Cary Elwes on Acting, As You Wish, and Andre the Giant's Awesome Hugs

Cary Elwes brings As You Wish to the Valley.
Cary Elwes brings As You Wish to the Valley.
Miranda Penn Turn

UPDATE: Cary Elwes' December 2 book signing has been postponed. Changing Hands has not announced a new date as of this writing, but tickets purchased for the December 2 event will be honored on the new date.

I was elated when I found out that actor Cary Elwes had written a book about The Princess Bride. "Great," I thought, "Now he's not just my first love, not just the star of my favorite movie of all time, now he's gotta go and be a goddamn writer, too."

You can imagine that I just about peed my pants when I was asked to interview Elwes about his upcoming Changing Hands Bookstore signing of his book, As You Wish.

See also: 5 Gifts for the Book Lover

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What happens next is probably pretty predictable. Lots of word barf, lots of awkward high-pitched giggling (mine, not his), and a little bit of usable dialogue.

I'm a mildly awkward -- but generally disarming -- human being. I am (sometimes) capable of conversing about previously determined subject matter with only minimal humiliation to one or both involved parties. This is all to say: talking with people isn't usually very hard. But interviewing Cary Elwes was, for whatever reason, surprisingly challenging. As it turns out, The Dread Pirate and I have very little by way of conversational chemistry. Sigh.

First of all, questions of an even remotely personal nature were off limits during our chat. So it's safe to assume that my asking "Mr. Elwes, how does it feel to be the man single-handedly responsible for furnishing all of my unrealistic expectations of romance?" would have shut things down pretty quickly.

Second, Sweet Westley has about four As You Wish soundbites that have been printed over and over and over by other publications. I, of course, devoured every word of these delicious little British-accented quips before performing a quick Google search to determine that, in fact, they had already been printed, very nearly verbatim, elsewhere. Multiple elsewheres, even.

Third, I tried to ask the question that I know all true Cary Elwes fans are dying to know the answer to. No, not that one -- I had to pinky-swear to his publicity team that I wouldn't even whisper about that one. I mean the BIG question: Who would win in a fight, Westley from The Princess Bride or Robin Hood from Robin Hood Men in Tights?

Elwes' response? "I have no idea, that's a hypothetical question."

Yes. Yes, it is a hypothetical question.

I waited in silence for an awkwardly long time to get some sort of follow up answer, but sorry folks, I got nothin'. We'll all just have to keep using our imaginations.

Awkward moments aside, there are still plenty of reasons to still be smitten with As You Wish, and probably even with Elwes, too.


Cary Elwes will be signing copies of As You Wish at Dobson High School Auditorium on December 2nd, at an event sponsored by Changing Hands Bookstore.
Cary Elwes will be signing copies of As You Wish at Dobson High School Auditorium on December 2nd, at an event sponsored by Changing Hands Bookstore.
Photo courtesy of Simon and Schuster Publishing Company.

Let's start at the beginning. It's the 1980s. A brooding young Cary Elwes, who up until this point was primarily a dramatic actor, gets a call whilst filming in Germany. It's Elwes' agent, and a Mr. Rob Reiner wants to meet with him to discuss the role of Westley.

"I read the book [The Princess Bride, by William Goldman] when I was 13 and loved it, and I was as surprised as anyone 10 years later to get a call from my agent saying that Rob Reiner, who I knew from All In the Family and Spinal Tap, was flying to meet with me in Berlin."

That meeting went well, and Elwes landed the part. "I had mainly done serious roles before that, but I felt safe in the hands of Rob Reiner because Spinal Tap was so brilliant and he had already cast Christopher Guest in one of the roles, so I knew I was in good company."

To prepare for his role as the swashbuckling Dread Pirate Roberts, Elwes "watched a lot of movies that I had seen as a kid -- a lot of Errol Flynn movies, Douglas Fairbanks films. We studied fencing right away, Mandy [Patinkin] and I. Rob put us in touch with some of the best swordsmen in England -- they did the lightsaber sequences in Star Wars. It was a lot of fun to do."

Clearly the fun didn't stop at swordfighting. As Elwes puts it, "I always get asked, 'was it as much fun to make as it looked,' and I always say, 'it was more fun to make than it looked,' so that's why I decided to write the book." He hopes that As You Wish will be "a nice companion for [fans] to be able to watch the movie again and see it in a different light, but still in a good one."

Elwes credits his fellow cast members and crew for contributing their memories to the book, and reflects thoughtfully on one fallen friend: Andre, the Giant.

"Andre was a gentle giant. I miss him to this day. We all loved him dearly. He would give you the shirt off his back -- it'd be big enough for five people, but he'd give it to you. He was a wonderful guy, a really truly sweet sweet guy."

I, of course, had to ask whether Andre gave fantastic hugs. Spoiler alert: He did.

"Every day I got a hug from him, a bear hug. He shared with me very personal stories, I sat down next to him and he started taking out all of these old black-and-white photographs of himself. There was one of him at 16 and he was already 6-foot-4, and another one of him throwing two armoires into the back of a moving van, which is when he was discovered by a furniture moving guy. Then there was a picture of him at San Tropez with eight women on his shoulders, that's when he became a wrestling impresario."

Note here: Elwes may have actually used the term "empresario." Either way, it's a fantastic phrase, though I was initially tempted to say, You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. (I didn't say this, of course, because awkward.)

Elwes went on to tell me one of the most fantastic stories I have ever heard about the Gentle Giant / Empresario / Impresario.

"At 16 he couldn't fit in the bus [in the town] where he grew up in France. There was a playwright who had a convertible, which was the only car he could fit in in the village.That playwright was Samuel Beckett, and [Andre's] parents convinced him to drive him to school every morning."

"When I asked what he and Samuel Beckett talked about, Andre said, 'Mostly cricket, boss.' He called everyone 'boss.' He lived a really incredible life."

If that story isn't reason enough for you to want to read As You Wish, then I just don't know what could possibly suade you.

Cary Elwes' has postponed his December 2 book signing at Dobson High School Auditorium. Changing Hands Bookstore will announce a new date once it's confirmed and honor tickets purchased for the December 2 event..

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