In 1987 The Princess Bride quietly made its way onto theater screens. With the studio’s marketing department unaware of how to sell the multigenre film (Was it an action flick with sword fights? A comedy? A great love story?), the movie never found its home and bowed out of theaters a middling success. As VHS tapes grew in popularity, slowly The Princess Bride found its fan base—truly a fanatical one—that over time saw the movie creep into our everyday lexicon, whether it be an ROUS (Rodent of Unusual Size) reference casually tossed around a Portland Monthly headline meeting or that guy at every wedding who launches into the “Mawiage. Mawiage is wat brings us togever today” bit.
Today, director Rob Reiner and writer William Goldman’s genre mash-up has landed it among the 100 Greatest Love Stories (American Film Institute), 100 Funniest Movies (according to Bravo), and 100 greatest screenplays ever (Writers Guild of America). Cary Elwes, beloved protagonist/farm boy/Dread Pirate Roberts/Westley, wrote a book with everything a fan could want. With the assistance of his castmates, in As You Wish Elwes offers a heartwarming, behind-the-scenes look at the making of this cultural phenomenon.
We read the book and got the chance to speak with Elwes (yes, he is as charming as you would imagine) about insider bits on the film.
Some of the rumored alternate casting possibilities he notes will have you imagining a very different film: Sting instead of Chris Sarandon as Humperdink (imagine him with the hairstyle he had in Dune), Danny DeVito instead of Wallace Shawn as Vizzini (Shawn constantly feared he was about to be fired and replaced by DeVito, so he approached the role with a WWDD—or What Would Danny Do?—mentality), Colin Firth as Westley (Mr. Darcy as a farm boy? Inconceivable!).
The Sad Parting
The only dark cloud the book casts is its reminder of the too-soon loss of André the Giant, the professional wrestler and Fezzik portrayor who was just 46 when he died in 1993. But even that blow is softened by tales of the man’s generosity, perhaps because he always knew he wouldn’t make it to old age: Elwes writes that the French wrestler told Billy Crystal that the big guys “don’t get such a good break…. We don’t live so long.”
The Slow Burn
While Elwes acknowledges the marketing department fumbled the film, he also recognizes that the movie needed time to become the touchstone it is today. “People have taken it to their hearts,” he says. “It’s a generational thing: whole families have watched it together.” He shares a story on how one of the moments he knew the film had reached a tipping point was when he met Bill Clinton, who told Elwes he and Chelsea had watched The Princess Bride together more than a hundred times.
The On-Set Love Fest
As an audience we want to believe that Princess Buttercup and Inigo were breaking bread with Prince Humperdink and Miracle Max. Turns out they all were. Elwes says this was his first big Hollywood movie, and he went in used to a more reserved British way of doing things. The cast quickly bonded into a family. “It was so much fun. That’s why I wrote the book. It was just so much fun, and very different from British filmmaking,” he says of the weeks spent filming. “We always get asked, was it as much fun as it looked, making it? And I always tell people it was more fun. It was a big love fest on the set. Everybody loved each other. We all used to gather in Rob’s room at the hotel for dinner, like five nights a week. That’s very rare.”
The Old-Time Charm
Could a movie like this get made in today’s Hollywood landscape? Elwes doubts it: “It would probably have a lot of CGI.”
Elwes will be in Portland to talk all things TPB related at a Powell’s Cedar Hills Crossing reading at 7pm Thursday, December 4. This event has been rescheduled to December 17, 2014. Based on how many locals turn out for periodic Princess Bride trivia nights and parks department outdoor film screenings, you should probably get there quite early. The actor told us he’s no stranger to Portland, having done extensive work with Mercy Corps (mercycorps.org) to raise awareness of the crisis and conflict in Darfur.