As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride—Cary Elwes with Joe Layden
The film has literally millions of devotees. They know every line, every character, every scene. And, if they'd like to know a little bit more about how their favorite film was made, as seen through the eyes of a young actor who got much more than he bargained for, then all I can say is...as you wish. (10)
In this autobiographical memoir, Cary Elwes talks about the process and people involved in the making of The Princess Bride, in which he played the doting farm boy turned dashing pirate Westley. With lovingly remembered stories of Andre the Giant, and hilarious anecdotes from the set with some true comedic giants, Elwes keeps a reader's interest from start to finish.
First, let me say, Cary Elwes is still so dapper. Although I LOVE The Princess Bride, I think actually the first thing I saw him in as a child was Robin Hood: Men in Tights. Not normally a film for a child, you'd think, but I loved it. I also thoroughly enjoyed seeing him later in one of my favourite shows, Psych.
Anyway, I had just finished listening to the audio commentary for the movie that Hank Green and his wife Katherine did as one of the perks for the 2014 Project for Awesome, and they mentioned how they read this book to prepare. It just so happens that the very next time that I went to the library, this book was up on a stand near the front door, so it felt like the right time to dive into it. And boy, was it. I read this in one sitting.
As a nerd about these kinds of things, I truly appreciated how the book was structured. It's chronological, basically, and also includes interjections in text boxes along the sides of pages from fellow cast and crew related to the particular topic. This seems like a small thing (but always kinds of irks me about biographical content) but the photo section in the center was actually between two chapters rather than smack dab in the middle of one. When that happens I always struggle with, "Should I look at the pictures and get distracted from the content that I was reading, or should I skip ahead and finish the chapter and come back to the pictures?" I did not have to deal with that conundrum on this one!
It really added to the story to be able to see those interjections from other cast and crew. Sometimes they just added another perspective to a story about someone else that Cary was telling, but there were also moments when he was talking about his own anxiety related to playing Westley, and then you get to read Rob Reiner's input, which is basically like, "Cary had no reason to be anxious. He was great. I can't think of anyone else who could've been our Westley." Just lovely.
On that note, it was really refreshing to read something like this and realize that, although The Princess Bride has become a huge cultural touchstone, when they were making it Cary was in his early twenties, and wasn't really well known, and thus had a lot of uncertainty and anxiety surrounding the whole project. This was especially true for him because the book was such a childhood favourite of his. It's refreshing to know that even actors, even people who are part of something so beloved as The Princess Bride had moments of doubt. Wallace Shawn felt the same way because he was convinced the entire time that they actually wanted Danny DeVito for his part, and so had that in his head the whole time they were filming, constantly convinced that he was just about to be fired. Stars: They're Just Like Us.
There were some lovely, heartwarming stories about Andre the Giant. I feel like everything I've ever heard about Andre is incredibly positive, about how nice of a guy he was. Cary talks a bit about some philosophical conversations he had with Andre, about how it must be tough to always be noticed and not ever be able to just blend in, and the way that Andre responds to him is so enlightened and guileless.
It must be such a great feeling to have been part of something that is important to so many, that is such a cultural icon, that has so many quotable lines, and moreover that everyone involved still seems incredibly proud of to this day. And I was so glad to feel as though I took that journey with Cary while reading this book. If you're even a little bit of a fan of The Princess Bride, or even of the various people involved in the making of it, I highly recommend you run, do not walk, to pick this book up.