set, Elwes said, was partially Andre’s fault. To get the extremely tall actor to the rocky terrain for the fight scenes, he said, “They rented him an all-terrain vehicle. And you’ve never seen a 450 lb. guy move so fast. I mean he was zipping around; he was everywhere.” Andre repeatedly asked Elwes if he would like to take a turn on the ATV, and Elwes always turned him down until one day, “My hubris exceeded my aptitude,” he said. “I didn’t get more than two feet on this thing. I went over a rock; I broke my left toe instantly.” He tried to hide the injury out of fear that they would send him home and recast the role. “I was like the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail: ‘It’s just a flesh wound!’” he said.
Reiner quickly found out about his injury and the filming schedule was adjusted to account for it. “In a strange way it was sort of a blessing in disguise because I really did have to focus more on the arm movements in learning how to sword fight,” said Elwes.
Elwes stayed after the panel's planned end to answer questions from fans. The first question was whether he preferred working on “The Princess Bride” or “Robin Hood: Men in Tights.” He chose “The Princess Bride,” saying, “This film was definitely a turning point for me in my life. I was 23 when I made it, it was my first big Hollywood movie, and I was surrounded by a tsunami of talent and working with people who I had admired for a long time as a kid. So that’s one of the reasons why I wrote this book. I had such fond memories of it.”
Asked about his favorite memory from the set, he shared another story about Andre the Giant and filming their first scene together. “Before I even opened my eyes, on the first take, the very first take, Andre delivered his line, ‘I guess not very long,’ and the minute he said the word long, there erupted from Andre a sonic boom that was so monumental that some of the crew thought there was an earthquake. I opened my eyes instantly and we all grabbed ahold of the set. Everyone had time to stop what they were doing, check themselves, and then look over at Andre to see if he was alright. And Andre was wearing a wig in the movie and for some reason there was steam coming out of the top of his head. The combination of the fart, which was still going on, and the steam coming out of the top of his head… I lost it! I just lost it. And he had this wonderful smile, I don’t know if it was from blessed relief or whatever. But 13 seconds later Rob finally broke the tension and said, ‘You alright, Andre?’ and Andre goes, ‘I am now, boss.’”