Cary Elwes: As You Wish

Cover of As You Wish

Rest well, and dream of large women.

If the quotation above doesn’t immediately ring a bell, then this book may well not be for you.

How about:

There’s a shortage of perfect breasts in this world. It would be a pity to damage yours.

Or, indeed, the title of this book:

As you wish.

They’re all quotes from the The Princess Bride, a film released to only moderate enthusiasm in 1987, which then became a slow-burning cult classic on video. It was a quirky adaptation of a quirky original novel by William Goldman, also entitled The Princess Bride.

Cover of The Princess BrideIf you haven’t seen the film (or read the novel), it’s very difficult to describe what it’s about or why it’s so well-loved. It’s … well … a sort of richly layered fantasy-romance-satire-homage-comedy—

Oh, for pity’s sake just go and watch it now.  Come back to me when you’ve done that.

Cary Elwes, the author of this memoir, played The Princess Bride‘s romantic lead, Westley / The Dread Pirate Roberts / The Man in Black. (I told you it was complicated.) The subtitle of the book is Inconceivable Tales From The Making Of “The Princess Bride”, and that’s exactly what it is—a series of anecdotes about Elwes’s involvement in the film. But his story is interspersed with text boxes containing reminiscences from the writer, William Goldman, the director, Rob Reiner, and pretty much all of the surviving lead actors. So it assembles a host of viewpoints into an overview of the making of the film.

In places, it gets a bit luvvie—actors do seem to devote their memoirs to either dishing the dirt on, or writing love-letters to, their fellow performers. Elwes falls firmly into the latter category. But everyone involved does seem to have had a rather splendid and hilarious time while making the film, with the exception of Wallace Shawn, who seems to have spent his entire time on set in trembling fear that he was about to be fired and replaced by Danny DeVito. And everyone seems to have loved the gentle charm of André the Giant, the two-and-a-quarter-metre tall acromegalic wrestler who played Fezzik the … um … Giant.

Some of the stories are good, some less so. The predictable reaction of American directors to British union-mandated tea-breaks has pretty much been done to death, I think. But then there’s the broken toe episode, the stuntman that had to be bailed out of jail for a critical scene, and the actor who was accidentally knocked unconscious on camera.

The most impressive story is about how much practice Elwes and Mandy Patinkin put in for their sword fight, which Goldman had marked up on the screenplay as simply THE GREATEST SWORDFIGHT IN MODERN TIMES. In order to make it so, Elwes and Patinkin practised their duel scene (left- and right-handed) for months before production began, and then at spare moments during the film itself. And Elwes was understandably perturbed to find that Patinkin had also been training for a couple of months before he turned up for his preproduction training.

I’d say it’s probably worth rewatching the film before reading the book. And now I’m going to have to watch it again, so that I can fully appreciate the sword fight, the broken toe, and the unconscious actor.

5 thoughts on “Cary Elwes: As You Wish”

  1. I love the movie, though it does seem to be a love it or hate it thing. I remember putting it on at work on a particularly quiet night shift a few years ago and most people just didn’t get it.

    1. I think Cary Elwes really got the tone of the film exactly right. He plays his character with complete seriousness, and yet somehow manages to transmit that you shouldn’t take him seriously. There’s probably some actual acting involved in being able to do that.

  2. There’s some real nuance to his performance. And Patinkin’s for that matter. It’s surprising Elwes never really became a name, but then I guess that’s not unusual when actors become attached to such roles.

    Wallace Shawn went on to play the grand Nagus on Star Trek Deep Space 9. A show Chris Sarandon also appeared on. You may or may not know that. 🙂

  3. Yes, I imagine Elwes may have reflected on the injustice of it all while pretending to chop his own foot off in Saw.

    There’s a slightly worrying interview with Shawn in the “Making Of …” documentary on the Blu-Ray of The Princess Bride, in which he confesses to having no sense of humour at all. He said that he just shouted the lines and everyone laughed, but he wasn’t sure why.

  4. Thankfully I’ve never watched Saw, though you may well be right.

    I really should pick up thePrincess Bride Bluray, even if just for the extras.

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