For 28 years, Cary Elwes has been haunted by “those three words.” But as an up-and-coming 24-year-old actor cast as the lead in 1987’s “The Princess Bride,” he knew even then that he was going to be a part of something special.
“I call it the gift that keeps on giving,” Mr. Elwes told The Washington Times of the cult classic fantasy based on the novel by William Goldman — who also wrote the screenplay — and directed by Rob Reiner. “I consider myself incredibly blessed to have been part of a film that people still resonate with.”
Mr. Goldman initially wrote “The Princess Bride” as a fairy tale for his young daughters. The story he concocted centers on Buttercup, a country damsel in love with Westley, a poor farm boy who leaves her to seek his fortune but unfortunately falls victim to the Dread Pirate Roberts. However, (spoiler alert) unknown to Buttercup, Westley is very much alive and well, having inherited the name and occupation of the sea pirate. Fighting, torture, magic, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles and “the greatest sword fight of all time” ensue.
Even three decades removed from his role as the pirate hero — and his famous “as you wish” catchphrase — Mr. Elwes is continually approached by fans who inquire whether the film was a joy to make, to which he replies it was in fact more fun than what appeared on screen. Rather than share on-set anecdotes one on one, he opted to write a book to pull back the curtain on the movie-making process.
Appropriately enough, the book is titled “As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales From the Making of The Princess Bride,” co-written with Joe Layden. Mr. Elwes is touring to promote the book, and his first stop is the Prudential Hall in Newark, New Jersey, on Sunday.
“It occurred to me that no one else in the cast” had written such a book, Mr. Elwes said. “And I thought, ‘Well, if no one else is going to write it, I have some great stories, probably more than anybody else on the film and I want to share that with the fans. I want to make it like a love letter to the fans how much fun we all had.’”
The film pulled in $31 million at the box office. Mr. Elwes said it has attained such a large and fervent following thanks largely to pre-Internet word-of-mouth raves and home video rentals.
“I was in a restaurant in Manhattan and I was ordering a hamburger, and the waitress said, ‘How do you want that done?’” Mr. Elwes recalled of a time a few years after the film had opened. “I said, ‘Medium rare, please,’ and she said, ‘As you wish!’ She looked at me and winked and said, ‘You know.’ That was the first time I’d heard it.”
Putting his own recollections of the making of “The Princess Bride” to paper, Mr. Elwes also called on his castmates to provide blurbs for “As You Wish.” Every one of them “said yes without hesitation,” he said.
In addition to Mr. Reiner — who penned the book’s introduction — and Mr. Goldman, co-stars Mandy Patinkin, Chris Sarandon, Christopher Guest, Billy Crystal and Robin Wright, the titular “princess bride,” lent their memories to his tome.
Even New York playwright Wallace Shawn, who portrayed the Sicilian villain Vizzini, came through for Mr. Elwes despite years of being haunted by fans parroting his character’s famous exclamation, “Inconceivable!”
“Wally Shawn said to me, ‘You have no idea, Cary. If I miss an elevator, someone yells out, “Inconceivable,”’ Mr. Elwes said. “[It’s] endless for the guy.”
In his book, Mr. Elwes also shares his memories of the late professional wrestler Andre Rene Roussimoff, better known as Andre the Giant, who played the gentle giant Fezzik, with whom Westley forms an uneasy alliance in his quest to rescue Buttercup from marrying the vile Prince Humperdinck (Mr. Sarandon).
Mr. Elwes praised the 7-foot-tall French wrestler’s tender spirit and generosity with fans and strangers, saying Andre was ever professional and never complained of physical suffering despite being in constant agony, which he sought to relieve with massive quantities of wine.
“I miss his smile. I really do,” Mr. Elwes said. “He had normal-size teeth, but they looked like baby teeth in his mouth, and, you know, he just had the sweetest disposition about him. I didn’t find out from him until halfway through the film that he was in terrible pain [because of] back problems, both from carrying all that weight and also from all the punishment he took in the ring. And he never complained.”
Mr. Elwes relates in the book a secondhand anecdote about how Andre once passed out from intoxication in a hotel lobby. So massive was Andre that the hotel staff, unable to move him to a room, simply put up velvet ropes around the unconscious body of “The Eighth Wonder of the World.”
“He was just a gracious, gracious human being, and he taught me a lot about not sweating the small stuff,” Mr. Elwes said. “Here was a guy who was stared at a lot and ogled at and everyone took pictures with him all the time. Everybody left meeting Andre like their lives had changed in some way. It was really beautiful.”
Mr. Elwes said he is proud of Miss Wright, who was 20 years old during the filming. Adding to her lengthy film career — including starring opposite Tom Hanks in “Forrest Gump” — Miss Wright is setting the small screen afire as the devious Claire Underwood in Netflix’s “House of Cards,” on which Mr. Patinkin has guest-starred.
“She was an extraordinary actor when we met her, and she’s only, like good wine, gotten better with age,” Mr. Elwes said of his on-screen love, who pulled off a flawless British accent in “The Princess Bride” despite being a native Texan. “I mean, she’s extraordinary to watch. The woman is wonderful.”
Mr. Elwes said the cast and crew remain close. His book includes photographs of the 2012 reunion to celebrate the film’s 25th anniversary.
“It’s crazy to think that [so many] years have gone by and yet I have such love for my castmates and the filmmakers,” he said. “We’re all in touch but it’s very rare to get us all in the same room together at one time, so that was wonderful.”
In addition to his dashing heroes, Mr. Elwes has upended his image by appearing in the “Saw” films and even playing bad guys in such movies as “Days of Thunder,” “Twister,” “The Jungle Book” and others. He credits fellow Englishman Alan Rickman in the first “Die Hard” film with starting a trend of British actors being called upon for on-screen villainy.
“When you’re playing a villain, usually you get the best lines,” Mr. Elwes said.
For his upcoming live appearances in Newark, Philadelphia and elsewhere, Mr. Elwes will be reading from and sharing stories from “As You Wish” as well as taking audience questions.
“That’s always fun because I get asked things that I’ve usually never answered before,” he said. “Fans have responded to [the book] in a way that has been overwhelming to us, honestly.”
Mr. Elwes said he will sign anything fans put before him. While often they entreat him for specific messages, more often than not, he said, “You know, it’s usually ‘those three words.’”