Wove. Twue wove. That’s what fans of The Princess Bride clearly feel for director Rob Reiner’s 1987 cult comic fairy tale. If you woved our cast reunion photo and you ate up the tidbits from our oral history in the current issue of Entertainment Weekly (on stands now), and yet, inconceivably, you still want more… well, as you wish. Here is an expanded version of our in-depth oral history on the making of The Princess Bride.
WILLIAM GOLDMAN, writer of The Princess Bride novel (published in 1973) and screenplay: I had two little daughters, I think they were 7 and 4 at the time, and I said, “I’ll write you a story. What do you want it to be about?” One of them said “a princess” and the other one said “a bride.” I said, “That’ll be the title.”
ROB REINER, director: I read the book when I was in my 20s, because I was a huge William Goldman fan. Then, after I had made a couple of pictures, Spinal Tap and The Sure Thing, I started thinking of The Princess Bride. I very naively thought I could make a movie, then I discovered that Francois Truffaut had tried and Norman Jewison had tried and Robert Redford had been involved — one after the other. No [studio] wanted to make a movie of The Princess Bride; nobody was interested in it. We kept tearing the budget down, I had to try to sell foreign rights and video rights, I had to cut my salary, I had to cut the cast’s salaries. It was crazy. I think we had, like, $16 million dollars, which even at the time wasn’t very much. In the script it said “the army of Florin” — I had seven people in the army of Florin.
GOLDMAN: We had terrible trouble finding a Buttercup because she had to be so beautiful. We had all kinds of pretty girls come in but they weren’t this staggering thing. And I remember, I was in New York and Rob called me and said, “I think I’ve found her.”
ROBIN WRIGHT, Princess Buttercup: I think I was literally the 500th ingenue to read for Rob, and I think he was so exhausted at that point from looking at all the girls he was like, Ugh, God, just hire her. I had done one movie before that — I can’t even remember the name of it — where I played a teenage runaway who became a hooker and heroin addict. Talk about the antithesis of The Princess Bride!
REINER: I saw Cary in a movie called Lady Jane, and he was perfect. He looked like a young Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. He was the only person I could imagine doing it with. I didn’t have anyone else.
WRIGHT: Cary was gorgeous! He was the blonde Zorro. We hit it off right away. We had the same sense of humor. I was the baby and the novice around all the veterans. Inside I was trembling, of course: “Can I pull this off?”
CARY ELWES, Westley: I first met Robin at Shepperton Studios [in England] during a costume fitting. I knew immediately that she was perfect. She had done [the soap opera] Santa Barbara. When you’ve done a lot of television, you become very seasoned very quickly. She was a pro.
CHRIS SARANDON, Prince Humperdinck: Robin always had a very strong sense of herself and yet there was always a sense of mystery about her as well. I’m sure everybody fell a little bit in love with Robin on the shoot, whether we were attached or not. And Cary is a very funny guy. Despite those drop-dead matinee idol looks, he was a brilliant mimic and he does amazing accents and fabulous characters. So there was an interesting sort of balance there.
MANDY PATINKIN, Inigo Montoya: The moment I read the script, I loved the part of Inigo Montoya. That character just spoke to me profoundly. I had lost my own father — he died at 53 years old from pancreatic cancer in 1972. I didn’t think about it consciously, but I think that there was a part of me that thought, If I get that man in black, my father will come back. I talked to my dad all the time during filming, and it was very healing for me.
ELWES: The tone that Bill Goldman set was very clear from the word “go,” with the narrative device of Peter Falk telling this story to Fred Savage. Once you cast Peter Falk, there’s your tone right there!
WALLACE SHAWN, Vizzini: I was not the first person they wanted [for the part]. Unfortunately, my agent at that time believed that it would be helpful for me to know who they actually wanted, so he told me — it was Danny DeVito. Looking back on it, it didn’t help. Danny is inimitable. Each scene we did, I pictured how he would have done it and I knew I could never possibly have done it the way he could have done it. It made it challenging. I’ve mentioned it to Danny since. I said, “You know, of everything that I have ever done since birth, the thing that is most well-known is a part I had because you were unavailable.” He might have laughed nervously when I said that.
WRIGHT: I remember doing the scene with Wally where I’m blindfolded outside. The dialogue that Wally has in that scene — it just hit me at that moment: This is not just a fantasy picture. This is not a Robin Hood repeat. This is unique. And it was all on the page. William Goldman’s words were ironic and humorous and wry and very smart.
SHAWN: I had no idea how to play the character. I imitated Rob. He would do it and then I would imitate him. That’s the truth. And all of the things that I did in that film that people have said, “Oh, that was so funny” — those were totally things that Rob would do, and then I just imitated them.
SARANDON: Chris Guest and I were on horses whenever we weren’t on set. We were taken to a place that trains horses for movies and given horses. My horse was a big black stallion named Fury — they couldn’t give me Powder Puff or Donut — and Chris’ horse was the largest horse I’ve ever seen in my life, a big, huge chestnut stallion, an ungovernable animal that he had some difficulty with, and understandably because it was a big mother—ing horse.
GUEST: I was given a huge horse that had never been in a film. One day we were doing horseback riding training in our costumes, and this horse I was riding took off. I had ridden horses before in movies and otherwise, but this horse wouldn’t stop. It almost ran into a wall. What we realized later was that the scabbard of the sword was whacking it on its side, so he was getting the message “We’re going faster.” That was kind of frightening.
BILLY CRYSTAL, Miracle Max: Rob said, “You could have fun with this — do you want to do it?” I said, “You bet!” It was such a perfect little cameo to play. I met with my makeup artist, Peter Montagna, who had done all these characters with me on Saturday Night Live, and I said, “I want him to look like a cross between my grandmother and [baseball legend] Casey Stengel.”
CAROL KANE, Miracle Max’s wife Valerie: Billy came over to my apartment in Los Angeles and we took the book and underlined things and made up a little more backstory for ourselves. We added our own twists and turns and stuff that would amuse us, because there’s supposed to be a long history – who knows how many hundreds of years Max and Valerie have been together?
CRYSTAL: We ad libbed a lot of stuff: “Have fun storming the castle.” “Don’t go swimming for an hour — a good hour.” There was a lot of really funny stuff that never made it into the movie: “Don’t bother me, sonny. I had a bad day — I found my nephew with a sheep.” “True love is the greatest thing in the world — except for a good B.M.” I remember the only trouble with the scene was Cary trying not to laugh while he was laying on the slab, because he’s supposed to be mostly dead but slightly alive. There should be a Max and Valerie movie. Start a Twitter thing: “We want more Max and Valerie.” Now we won’t need as much makeup.
KANE: Prosthetics are not pleasant. It’s a challenge to sit in that chair for that many hours. Then it’s an hour to get it taken off at the end of the day — you can’t just rip it off, which is what you’re dying to do. But we just had so much fun on the set, and a lot of that was thanks to Rob’s great enthusiasm. You just felt that you were part of something warm and magical and slightly cuckoo.
PATINKIN: I knew that my job was to become the world’s greatest swordfighter. I trained for about two months in New York and then we went to London and Cary and I trained every day that we weren’t shooting for four months. There were no stunt men involved in any of the sword fights, except for one flip in the air.
ELWES: Mandy and I got so good at both left- and right-handed fencing that by the time we showed the sequence to Rob, we’d gotten too fast at it and the fight was over very quickly in a couple of minutes. Rob went, “That’s it? You guys have to go back and add some more!”
GUEST: I got stabbed in the thigh during a rehearsal [of Rugen’s final duel with Montoya]. The blades we used were made of carbon, because if you were using steel it would be incredibly heavy to whip around — I think they were manlier men back then or something. But it was definitely pointy. They weren’t Nerf swords. If you went straight in, it went in. The other weird thing is that in that final sword fight, I was so into it, I was making the sound of the sword hitting the other sword. I was doing the “chk-chk-chk” — because that’s what you do when you’re a kid. Rob said, “Cut! You don’t need to do that. We’re going to put in the sound of the swords later.” I was like, “Ah!”