INDIANAPOLIS – It’s inconceivable to think one could go to Indiana Comic Con April 15 without seeing Cary Elwes.
“The Princess Bride” and “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” star entertained as he perfectly mimicked colleagues with revealing behind-the-scenes anecdote.
In between sharing stories about the late Andre the Giant and answering questions about the “Saw” franchise, Elwes revealed a “Psych” reunion movie is in the works.
His Q&A from the panel has been condensed and edited for clarity:
Q: Is this your first time in Indiana?
A: First time here. Everybody is so nice. Everybody is very pleasant. It’s made my visit very, very pleasant. I really appreciate it. Thank you.
Q: You had an infamous mishap on the set of “The Princess Bride.” What happened?
A: Yes. Oh dear. Yes, I was a little accident prone.
Andre the Giant – who here remembers Andre the Giant?
Great Andre – also known as the eighth wonder of the world – a wonderful human being. Poor Andre, he was 7-foot-4, 450 pounds – he couldn’t’ get around easily on the set. So a production manager asked him how he got around at home. And Andre – who called everybody boss, which is hilarious because when you spoke to him you have to talk to him like that (looks up).
And he said, “I got around on an ATV, boss.” Now shooting in England in 1986, there weren’t that many all terrain vehicles, but if you whip out your phones and Google “Andre the Giant and ATV,” you’ll see a picture of Andre sitting on a three-wheel all terrain vehicle. It looks like a little tricycle underneath him. It looks like one the puppet rides in “Saw,” it’s hilarious.
Anyway, this is how he got around on the set. And we were shooting up in this beautiful area in England called Peaked District in Derbyshire. And it’s well named because it’s there’s lots of peaks and valleys and hills. And I was shooting a scene where I have to fall down the mountain with Robin and say, you know, those three words.
And I was getting prepared to shoot the scene and Andre comes zooming up on this thing.
He goes, “Hey, Boss.” I go, “Hi, Andre.” He goes, “You like my toy? You want to try it?”
I have to shoot this scene and he didn’t wait for me to finish. He just took off.
So now I’m putting the mask on and they’re putting the finishing touches on my costume, and he comes zooming back up again. He goes, “Hey, Boss.” I go, “Hey, Andre.” He goes, “You know you want to.”
Now it’s very hard to say no to a giant. And I ended up saying yes, which was probably not the smartest thing because I had never been on a motor terrain vehicle. His bodyguard – his “bodyguard; I said to this guy, “What are you guarding him from, the flu?” – he comes up to me and goes, “It’s very easy, governor. It’s just like a motorbike…”
Now that should warn me not to get on this thing, but I ignored my better judgment. I took my mask off – I thought that would help – got on this thing and lurched forward after putting it in first gear and went over a rock, and caught my left big toe between the clutch pedal and rock and it just snapped like that really quickly. It was great, it was fantastic.
One week into filming and we hadn’t even shot the sword fight scene yet, and now I’ve broken my toe. So I’m kind of sweating a bit and the set nurse comes up to me – every TV show has a nurse or medic. She comes up to me and goes, “Oh, what’s happened to you? What’s happened?”
And I said, “No, it’s nothing. It’s just a scratch.” I was repetitively like the Black Knight in Monty Python; “It’s just a scratch, it’s nothing.”
She goes, “Oh, let’s have a look at it then.” And they take off my leather boot very tenderly – (sarcastically) that didn’t hurt at all, and gets off my sock and there’s my big left toe and it’s pointed in the wrong direction, different colors. She goes, “Oooooooo.” Not what you want to hear. “Oooooo, look at that. It’s broken.”
I said, “No, no, no, it’s not. It’s just a flesh wound.”
“No, look at it, it’s pointed in the wrong direction and everything.”
And now they’re calling me to work to shoot the scene, and I said, “What can you do?”
“I’m a set nurse.” She opened up the bag. “There’s nothing in here except something for headaches and tummy aches. I mean, broken limbs, you gotta go to hospital.”
I said, “Well, I don’t have time to do that, I’ve got to shoot a scene.”
“Well, I don’t know what I can do.” I said, “What can you do, is there anything?”
And god bless her, she goes, “Well, I could make a makeshift splint.”
I said, “Great. Do that.”
So she grabbed a couple twigs and some tape and she pushed it back and that didn’t hurt at all. And she taped my big toe to the other one so it would stay there and the boot wouldn’t fit now because it was all swollen and they had to cut the boot.
Now I’m limping into the van and I ride up in the set van up to the mountain to shoot the scene and the set nurse was sitting in the back seat with the assistant director. And I’ll never forget it, she turned to him and goes, “I think he fell on his head as well.”
So we get to the set and there’s Rob Reiner, the director, and Rob’s there scratching his beard. I decided to just brazen it out, pretending like it’s no big deal like the twit that I am. And he goes, “Hey, Cary. How you doing?”
And I think, “He doesn’t know at all, I’ll be fine.” I go, “I’m fine, Rob. How are you?”
He goes, “I’m good, but how you doing?”
And then I realized that he knew. So I said, “Rob, I’m so sorry. I feel like such a twit. I was fooling around on Andre’s terrain vehicle and I went over a rock and I think I broke my toe.”
And he goes, “You think I don’t know? I’m the director here. Everybody says Cary can’t walk too good. What happened?”
I said, “I’m so sorry. I feel so silly. I apologize.”
“Well don’t worry about it. Why didn’t you tell me?”
I said, “Well I was afraid you’d fire me.”
And he said, “What are you crazy? I’m not gonna fire you. You’re the perfect Westley. Can you walk?”
I go, “Yeah.”
And he goes, “Can you run?”
I go, “It will be an interpretive dance.”And by the way, if you look at the scene where we’re running in the Fire Swamp, Buttercup and I, you can see that interpretive dance right there.
We shot the scene and in the scene I’m supposed to lay back and lean on a log, and if you look carefully you’ll see me lift my leg in the most ridiculous way. Just to keep pressure off of it.
And Rob came up to me after and he goes, “Wow, the way you sat down in the scene it’s so gracefully… oh right, the broken toe.”
Anyway, lesson learned: if you don’t know how to ride a motor terrain vehicle, get proper instruction first.
Lucky for me, Rob moved the fight scene to the end of the movie and by then the toe had healed pretty good.
Q: What was your first day working with Andre the Giant like?
A: My first scene with Andre was the scene with him and Mandy where we approach Florin castle to take it over, the three of us. And they built this fake castle wall and it’s made out of plaster and plywood.
And in the scene, I come to from being mostly done and I can’t remember the dialogue – you guys probably know it better than I do. I think Fezzik says, “I wonder how long until it takes effect.” And I think Indigo goes, “Your guess is as good as mine.”
And then I come to and I say, “I’ll beat you both together” or “I’ll fight you both apart,” something like that. And Fezzik says, “I guess not very long.”
Well Andre couldn’t get to the word “long” before he let out the most magnificent fart. Seriously, we’ve all accused each other of giant farts. This was a giant’s fart, people. A 450-pound, 7-foot-4 fart.
Somebody timed it – it was 16 seconds. That’s a long time. Sixteen seconds. The whole set was shaking.
I looked over at the sound guy and he lifted, he was trying to take he earbuds off. And then I looked over at Andre – that was a big mistake – and he had this smile on his face, like he was letting go of something he’d been holding on to. And for some reason there was steam coming out of the top of his head. To this day I don’t know why.
But I couldn’t look at him anymore and after 16 seconds. And what’s so funny, by the way, in America, what’s so great here is if somebody farts, you guys will call it like, “Come on, dude. Take it outside.”
In England if somebody farts, they’re all like, “Oh.” They get very weird about it. They don’t know how to deal with it.
But in this case, it was total silence. You could hear a pin drop. Nobody knew what to say.
And Rob Reiner, the director, broke the silence in the end. He goes, “Hey, Andre. You OK?”
And Andre, without missing a beat, goes, “I am now, boss.”
That was the first day with Andre. Hilarious. Crazy.
Q: Is it true Wallace Shawn was nervous about playing Vizzini?
A: Yes, it’s weird. Wallace Shawn, god bless him, is a wonderful actor. He’s a very smart guy actually; he speaks three languages. I think he even speaks ancient Greek. He’s a Rhodes Scholar. He teaches American and English literature. In fact, he makes a lot of money going to colleges and universities and lecturing.
He’s a very smart guy, which is why he’s perfectly cast.
I had this one scene with him – the battle of wits scene, right? And he has most of the dialogue in it. And when I got to the set, I noticed he was sweating, and it’s very unusual to sweat in England because the temperature never really gets over sort of 20 degrees, really.
And I thought why does this guy – the smartest guy in the room – why is he sweating? And it turns out, I found out later, that he was convinced that he was gonna be fired because his agent told him that he wasn’t the first choice for Vizzini.
He was told that Danny DeVito was the first choice. So he was convinced that he was just standing in for Danny, for some reason.
He want up to Rob while we were shooting and goes, “I don’t understand why you cast me in this role. I’m not even Sicillian. I’m a Jew from New York. I mean, I don’t understand.”
Rob says, “But you’re funny. You’re funny. When you’re angry, your whole face goes red. It’s funny.”
Honestly to this day I don’t think even he knew how good he was in this role. How great is he, I mean, really?
I mean it’s inconceivable to think of anybody in that role.
By the way, what’s so funny is I’m very blessed in that I get asked to say, “As you wish,” all the time. It’s a lovely three words because it means I love you.
But Wally told me he can’t go anywhere, anywhere – if he drops his keys, somebody goes, “inconceivable.” If he misses the line at the airport, they close the gate: “inconceivable.” He said it’s just endless everywhere he goes.
Then of course Billy Crystal can never walk into a deli again. Ever.
Q: What was it like working with Billy Crystal?
A: He’s a great guy. Funny guy. He and Rob were best friends.
He and Carol Kane came like late October while we were shooting and they only had three days to work playing Miracle Max and Valerie. But they had about eight hours of makeup of all this latex.
I remember being sort of excited to come in and meet them, and I said to Rob, “Can I go and meet Billy?” Because I grew up on this show called “Soap.” I was so excited to me him.
He goes, “Yeah, sure. He’s in a makeup trailer, go and say hi.”
So I went in there and I watched him get his makeup done and he had these two photographs on the mirror in front of him, and one was of Casey Stengel the Yankees manager and the other was his grandmother. And I said, “What’s that?”
He goes, “That’s gonna be Miracle Max. Casey Stengel and my grandmother right there.”
As he was getting his makeup done, he started getting into the character of Miracle Max. He started coughing and he started coming up with the voice. And by the time he was finished, he was in character as Miracle Max and he stayed in character the whole time.
And we went to commissary together and I’ll never forget he had a tray with him and he’s going down the line and he said to the lady behind the counter, “The shepherd’s pie – is it spicy?”
And she goes, “I don’t think so, sir. Not very.”
And he goes, “You don’t know my colon.”
So we go to the set and I had a really easy day that day because all I had to say was, “true love,” and I’m lying on the slab there.
Rob comes up to me in rehearsal and says, “Hey, Cary, you’re gonna have to stop breathing during the scene. I can see your chest moving and you’re supposed to be mostly dead. So…”
And I said, “For how long, Rob?”
He said, “Don’t worry. We won’t kill ya.”
So then he walks over to Billy, who’s already still in character, and I overheard him whisper in his ear and he goes, “Just go for it.”
Once Rob said action, Billy launched into three hours of medieval Yiddish standup. And just slayed everyone.
Of course Rob, who has a very boisterous laugh – I always say his laugh could be heard in Detroit – was just bellowing laughter.
Rob’s laughing so much he’s ruining the tape and the sound guy comes up to him and says, “Sorry, governor, you’ll have to leave the set.”
Rob said, “I can’t leave the set, I’m the director. What do you want me to do?”
So they set up a monitor outside the soundstage so that he could laugh.
Now it’s just me, Mandy, Fezzik, Billy and Carol. Billy had his eyes set on me and I was next to go. He had me laughing and I was supposed to be dead.
So they replaced with a rubber dummy that Fezzik carried around. And Mandy said he bruised a rib trying not to laugh – which I didn’t know you could do. Apparently that was the only injury he got and he managed to make it through the day.
But that was working with Billy.
Q: What can people expect from your book?
A: It’s called “As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride.”
I called the publishers and said, “What title should we call the book?” They go, “We got this.”
It’s a fun book. I tried to write it as a family book and to be complementary of the film, and I think we succeeded.
What’s great about the book is it’s not just me sharing my memories of the film. We managed to get the whole cast in there.
I remember asking Billy to be part of the book. He goes, “Yeah, but all I’m gonna say is, ‘That’s not true. Cary’s lying.’”
But you’ve got everybody. They’re sharing their memories, too, which is lovely.
Q: After “The Princess Bride,” you didn’t want to be typecast so you did a variety of roles. Why’d you get involved with something so different like “Saw?”
A: I met these two guys, who were filmmakers, straight out of film school from Melbourne, Australia, named James Wan and Leigh Whannell. And they were just wonderful guys.
They put together a short reel of one scene from the film and they borrowed money from their friends, family, and filmed this sequence with the reverse bear trap. And I watched that and read the script and I was so impressed with these guys and I met with them.
James, the director, showed up with a folder under his arm and he opened it up for me. Inside are all these beautiful drawings that he’d done himself of the sets and the costumes, and a beautiful watercolor drawing of the bathroom. It was amazing.
Then I turn the page and there’s this blueprint of the reverse bear trap. I said to him, “Wow, that looks really intricate.”
“Oh yeah, it’s operational.” It turns out he actually had an engineer design this thing so I knew right away these guys were serious.
We shot it in 18 days for about a million dollars and it made $100 million. It’s crazy.
Q: What was filming “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” like?
A: Mel Brooks was terrific. I grew up watching Mel’s movies. I was a huge fan of his work – I’d seen everything he’d done.
So when I got the call – I’m sitting at home and the phone rings. And this is literally what happened. I picked it up and go, “Hello?”
He goes, “Hi, it’s Mel Brooks.”
I went, “Yeah, right,” and I hung up on him.
And he calls back and I pick up: “Don’t hang up, don’t hang up. It’s really me.”
It was amazing. He’d called me up to say I’m making this and I saw “Princess Bride” and I think you’re perfect for Robin Hood and I’d like to talk to you, which is great.
Obviously it was like having a hero of mine call me and ask to work with him. I was absolutely thrilled.
And it was a joy. Every day was such a joy.
I’ll never forget that I had to shoot a scene – and this was before CGI, by the way – and I had to shoot a scene where I’m teaching the Merry Men how to fire a bow and arrow.
And Mel says, “So in this scene you’re just gonna get a bullseye.”
And I had no practice or nothing, right. So I go, “You’re kidding, right?”
He goes, “No, no. And we gotta get it fast because it’s lunch soon.”
First take: miss. Mel says, “It’s OK, it’s OK. You’ll get it the next one.”
Second take: it’s closer but it’s still a miss. He’s like, “OK, one more then it’s lunch.”
No pressure, right? Finally I get the bullseye and I’m so stunned you can see it in the shot. I’m like, “wow.” I didn’t even hide the fact I’m completely blown away I got a bulls eye.
That’s the take that’s in the movie.
It was like that every day. He’s hilarious.
Q: You’ve been in “Seinfeld,” “Saw,” “The Princess Bride” and you also played Ted Bundy. What was the hardest role for you to get into character?
A: Certainly playing a serial killer is not a healthy head space to be in. We had the real detective who caught Ted Bundy on the set, so he was very informative. Also he was showing us slides before breakfast and I don’t recommend anyone seeing that.
Playing the Pope was terrific. Pope John Paul was a wonderful guy and beautiful human being – vastly different from playing a serial killer. And that was joy. We got to shoot that in Rome and we had the blessing from the Vatican, of course, so that was a wonderful experience.
Q from a 9-year-old girl: When you were reading the script for “Saw,” what did you think when you had to cut your foot off?
A: First of all, have you seen “Saw?”
You know that I can’t sit through it. I don’t know how you did, but you know it’s all fake, right? So you want to know what it was like sawing my foot off?
Well, that involved a fake hacksaw that they blunted and some fake blood put inside the hacksaw to make it look like it was cutting me but didn’t really.
But I’ll tell you what else, it was not that much fun. I was being chained to a wall for long hours.
Q: Will there be a “Twister 2?”
A: I would love to, but we lost Bill Paxton a few weeks ago so sadly I think that won’t happen anymore.
He was a terrific guy.
Bill would greet you with, “Hey, buddy!” Every time you saw him that was his greeting and he raised the level of energy in any room. He was a beautiful guy and we’re sad to lose him.
But I’m afraid with him gone, any possibility of a sequel, you can’t do without Billy.
Q: Were you approached to revive Dr. Lawrence Gordon for the upcoming “Saw: Legacy?”
A: They did not.
I don’t know why. I think they’ve got other plans that don’t involve Dr. Gordon, but that’s their loss, I think.
But I’m sure it will be great. I’m looking forward to seeing it.
Q: Please don’t let anyone remake or reboot “The Princess Bride.”
A: I have a theory about remakes. I think if a film has a great idea but it’s poorly executed then it has a right to be remade. But I think films that were pretty cool should be left alone.
Q: Which set was more chaotic – “Men in Tights” or “The Princess Bride?”
A: There was no chaos at all, actually. They were well-oiled machines, both sets. They were very well organized.
I know some people think sets are chaotic – and some sets can be – but those weren’t.
I can’t remember a day without laughing on either of them. It was such fun to go to work each day.
When you’ve been given an opportunity to work on films like that, it’s a blessing. I consider it the greatest blessing for me. I never take it lightly.
I call it the gift that keeps giving, “The Princess Bride.” It really is.
Q: I’m a “Psych” fan so I thought I’d ask con man or thief, who is Pierre Desperaux?
A: It’s a good question, and I believe it all will be revealed in the film that we’re making this summer.
We’re all reuniting in July to make some organized chaos.
Q: “Twister” made me want to be a stormchaser.
A: Be careful out there. I convinced the producers to let me go on a chase with a real stormchaser and it took me about a week to convince them.
And this was before iPhones or anything like that. They said we’ll let you go if you take a walkie talkie and you stay in touch with us.
So I went with a chaser and we’re looking for a tornado on their computer. And the chaser goes, “Oh, there’s this really big cell here around the corner in Pretty Prairie, let’s head over there.”
So we’re all gung-ho, like yeah, we’re gonna see a real tornado!
Guys, don’t try this at home. I’m telling you there’s no such thing as an amateur stormchaser. They all end up being like Dorothy.
So we get to this around the corner of this town and all of a sudden there’s this F2 tornado barreling towards us.
And I’ll never forget it, I said to the driver, “Reverse now, please.”
Let me tell ya, as the giant baseball-sized hail was coming down, it was intense.
Yes, don’t try it at home, folks. It’s not for fun.
Lesson learned. It’s only a mistake if you don’t learn from it. I’m never getting on an ATV, never chasing a storm again.
Q: Since the character of Westley transitioned the pirate from villain to hero and we see that in later films like “Pirates of the Caribbean,” do you think it’s your character and your performance that led to that trend or do you think there’s something naturally nuanced?
A: I think it’s naturally nuanced. I think the idea of pirates being a hero is a weird oxymoron because if you look at the history of pirates, not a lot of them were heroic.
We studied all the pirate movies we could lay our hands on on VHS at the time. We looked at “The Black Pirate,” “The Sea Hawk” and all those films, even Robin Hood, so that we could get into it.
We tried to find the longest fight sequence and the one we found was called “Scaramouche” with Stewart Granger and Mel Ferrer, and I think it’s something like a six-minute fight. It’s beautifully done.
And so Mandy and I were saying to the fight instructors we wanted to do that, we want to beat that. So we didn’t beat it, but we came up with a three-minute fight we thought was pretty great. I think it holds up pretty good.
We had no accidents, either. I had to learn Mandy’s part, he had to learn mine and we had to be left-handed so it was very hard.
I don’t think we created that at all. I think that’s been a mythological thing around film – somebody being an antihero. I think that goes back to “The Odyssey.”
Q: Do you relate on a personal level to any of the characters you’ve played?
A: As an actor you kind of have to find some way to relate to the characters you’re playing because obviously you bring a little bit of yourself to each of them.
Can I find within me anything about Ted Bundy? Probably not. But I have to rely on using my instrument and try to become that person the past that I can.
So yeah, I guess you bring a little bit of yourself to each part.
It’s an incredible process. I love making films. I love playing characters. It’s a real joy for me.
I love researching for it. When I started out, it was before the internet – that’s how old I am – so I had to go to the library. I used to go out to the New York Public Library and take out books and do tons of research.
Now with the internet it’s so much easier for actors just to be able to find. The internet’s got misinformation, sure, but it’s also got a ton of information. So for me it’s a valuable tool for research.
I love doing it.