Cary Elwes Brings ‘The Princess Bride’ to Riverside Theater
Cary Elwes has had a remarkable career. Over the last three decades, he’s starred in dozens of films, including Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Glory, Saw and Twister. But for many his most notable performance will always be as farmhand turned hero Westley in the 1987 fantasy-adventure-comedy, The Princess Bride.
Elwes will be in Milwaukee at the Riverside Theater on Saturday, Oct. 8 for a special screening and conversation about the film. We caught up with him ahead of the show to discuss the film’s lasting impact, memories from the set and what he’s working on now.
What is it about The Princess Bride that makes people want to relive this film even 30 years later?
No one really knows what makes a successful film, but I have my own theories. The chief theory I have is that the whole family can sit down and watch this film together, and find something about it that they’ll enjoy. That’s rare today.
I also think that it’s because it’s a story about love, a grandparent’s love for his grandson, the love of reading, the love of storytelling and true love between two people who are separated by bad people.
It also has all of these whimsical things about giants, rodents of unusual size and fire swamps. It’s all from the wonderful mind of Bill Goldman and his incredibly rich imagination.
All of Goldman’s screenplays have these incredible one-liners. Our film was filled with them. I don’t know of many films that have that many great one-liners. The list is extraordinary. From, “Never get involved in a land war in Asia” to “Never go against a Sicilian when death is on the line.” It’s endless.
I think that there’s something in the film for everyone. Do you think that was the intent when originally writing the story?
I don’t know. You’d have to ask Goldman that. I know that he initially set out to write a book for his daughters. He was on a road trip to California, and they were in the back seat. He asked them what they wanted him to write about. One daughter said princesses and the other said brides. Then he came up with the idea of writing a fictional book about the Princess Bride written by a fictional author S. Morgenstern. It’s a very funny, very unusual book.
I feel I can speak for the entire cast when I say we all felt we had some very special material on our hands. We had an awesome responsibility of making sure we did it justice.
Do you have a favorite part of the making of the film?
I can’t say that there was one particular moment. The whole journey was so delightful for me. That’s why I wrote the book (As You Wish). I wanted to share that with the fans.
That’s one of the main things that I get asked, besides what Andre the Giant was like. I get asked if it was as fun to make as it looked. I always say it was more fun. That’s when I decided to write about it.
I’ve read that the sword training for the film was pretty rigorous. Just how tough was it?
We had the greatest trainers. Rob (Reiner) found these two guys who had worked for George Lucas on the first three Star Wars films. They were stand-ins for Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker for all of the lightsaber sequences. They were incredible. These guys told Rob, “Look, neither of them (Elwes and Mandy Patinkin) have fenced before in their lives, so to get them to be proficient enough to be believable just right-handed, forget left, will be a challenge.” They were off camera the whole time, and the minute Rob yelled cut, they would grab us to rehearse the sequence.
We were training every single day. When all of the other actors went home, we were off training. The sword scene was the second to last sequence shot so it gave us time to really hone our craft.
We had a very short window of time to learn this very complex fight sequence. By the time we showed the sequence to Rob, we were so fast that Rob came up to us and said, “that’s it?” He was told that the sequence would be five minutes long, but we were so fast that we had to add that whole sequence of us going up the steps, pushing up against the wall and the swinging.
That’s interesting. Most people probably couldn’t even imagine the fight scene without that part now.
Don’t forget, when he told us we had to add more we looked at each other and said, “gosh, now we have to learn all of this over again?” (laughs).
What projects do you have coming up next?
I’ve ironically just finished working with Mandy (Patinkin) on another movie. This is the first time we’ve worked together in 30 years. It’s a Spanish film with Penelope Cruz. It’s called La Reina De España, and everyone thinks that because we’re in it together that it’s some kind of sequel or related to The Princess Bride, but it’s a completely separate movie.
It’s a beautiful film directed by a wonderful Spanish director named Fernando Trueba, who won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film for Belle Époque. It’s a sequel to a film that Penelope made with Fernando some years back. It was filmed in Madrid and Budapest. It comes out Nov. 25.
I’m also shooting a series called “The Art of More,” with Dennis Quaid and Kate Bosworth on the online streaming service Crackle, which is in its second season and will premiere Nov. 18.
You can buy tickets to The Princess Bride: An Evening with Cary Elwes on Saturday, Oct. 8 here.