Cary Elwes on Writing As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales From the Making of The Princess Bride
Cary Elwes (whose booksigning originally scheduled for tonight at the Tattered Cover has been postponed until further notice), explains in the introduction to his bestselling book, As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales From the Making of The Princess Bride, that he was inspired to pen the tome at the 25-year-anniversary celebration of the film. "The film has literally millions of devotees," Elwes writes. "They know every line, every character, every scene. And, if they'd like to know a little bit more about how their favorite film was made, as seen through the eyes of a young actor who got much more than he bargained for, then all I can say is ... As you wish."
We caught up with Elwes to talk about the story behind the story behind the story and how he put together such a spellbinding (true!) tale.
Westword: You devoted a chapter in As You Wish to fencing and preparing for the fight scene with Mandy (Patinkin), and you wrote in the book that you weren't considered a strong fencer -- but when I saw you later in Robin Hood: Men in Tights, I assumed it was a specialty because you seemed so comfortable with a sword. Are there any other skills or assets that you gained on the set of The Princess Bride that served you in later films?
Cary Elwes: Well, The Princess Bride was my first big Hollywood movie, and certainly the fencing scene helped me with the swordfight scene with Roger Rees in Men in Tights. And working with Rob (Reiner), who grew up with Mel Brooks, prepared me for another great experience of working with a legendary comedian-director. I really can't overestimate how important The Princess Bride was, because it gave me the career I have today.
You mention that you read the book The Princess Bride when you were thirteen. Can you talk about how you discovered the book and your impressions of the story at that age?
Bill Goldman, the writer who wrote the book and the screenplay, already loomed large because my stepfather and biological father were big fans. I'd seen Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid several times, and Marathon Man. My stepfather gave me the book when I was thirteen, and it's wonderful. It's very different from the movie; if you haven't read it, I recommend it. So for me, it was a fairy tale come true, literally a dream come true, when my agent told me that Rob Reiner was flying to Berlin to meet with me and discuss the project.
You sat down to write As You Wish more than two decades after your experiences filming the movie it's about. How did you reconstruct those experiences from memory, with the level of detail you were able to include, and what were some of the challenges?
I didn't keep a journal or a diary, I wish in hindsight that I had, but Norman Lear was incredibly helpful. I shared with him my concern that I didn't keep a diary and would only remember a certain number of things, it being 27 years ago, and he sent me all the call sheets and told me, "When you read them, you'll remember where you were and what you were doing that day." And he was right. When I started to read them, I remembered.
Can you tell me about the parts in As You Wish where the other members of the cast and crew weighed in? Did they read your manuscript and add thoughts where they wanted to, or did you have specific memories that you wanted specific people to share?
They were all part of it. I'm very fortunate, I co-wrote it with Joe Layden, but I also managed to get all the filmmakers and cast to be a part of the book. They all graciously volunteered; it really makes the book that much exciting.
Was there any difficulty approaching this project from a writer's perspective when William Goldman was the novelist and screenwriter in question? How did it feel to walk in his footsteps in that way?
I wanted his blessing -- obviously, I asked for his blessing, and Rob's and Norman's. Those were the first three people I contacted. I wanted it to be a love letter to the film, to everybody I worked with, and that was really what I set out to do. I ended up re-reading his books, Adventures in the Screentrade and Which Lie Did I Tell, because his style of writing is conversational and I wanted to make it an homage to him.
Did Goldman ever talk about his decision to rework the ambiguous and somewhat pessimistic end of his novel into an obviously happy ending in the movie? If not, do you have any ideas about why that was done?
I think that was a combination of Rob and him working together. There were some changes to the script once we arrived in England. There were several things we lost from the novel -- obviously, we lost the Zoo of Death; we hadn't the budget for all the animals. There were a number of changes. And don't forget, Goldman had been toying with this script for almost a decade: The book came out in '73 and here we were in '86.
He and Rob were a wonderful match together, by the way, and proved to be a fruitful relationship. They ended up making Misery together.
Have you read any other books that you'd like to act out on the big screen?
I don't really read novels with that in mind so much. There have been a couple, but I sort of want to keep them to myself so someone else doesn't do them!
Would you ever write another book about your experiences in a different movie?
That would be up to Simon & Schuster, whether or not they'd like to do it again. I certainly would be up for it, I enjoyed this process. It was an incredible learning curve from me. I'd probably poll fans and see what they'd want me to write about.
What's the most frequently asked question you get about The Princess Bride?
To say those three magical words.
Can you tell us about the Shepard Fairey print that's included with the hardcover version?
It's lovely, isn't it? I got to meet him and I asked him if he'd be interested in working with me on the book, and he very graciously accepted, and Simon & Schuster came up with a brilliant idea to make it part of the dust cover on the hardcover. He created this fantastic poster, if you take the cover off the book, there's this fabulous artwork on the back.
Visit the book's website to learn more -- and watch for Cary Elwes's rescheduled appearance at the Tattered Cover.
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