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Cary Elwes on the enduring appeal of The Princess Bride

Cary Elwes on the set of <i>The Princess Bride</i>
Cary Elwes on the set of The Princess Bride

"You're a fan of the film, I take it," purrs Cary Elwes, his British-tinged accent languidly charming even over the phone. It's tough to taper fandom when speaking to the actor who portrayed Westley – dreamy farm boy turned dashing masked hero – in The Princess Bride. Fortunately, the London native, just 23 years old during the movie's making, still loves discussing the Rob Reiner-directed classic, so much so that he recently penned an entire (and aptly titled) memoir about it.

Out this week, As You Wish offers Elwes' fondest memories from the movie's filming, as well as behind-the-scenes goofs and interviews with his co-stars, including Billy Crystal and Robin Wright (aka Princess Buttercup). Now 51, Elwes has appeared in a number of blockbusters since his 1987 breakthrough as Westley (Saw, Twister), yet he's still best recognized as "The Man in Black," regularly approached by fans desperate to hear him utter those three magical words: "As you wish."

"Fans always ask the same questions," Elwes begins. "'What was it like making this film?' 'What was your favorite experience?' But I can never pinpoint one particular moment – the whole experience was such a joyous journey for me. So, I thought it'd be a good time to finally write this book, before my memory starts to fail me."

As he began outlining the memoir, the Angeleno met with the film's executive producer Norman Lear, who provided Elwes with the movie set's original daily call-sheets to help trigger his recall.

"As I read through every page in order, I started remembering exactly where I was each day. I was so relieved my brain hadn't completely lost all its sensory operators. It was a delight to revisit those memories."

Surprisingly, the now-cult classic, shot over four months in England, was something of a sleeper. As You Wish details the studio's struggle to properly market a story with several "meshing genres." The film's only trailer was considered so confusing to audiences that it was ultimately pulled from theatres by the studio. Come opening weekend, The Princess Bride was a box office dud.

"We were all disappointed when it came and went," Elwes says. "It was only with the invention of VHS and DVD that, nearly a decade later, it suddenly came back to life. It was a wonderfully sweet turn of events for us."

Though divulging specifics would spoil the book's "plot," the page turner offers several peeks into on-set hijinks, including the star's not one, but two trips to the emergency room during filming. "Smoke and mirrors can even disguise a broken toe," Elwes laughs, recalling his fateful attempt at driving André the Giant's (né Roussimoff) ATV.

The memoir humorously recounts Roussimoff's mind-bogglingly high alcohol tolerance, but most memorable is the author's depiction of his late co-star – not as a 500-pound giant, but as the kindest soul he's ever met.

The actor also pays frequent homage to his co-star, Robin Wright, with whom he was "smitten" at first sight. "It's hard not to fall in love with Robin," he says. "We were Westley and Buttercup."

Most notably, As You Wish sparks a strong urge to re-watch The Princess Bride. I popped in my DVD the very day I finished reading the memoir, for, realistically, about the 50th time. Though I hadn't seen the movie in years, I found myself moved in the same ways I was as a kid. I recited my favorite lines by heart. ("Hear this now – I will always come for you.")

A timeless tale with universal themes – love and loss, good vs. evil – The Princess Bride defies era and age, its message as poignant today as it was a quarter of a century ago.

"We grow old," Elwes writes, "but it doesn't seem to. ... It belongs to everyone now."


The Alamo Drafthouse's Action Pack hosts a quote-along screening of The Princess Bride with Cary Elwes in person on Monday, Oct. 20 at the Long Center's Dell Hall. Ticket price includes a signed copy of As You Wish and commemorative pint glass; for more info, visit www.thelongcenter.org.

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