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The Princess Bride: An oral history

Is this a kissing book?

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Princess

REINER: Bill had always imagined Fezzik to be André the Giant. I said, “Yeah, let’s see if we can get him.” It’s not like you throw a stick and you hit 50 giants. I met him at a bar in Paris — literally, there’s a land mass sitting on a bar stool. I brought him up to the hotel room to audition him. He read this three-page scene, and I couldn’t understand one word he said. I go, ‘Oh my God, what am I going to do? He’s perfect physically for the part, but I can’t understand him!’ So I recorded his entire part on tape, exactly how I wanted him to do it, and he studied the tape. He got pretty good!

ELWES: André said, “We big people don’t live long.” He had that thing you come across with people who are terminally ill where they have a secret most of us don’t get: they understand that life is precious and you have to cherish every moment. He really imparted that to me. He was so filled with life and fun and so sweet, such a truly gentle soul. I mean, for a guy who could crush you like swatting a mosquito, he was so incredibly gentle. I made him tell me his whole life story. He grew up in a little village in France. He couldn’t fit into the school bus even when he was 12 and the only person in the village who had a convertible who could drive him to school was Samuel Beckett — which I think is another movie: Waiting for André.

GUEST: I don’t know if you know this about André, but he was very large. I couldn’t wait every morning to shake his hand because that feeling was like a guy with five catcher’s mitts. Your hand would just disappear into his.

WRIGHT: We had dinner together every night, usually in Rob’s room. We’d have a big feast — the whole cast, their spouses. André would have, like, a case of bourbon just to get tipsy. And he was in physical pain all the time [from years of wrestling]. He had to wear these cables to hold me, and I was, what, 100 pounds? He could barely lift me, because his back was in agony.

GUEST: Every day was really movie camp. There are a lot of times when you’re on a movie on location and you’re kind of a loner and you stay in your room. This was an uncommonly friendly gang of people.

SARANDON: We played a lot of word games in the car on the way to the set, which always intimidated the hell out of me because Chris Guest was so good at them. He would throw out challenges — doing alternate lines of puns and things.

PATINKIN: I’ll never forget the first screening. Everyone came to L.A. on their own dime to see a rough cut. Gilda Radner was there with Gene Wilder, Mel Brooks was there — all these people Rob grew up with. I sat with my wife watching the film, and at the end I was crying. My wife said, “What’s the matter?” I said, “I never dreamed I would get to be in anything like this.”

GOLDMAN: The movie was not a phenomenal success. It did okay. But it found this life as time went on. I don’t like my writing. I only like two movies I’ve ever written: Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid and The Princess Bride.

REINER: The studio never knew how to market it. We literally never had a trailer. They tried to sell it like a zany comedy. I remember having this conversation with Barry Diller, who was the head of Fox at the time. I was screaming at him. I said, “Barry, I don’t want to have a Wizard of Oz!” Because when The Wizard of Oz came out, it was a disaster — nobody liked it and it didn’t do well. I’ll never forget what he said to me. He said, “Rob, don’t let anybody ever hear you say that. You’d be so happy to have a Wizard of Oz!” He was right, of course. It takes time sometimes for these kinds of oddball movies to find an audience.

ELWES: The movie has an incredible life from generation to generation. I guess it’s because it’s so sweet and has a really good heart. People have told me they’ve named their kids Westley and Buttercup, that they were married dressed as Westley and Buttercup. I met a girl just a few weeks ago who has “As You Wish” tattooed on her neck.

PATINKIN: Not a day goes by where somebody doesn’t come up and ask, “Can you say the line?” And I say it with the greatest joy in the world. I’ll often whisper it into a little kid’s ear so he’s not looking at my face, so he just hears my voice, because I don’t want to mess up the magic.

GUEST: I get: “Hey, let me look at your hand” — which I guess people think is clever. “Don’t scare me with those six fingers!” And young people actually are scared. Little kids’ fathers will say, “Hey, honey, look, there’s the guy… ” and they’ll kind of hide because they don’t want bad things to happen.

KANE: Every time someone says to me, “Aren’t you the one from The Princess Bride?” I have to think several times about how I feel about being recognized. Because I think I was like 36 or something at the time we made it, and I think, “What does this mean? Am I growing into that face? Is Valerie creeping into my every day face now?” I’m always honored but I’m also, like, “Hmm, how should I feel about this?”

REINER: I remember once Nora Ephron and Nick Pileggi said, “There’s this restaurant in New York that John Gotti always comes to — you should come.” So we went, and sure enough, in walks John Gotti with, like, six wiseguys. We finish the meal and I walk outside and there’s a man standing in front of a huge limo who looks like Luca Brasi from The Godfather. He looks at me and he goes, “’You killed my father. Prepare to die.’ The Princess Bride! I love that movie!” I almost s— in my pants. When you penetrate guys like that, you know you’ve made it.

SHAWN: It’s safe to say that three days doesn’t go by without somebody shouting “inconceivable” to me in the street, many of them not particularly imagining that anyone else on earth had ever thought of doing it before.

REINER: Another time, a woman came up to me—she had to be 25 or 30 years old—and she says to me, “The Princess Bride saved my life.” I go, “What do you mean?” She says, “I do extreme skiing, and they dropped me off at the top of a mountain with four other people and we skied down this mountain and we got caught in an avalanche. We got stuck. We couldn’t get out.” She showed me that her frostbite was still going away. And she said, “I kept everybody alive and kept everybody going because I know The Princess Bride by heart—every line from beginning to end. I started reciting it. I acted it out. I kept everybody’s spirits up until we got rescued.”

CRYSTAL: I think every time I’m out someone will either say to me “you look mahvelous” or “have fun storming the castle.” And when I get “have fun storming the castle” and they ask for an autograph, I know they’re special people. So I’ll use my best penmanship.

Read more:

EW’s ‘Princess Bride’ cast reunion photo. This one’s the real deal. How marvelous!

As you wish: ‘Princess Bride’ cast and director talk inconceivable(!) cult hit — VIDEO

‘Princess Bride’ remake? ‘I hope I’m dead before that happens,’ says Mandy Patinkin

EW’s Cast Reunions