As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride

Authors: Cary Elwes, Joe Layden, Rob Reiner, various others
Original Release: 2014
ISBN: 978-1-4767-6404-7 (2016 paperback edition)
My Rating: 5/5 stars

Cary Elwes has had a successful acting career. Since the 1980s, he has been in some great movies, including some of my favorites. However, he is probably most famous for two roles: Dr. Gordon in the Saw franchise, and Wesley in The Princess Bride. In many ways, that was his big break into fame. In this 2014 book, he reminisces on his time filming The Princess Bride. He goes through the ups and downs of the film that would become immortal.

Elwes was 23 when filming began and he turned 24 before they wrapped. He describes a young actor, overwhelmed by the immense talent that he is working with. I can feel the excitement that he felt in that moment. As far as I can tell, this is Elwes’ first book, but I wish that he would write more. He has a style that sucked me in and wouldn’t let me go. I would like to see what would happen if Elwes decided to write a novel or another memoir, perhaps about a different film. I wonder what stories he has from Saw.

There are so many stories in this book, but I want to highlight a couple of my favorites. Less of a single story, throughout the book Elwes remembers training in fencing with Mandy Patinkin. In William Goldman’s novel, the fight between Inigo Montoya and the Man in Black is “The Greatest Swordfight of all Time”. For two men who had never fenced before, that is a high bar to reach. For months, Elwes and Patinkin trained to get as close to the “greatest” as they possibly could. Even despite the pain and exhaustion, Elwes looks back fondly on their time learning to fence. In a sidebar that Patinkin provides, he talks about how valuable the experience was. By the time that he was finished choreographing the sword fight, Patinkin knew enough about fencing to give input into the other fights in the story. Elwes looks back on those lessons fondly, though he doesn’t forget the hardship.

Another story that I enjoyed was filming the Cliffs of Despair. What the crew didn’t know was that Wallace Shawn is afraid of heights. He didn’t tell the director that since he didn’t want to make Rob Reiner regret casting him as Vizzini. He clinged to AndrĂ© the Giant the whole time. Despite his talent, Shawn was constantly afraid of being replaced. He convinced himself that Danny DeVito would be a better Vizzini than he could ever be. He tried to channel DeVito in his own performance. Elwes said that Shawn’s anxiety led to hives at one point. Shawn was the only person that thought he was in any danger of replacement, to anyone else the thought was well…inconceivable.

Finally, Elwes admits some poor choices that he made on set. Two of these choices landed him in the hospital. First, he succumbed to Andre the Giant’s peer pressure and hopped on the ATV that he used to get from location to location. He needed it because he couldn’t fit into the car the other cast members used and his back problems prevented him from walking long distances. Elwes, at his urging, decided to take it for a spin. Elwes’ toe got caught under one of the pedals and ended up breaking it. Some of the most physically intense scenes, Elwes was still recovering from that injury. These include the swordfight and rolling down the hill into the fire swamp.

Elwes’ second trip to the hospital was after he got overly ambitious during a scene. When Count Rugen knocks Wesley out with the handle of his sword, it was difficult to fake it convincingly. Eventually Elwes asked Christopher Guest to hit him for real. What we see in the final cut is a real sword actually knocking Elwes out. Despite his injury and trip to the emergency room, that shot was the most convincing.

My biggest criticism of this book would be the placement of sidebars. They had relevant information and insights from other stars, but I sometimes had difficulty finding a good place to step away from the main text to read the sidebars. Often I would need to finish a paragraph and then flip back to read the sidebar on the previous page. Some more thought into the formatting would have improved this book’s readability.

Still, I enjoyed the experience that I had reading As You Wish. Cary Elwes describes emotion in a way that made me feel them. Andre the Giant passed away years before I was born, but I could feel the grief that Elwes felt when his friend had passed away. I could feel it in my chest when Elwes reminisced. I could feel his anxiety, his joy, his pain. It’s an emotional journey that I’m glad that I decided to read it.

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