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Inconceivable Tales

Actor Cary Elwes on the making of The Princess Bride

Created date

December 22nd, 2014
The Princess Bride set
The Princess Bride set

Actor Cary Elwes is a familiar face among moviegoers, known for his performance in films like Glory, Days of Thunder, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and Twister. But of the dozens of pictures he’s made, one stands out.

Based on William Goldman’s 1973 novel by the same title, The Princess Bride (1987) has become a modern film classic with a legion of devoted fans. A fairytale about a princess, an evil prince, and a brave, handsome hero, the film launched Elwes onto the world stage with his starring role as the swashbuckling protagonist, Westley. 

In his new memoir As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales From the Making of The Princess Bride (Simon & Schuster, 2014), Elwes recounts the cinematic journey he began 25 years ago. Recently, the Tribune spoke with him about the book and the film’s place in pop culture.

Tribune: Why do you think audiences love this movie so much?

Elwes: I have a theory about that. Of course, if I definitively knew the answer, I’d be making hit movies all the time. 

First of all, the film was made with a lot of heart. As a writer, Bill Goldman is one of our national treasures. 

He wrote The Princess Bride for his daughters. He had asked them what he should write a book about, and one of them said princesses and the other said brides. So he wrote a fairytale with both, and it comes alive with his wonderful sense of humor.

But also, I think that people like the movie because it’s something you can watch and enjoy with your friends and family, quoting your favorite lines together.

Tribune: It’s definitely one of the most quotable movies ever made.

Elwes: Absolutely. Anyone who’s seen the film knows how quotable it is. Over the years, I’ve heard just about every line quoted by fans—I’ve actually seen a few people who’ve had lines from the movie tattooed on their bodies. [LAUGHS]

Tribune: And as a director, it seems like Rob Reiner allowed you guys to develop your characters, which I think is partly why audiences are so passionate about the film.

Elwes: That’s an interesting point. The French director Francois Truffaut once said that 90% of your work on a film is done if you’ve cast it properly. 

He was right. If you luck out with a cast like we had where everybody showed up to the set with his and her A game, you’ve got a good thing. 

And we had a wonderful director in Rob. He knew what he wanted, which was great. But he also allowed us to do our thing as actors.

Tribune: When you were making the picture, did you have any idea how big it would ultimately become?

Elwes: Naturally, we all cared about it very much, as you do any project you’re working on, but we were a bit bummed out when it opened the same week as Fatal Attraction and disappeared rather quickly. 

So, no, not at first.

The film didn’t find its legs until it came out on video. That’s when people started renting it, buying it, and giving it as gifts. Eventually, it achieved a massive cult following.

Tribune: What made you want to write a memoir about the making of this modern classic, which indeed it has become?

Elwes: Well, all of us involved with the film have been asked whether it was as much fun to make as it looked. My answer is always that it was more fun than it looked, and that’s a big reason why I wanted to write the book. 

I wanted to show everyone what an incredible journey I went on. 

I should point out that this book was a collaborative effort. My fellow cast and crew members shared their experiences with me—Robin Wright, Chris Guest, Mandy Patinkin, Wally Shawn, Billy Crystal, Bill Goldman, Rob Reiner. 

This is as much their story as it is mine.

Tribune: Did you have any difficulty remembering what happened on the set 25 years ago?

Elwes: Very good question. I was nervous when I hung up with Simon & Schuster after making my deal because I didn’t keep a journal or diary during the shooting. I probably should have in hindsight. But I was busy acting, so it never crossed my mind.

One thing that helped a great deal was using the original call sheets from the film to see where I was and what I was doing each day. That jogged a lot of memories for me. In fact, it all came rushing back, which I think was the case for the rest of the cast as well.

They all reacted the same way when I told them I was writing this book. They were thrilled to recount their memories. 

We had so much fun making the movie. How could you not have fun in a job where battling giants and rescuing damsels in distress are all in a day’s work? It was brilliant.