As You Wish: Untold Tales From The Princess Bride

The Princess Bride has a place in everyone’s heart. Whether you’re quoting Vizzini’s “inconceivable!” or Inigo’s “You killed my father. Prepare to die,” or Westley’s “as you wish,” we bet that most of you can recite nearly every line of Rob Reiner’s 1987 family classic. But what you don’t know are the countless (and downright hilarious) anecdotes from the set of The Princess Bride.

The Princess Bride publicity still
Source: Act III Communications

Thanks to Cary Elwes and his book As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales From the Making of The Princess Bride, fans now have access to hundreds of pages detailing what it was like to work on that set. Let us tell you. We’re a little jealous that we weren’t part of the cast.

“He Had to Split”

Legend has it that Andre the Giant suggested that director William Goldman talk to a bodybuilder friend of his who had dreams of becoming a movie star. Goldman ended up speaking with Arnold Schwarzenegger (who was still unknown) about playing Fezzik and felt confident that the bodybuilder could bring the character to life.

Robin Wright, Wallace Shawn, André Roussimoff
Source: Act III Communications

Unfortunately, a few months after their meeting, Goldman decided to give up trying to get his screenplay produced. Fast forward a couple of years and director Rob Reiner agreed to adapt the novel, but by that time Schwarzenegger was already famous from his Conan the Barbarian films (and had seriously upped his price). As much as Goldman wanted the bodybuilder-turned-actor to play Fezzik, he just couldn’t afford him.

Working From Tape

Luckily for Goldman, he found the next best thing: Andre the Giant, who stood at a whopping 7 feet 4 inches (compared to Schwarzenegger’s mere 6 feet 2 inches). Apparently, the French wrestler was nervous about his part as Fezzik and shy about English being his second language. So, Reiner had producer Andy Scheinman record all of Andre’s lines on tape so he could mimic them.

André Roussimoff as Fezzik, The Princess Bride publicity still
Source: Act III Communications

Andre wasn’t the only one who used tapes for his pronunciation. Watching Robin Wright play Buttercup, you would think that she was born and raised in England. Surprisingly enough, the actress is from Dallas. Wrights credits her perfect British accent to the hours she spent watching Monty Python.

That One Hurt

The Princess Bride set was known to have a few accidents. During a break in filming one day, actor Cary Elwes went out for an ATV joy ride. But as he went over some big rocks, his big toe got caught on something and snapped backward. That’s why you wear closed-toe shoes on ATVs! Anyways, Elwes broke his big toe and had a hard time walking.

Cary Elwes as Westley, The Princess Bride publicity still
Source: Act III Communications

Fearing that he would be replaced, Elwes downplayed his injury. He told everyone he was fine, and they continued filming even though he could barely stand, let alone walk. If you watch the scene in which Westley (disguised as Dread Pirate Roberts) sits with Buttercup on a hillside, you can clearly see the actor favoring his right leg when he stands up.

Make It Look Real!

A broken toe was the least of Elwes’ worries. In another incident, Elwes was completely knocked out and woke up in the hospital. It all began while shooting a scene with Christopher Guest, who played the prince’s sidekick, Count Rugen. Guest’s character had to knock out Westley with the butt of his sword, but the first few takes looked unconvincing.

Chris Sarandon as Prince Humperdinck, Christopher Guest as Count Tyrone Rugen. The Princess Bride publicity still
 Source: III Communications

So, for authenticity, Elwes convinced Guest to gently hit him in the head so it would look real. “It landed just a touch harder than either of us anticipated,” Elwes wrote in his 2014 memoir. The actor woke up in the emergency room while getting stitches. Before you ask, yes, that take is the one that ended up in the film.

The What-Ifs

Casting Cary Elwes as Westly was an easy pick, and Andre the Giant as Fezzik was a no-brainer. But producers had a harder time with Buttercup, who was described in the script as “the most beautiful woman in the world.”

Robin Wright as The Princess Bride
Source: Act III Communications

Goldman reportedly considered Star Wars actress Carrie Fisher early on, while Uma Thurman, Meg Ryan, Sean Young, Courteney Cox, Sara Jessica Parker, and Whoopie Goldberg all pursued the part during its long trip to the big screen. In the end, soap opera veteran Robin Wright won over Goldman’s heart, and she was offered the role.

That Was Supposed to Happen!

Anyone who’s seen The Princess Bride knows there’s a bunch of dangerous stunts, and other than that one unfortunate incident with Elwes, no one got hurt while filming. Everyone knew these were just stunts, well, except for William Goldman. On the first day of shooting, director Rob Reiner told Cary Elwes and Robin Wright to expect “a very simple scene” with some “pretty basic stuff.”

Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Rob Reiner, Chris Sarandon, Wallace Shawn, Carol Kane, and Billy Crystal
Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images

That “stuff” involved carrying Buttercup through a swamp before saving her from a fire. Goldman, who was on set, was unaware that Wright’s dress was supposed to be on fire. He began screaming”Her dress is on fire!” and ruined a take.

A Deal’s a Deal

Before landing the role of Princess Buttercup, House of Cards actress Robin Wright was known for her work on NBC’s Santa Barbara. So, when filming for The Princess Bride began, she was in a middle of a contract with the soap opera.

Cary Elwes and Robin Wright
Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images

The show’s producers allowed her to take time off to shoot the film in the U.K. only if she extended her contract for another year. This was a genius move on their part because it meant that if The Princess Bride made her a star (which it did), Santa Barbara would have one more year to make money on her newfound stardom.

Just Living Life

In the book As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales From the Making of The Princess Bride, Elwes writes that Andre the Giant was the most colorful character on set. Standing at 7 feet 4 inches, Andre was a gentle giant who called everyone “boss.”

Actor Cary Elwes
Photo by Beck Starr/Getty Images

He was also aware that people of his size rarely lived long, so he tried to make the most of every day. Legend has it that Andre could drink 119 beers in one sitting. His average daily alcohol consumption consisted of a case of beer, two bottles of brandy, and three bottles of wine. And I thought I had a high tolerance!

Nothing to See Here!

One night after filming, Andre—who had a hard time getting his 540-pound body drunk—was the last one at the hotel bar. After the last call, the actor was found passed out in the lobby. Unable to wake or move him, housekeepers had no choice but to put a velvet rope around him and let him sleep it off.

The Princess Bride publicity still
Source: Act III Communications

The next morning, Andre awoke at around 10 a.m. to a bustling hotel lobby. “He was apparently nonplussed by all this,” Elwes wrote in 2014. But that wasn’t the only crazy story from one of Andre’s nights out.

A Night on the Town

When The Princess Bride wrapped, Elwes and Andre went out for a night on the town. Their first stop was at one of Andre’s favorite Manhattan watering holes, P.J. Clarke’s on Third Avenue. As the wrestler-turned-actor was downing his usual mix of hard alcohol in a beer pitcher, Elwes noticed that the man at the table next to them was staring.

Andre The Giant at the screening of The Princess Bride.
Photo by Erin Combs/Toronto Star/Getty Images

It was strange, but Elwes didn’t think anything of it until this mystery man—always alone and without a drink—followed them from bar to bar. Concerned and a bit creeped out, Elwes said something to Andre.

For His Own Safety

As it turns out, this guy wasn’t a stalker, and he wasn’t there to hurt them. He was an uncover cop assigned to tail Andre as he bar hopped around New York City. On one of his previous nights out, the wrestler was so drunk while waiting for a cab that he fell over and injured a passerby.

Wrestler Andre the giant with Wendy Owsinski
Photo by John M Manolato/Fairfax Media/Getty Images

Since that unfortunate incident, the NYPD assigned an undercover police officer to tail him whenever he went out in New York City. “They said it was for my own safety,” Andre allegedly told Elwes.

Granny, Is That You?

After Westley is declared “mostly dead,” Inido and Fezzik carry him to see Miracle Max, an elderly healer played by the hilarious Billy Crystal. The actor later revealed that he based the schticky character on two people: Former Yankees manager Casey Stengel and his grandmother.

The Princess Bride lobby card
Source: Act III Communications

Reiner gave Crystal free rein to play around with the character, and many of his most memorable lines were ad-libbed. So, that hilarious line about true love being the greatest thing after a good MLT (mutton, lettuce, and tomato)? It was made up on the spot.

Cracking Everyone Up

Apparently, Crystal wasn’t just a hit with audiences. Most of the cast and crew couldn’t keep their composure when Crystal was on set. Reiner had to leave the room because he kept ruining takes with his laughter.

The Princess Bride publicity still
Source: Act III Communications

And Elwes — who was pretending to be mostly dead — had to be replaced by a dummy because he couldn’t stop laughing. “Those were the three greatest days of my life,” actor Many Patinkin once told NPR. “For three days, I stood off-camera while Billy Crystal had cataract contact lenses in so he couldn’t see.”

Bottling It In

According to Patinkin, Crystal improvised 13th century period jokes for “three days straight, 10 hours a day, never the same thing, never the same line twice.” It was Patinkin’s job to stand off-camera and feed Crystal his lines so he could keep going.

Rob Reiner with Billy Crystal
Source: Act III Communications

So, while everyone could leave the room during a laugh attack, Patinkin had to try really hard not to let out a peep. He bruised a rib in the process. “That’s the only injury I got on the whole film,” he continued. “And, as I’m sure you well know, we did all the stunts ourselves.”

Andre, the Gentle Giant

Being over seven feet tall and weighing over 500 pounds comes with a price. Andre once told producer Andy Scheinman that kids especially had mixed reactions to his massive size. “Half of them run away when they see me, half jump on my lap,” the wrestler said.

The Princess Bride behind the scenes photo
Source: Act III Communications

Apparently, kids weren’t the only ones who were frightened. Actress Robin Wright reportedly “completely freaked out” when she first met Andre, running out of her dressing room panicked. But it only took her a few minutes to realize that Andre was a gentle giant. “He was the sweetest person,” she told Jimmy Kimmel.

Goldman’s Favorite Script

William Goldman, who also wrote Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, was known for being self-critical—well, of most of his work. “Normally, I don’t care much for any of my work. But this one is different. It is my favorite thing I’ve ever written in my life,” the screenwriter once said.

William Goldman
 Source: Pinterest 

“So, if I appear a little nervous, that’s the reason.” Goldman wasn’t the only one who thought this. In both 2006 and 2013, The Princess Bride was voted among the top 100 Best Scripts of all time by the Writers Guild of America.

The Upper Hand

In preparation for their swordfight scene, both Elwes and Patinkin trained with a master swordsman every free minute they had on set. For three months, the actors worked on perfecting their choreography with stunt coordinators.

The Princess Bride lobby card
Source: Act III Communications

Elwes was completely new to sword fighting, and Patinkin claimed to be as well. “I figured we’d be going in raw, the two of us,” Elwes wrote. But as it turns out, that wasn’t exactly the case. Patinkin, who wanted to get a head start, had been training on his own for two months before shooting started.

“I Am Not Left-Handed”

Mid-battle, Inigo smiles and tells Westley, “I know something you don’t know. I am not left-handed.” Westley replies, “There’s something I ought to tell you. I’m not left-handed either.” The gag required Patinkin and Elwes to become ambidextrous with their swords — a feat stunt coordinators didn’t think was possible.

The Princess Bride lobby card
Source: Act III Communications

Production had doubles standing by, just in case. The scene was one of the last to be filmed, giving the actors more time to perfect their moves. Then, after hundreds of hours of work, it was time to show off what they’d learned.

Back to the Drawing Board

But at the end of the demonstration, Reiner was unhappy with what he saw. When stunt coordinators originally showed Reiner the scene, they did it at half speed, making it seem longer than it was. But at full speed, the scene was just one minute and twenty-three seconds. So, the director sent everyone back to the drawing board to make the scene longer.

The Princess Bride publicity still
Source: Act III Communications

That also meant that Patinkin and Elwes only had a few weeks to learn a completely new sequence. Choreographers ended up borrowing moves from other films like The Sea Hawk and The Mark of Zorro to lengthen the sequence to nearly three minutes.

Divine Interruption

William Goldman wrote the novel and screenplay, so of course he was invited to hang around set. At one point, however, Reiner told him to stop audibly praying while the actors were filming. Apparently, Goldman was so nervous about how the film would be received that he was constantly muttering.

William Goldman and George Clooney
Photo by JIMI CELESTE/Patrick McMullan/Getty Images

Elwes described it as “some sort of strange incantation or chanting of some kind.” While no one cared that he was praying, they did care that his voice kept showing up on the soundtrack. “I was just a little excited, I guess,” Goldman later said.

Looking for Inspiration

While looking for ideas for his next book, Goldman decided to consult with his two young daughters. “I’ll write you a story. What do you want it to be about?” he asked them. One said “princess,” and the other one said “bride.” And with that, Goldman went on to write an abridged version of the “original” (aka fictional) Princess Bride, written by the fictional S. Morgenstern.

Cast members Cary Elwes, Mandy Patinkin and Robin Wright
Photo by Rob Kim/FilmMagic/Getty Images 

Goldman kept the gag going for years. In the introduction for the anniversary reprints of The Princess Bride, Goldman wrote about an “ongoing” fight with the S. Morgenstern estate, trying to seduce lawyers, and the estate giving Stephen King the rights to the book to spite him.

Keeping Wright Warm

Being a gentle giant not only meant that Andre could drink impressive amounts of alcohol and lift heavy things, but his massive size also kept his castmates warm. Andre always seemed to work up a sweat (despite it being freezing outside), while Robin Wright always seemed to be shivering from the cold.

The Princess Bride publicity still
Source: Act III Communications

So, the two worked out a plan. Every time Wright was cold, Andre would put one of his hands on top of the actress’s head. “She said it was like having a giant hot water bottle up there, and it certainly did the trick, and he didn’t even mess up her hair!” Elwes wrote in 2014.

Third String Pick

Wallace Shawn heard that legendary actors Danny Devito and Richard Dreyfuss both turned down the part of Vizzini before he took it. “I knew that Danny would understand the sense of humor that was called for by the script and would have done such a beautiful job,” Shawn said in Elwes’ book.

The Princess Bride publicity still
Source: Act III Communications

“Before every single shot of the film, I imagined how Danny would have played it so much better than I could. I was haunted by that during every single shot of the film.” Shawn also had a piece of advice for all Hollywood agents out there: “Don’t tell your client that he’s the third choice.”

What’s That Noise?

One of Elwes’ most memorable anecdotes from the set of The Princess Bride was during a scene where Westley is meant to be paralyzed before storming a castle. “I suppose you wouldn’t expect a man of Andre’s proportions to pass gas quietly or unobtrusively,” the actor began.

The Princess Bride publicity still
Source: Act III Communications

“But this particular one was truly epic, a veritable symphony of gastric distress that roared for more than several seconds and shook the very foundations of the wood and plaster set we were now grabbing on to out of sheer fear.” Apparently, it was so loud and long that everyone on set stopped what they were doing to take notice.

Steaks for Everyone!

The cast and crew worked mainly out of Sheffield, England, and according to Elwes, the food there was so-so. Sick and tired of having the same bland meal over and over again, director Rob Reiner had a Hibachi grill installed in his hotel room.

The Princess Bride behind the scenes photo
Source: Act III Communications

So, at the end of each day, he would invite everyone over to his suite for hot dogs and hamburgers. “It was great fun, with Chris, Rob, and Mandy crooning harmonies to Rob’s favorite Doo-Wop songs as he flipped burgers on the grill,” the actor wrote. Sounds like a blast!

Not So Superhuman

Fezzik is shown to have superhuman strength, and while Andre the Giant was known to be very strong, he had a hard time lifting heavy things on set. In fact, the wrestler-turned-actor couldn’t really lift anything because he had a bad back.

The Princess Bride lobby card
Source: Act III Communications

So, to get around this, the crew used some old-school special effects. In the scene where Buttercup jumps from the window into Fezzik’s arms, Wright was attached to wires because Andre couldn’t hold her up himself. Isn’t it amazing what can be done with a little movie magic?

Patinkin’s Motivation

Patinkin agreed to the role of Inigo not just because it was a great character in a funny movie. In fact, the story of Inigo avenging his father’s death struck a nerve with Patinkin, whose own father had died in 1972.

The Princess Bride promo shot
Source: Act III Communications

“I would walk through the maze of the gardens while I was just trying to relax or while they were lighting the scene, and I was talking to my father,” the actor told NPR in 2012. “I always had it in my mind that if I could get the six-fingered man, if Inigo could get the six-fingered man, then my father, Mandy’s father, would come back and be with me.”

In the Revenge Business

Like Inigo, Patinkin was in the “revenge business for so long” that it took up too many precious years of his life. His father passed away in his early 50s from pancreatic cancer, and like many people who have lost a loved one to cancer, Patinkin was mad at the world.

25th Anniversary Screening & Cast Reunion Of
Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Image

It wasn’t until 30 years after his father’s death that the actor finally turned his anger into gratefulness. He’s now thankful for “the sunrise and the sunsets and my kids and my family and the gifts I’ve been given.” Right around the time that Patinkin changed his perspective, he finally saw the end of The Princess Bride.

The Weight of His Words

The actor, who admits he’s never seen the entire film from start to finish, heard his character’s line about not knowing what to do with the rest of his life now that his father’s death has been avenged. Patinkin said that he remembered saying the line at the time.

Mandy Patinkin attends the 25th Anniversary Screening & Cast Reunion Of
Photo by Rob Kim/FilmMagic/Getty Images 

But as a young actor, he hadn’t really put that much thought into how he would say it. “I just said it, and I didn’t realize what I was saying. And then I heard it as a grown-up or whatever you want to call me, and it-it meant everything to me today,” Patinkin said.

The Ending That Never Was

The Princess Bride ends with the young boy asking his grandfather to read him the book again, to which he replies, “As you wish.” According to Reiner, there was more to the ending. “We had this sequence that we did shoot,” Reiner said.

The Princess Bride lobby card
Source: Act III Communications

“We didn’t use it. It was after the grandfather leaves the boy, and he starts leafing through the book as the grandfather leaves. And he looks out the window and sees the four heroes on the four white horses and they’re waving at him.” It sounds like a simple scene to film, right?

Achieving the Impossible

According to Reiner, they went to a lot of trouble to film it, only to cut it out for being too confusing. “We had the four white horses and we wanted to suspend them in the air,” the director continued. “Now we have Andre, who weighed 500 lbs. You can’t just put him on a horse.”

The Princess Bride publicity still
Source: Act III Communications

“You have to figure out a way to lift him down with a guy-wire, with cables and all this.” As we’ve said before, Andre suffered from severe back pain. So, he self-medicated with alcohol. The day they shot this scene, Andre had begun drinking at 9 a.m.

A Drunken Giant

The only problem? They didn’t start shooting the scene until around 9 p.m. “I’m not exaggerating…. He drank literally 20 bottles of Nouveau Beaujolais all day,” the director continued. Even though Reiner coordinated this scene and knew what it entailed, he still couldn’t believe his eyes when he arrived at the soundstage.

Mark Knopfler and Rob Reiner
 Source: Act III Communications

“From the ceiling, a drunken giant is being lowered on cables to sit on this horse and he’s going, ‘Hello boss.’ I’m thinking, ‘What the hell kind of job do I have?’” Unfortunately for fans, the scene didn’t make it to the film’s final cut.

Some Memorable Encounters

The Princess Bride has become a family favorite over the years. To this day, the cast is regularly approached by fans in the street, but the film’s reach is even broader than you would have ever thought. One night, Reiner was invited to a restaurant where legendary mobster John Gotti (and “six wise guys”) just happened to walk in.

Director Rob Reiner
Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images 

The director and his friends finished their meal and walked outside where they saw a man who looked like Luca Brasi from The Godfather standing in front of it. “He looks at me, and he goes, ‘You killed my father. Prepare to die. The Princess Bride! I love that movie!’ I almost s**t in my pants,” Reiner recalled.

Helped Save Lives

Another inspiring story is the tale of how the film saved lives during a ski incident. Reiner was approached by a young woman in her late 20s, who is an extreme ski fanatic. Apparently, one time, she was dropped off at the top of a mountain with four other skiers.

The Princess Bride behind the scenes photo
Source: Act III Communications

Minutes later, they got caught in an avalanche and had to wait hours for rescue teams to arrive. “I kept everybody alive and kept everybody going because I know The Princess Bride by heart—every line from beginning to end,” the woman told Reiner. “I started reciting it. I acted it out. I kept everybody’s spirits up until we got rescued.'”

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