1. Cary Elwes almost missed out on playing Westley because of Chernobyl.
In 1986, when director Rob Reiner and producer Andrew Scheinman were casting the movie, Elwes was in Berlin shooting Maschenka. The pair was (understandably) trepidatious about traveling to see him, given the uncertainty surrounding health risks in the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster, since he was so close to the then-Ukranian SSR.
“I’m looking at maps and they have gray areas where the nuclear fallout is and I don’t like it,” Scheinman wrote in one of the book’s many anecdotes offered by Elwes’ supporting cast and crew. “Rob was like, ‘Don’t go if you don’t want to.’ But I did. I just remember running fast into the hotel, like that’s going to do anything, and literally leaving a thousand-dollar jacket behind. I didn’t have that much money and I certainly didn’t have any other jackets like that, but I couldn’t wear it anymore. I just left it.”
2. Elwes aced his audition thanks to Fat Albert.
While casually chatting with Reiner and Scheinman, Elwes broke out into a Fat Albert impression that killed. “He was just a naturally funny guy, and I thought, Wow, this guy could really do it,” Reiner recalled in the book.
Despite his comedy chops, Elwes did have to formally audition as well and read the monologue where Westley reveals to Buttercup how he became Dread Pirate Roberts. Reiner put a stop to his performance “after four words,” according to Scheinman. “I don’t remember exactly how long the meeting was, but it was just like, Boom! That’s him.”
3. Colin Firth and Danny DeVito were considered for roles.
In an alternate universe, The Princess Bride could have been directed by Robert Redford, who (along with Norman Jewison, John Boorman, and Francois Truffaut) tried and failed to get the film made. And it could’ve starred Colin Firth as Westley, Danny DeVito as Vizzini, Sting as Humperdinck, and Arnold Schwarzenegger as Fezzik. Each was considered for the film at one point during pre-production.
4. There was a last-minute costume change for The Man in Black.
The Man in Black’s now-iconic scarf was not part of the initial design, but costume designer Phyllis Dalton sensed something was missing in the very first fitting. “She called over her assistant and asked her to fetch some black satin,” Elwes wrote. “When the assistant returned with the material, Phyllis tied one piece around my head and another around my waist like a sash. ‘There, that’s better.’”
5. André the Giant had a nifty technique to memorize his dialogue.
André was a native French speaker and needed some help memorizing his lines. Enter Rob Reiner, who recorded all of Fezzik’s lines for André to listen to. “I acted it out for him and he studied it over and over and he got it,” Reiner wrote. “André would walk around in headphones, with that tape playing all the time. Listening, figuring it out. And it worked,” Scheinman added.
6. Mandy Patinkin had a deep, personal connection with Inigo Montoya.
Inigo Montoya is driven to find the man who killed his father throughout the film, a motivation Mandy Patinkin found particularly powerful. “It was 1986 and my father died in 1972,” he wrote.
“I wanted to play Inigo because my mind immediately went, If I can get that six-fingered man, then I’ll have my father back, in my imaginary world. He’ll be alive in my imagination. So that was it for me. It was like, I’ll become the greatest sword fighter, and my reward will not be to be in this movie that ended up being what it’s become to all these people; my reward will be that my father will come back.”
7. Bride shared some DNA with Star Wars.
Reiner hired Peter Diamond and Bob Anderson to choreograph the sword fight between Westley and Inigo Montoya. Both men were not only stunt coordinators on the original Star Wars trilogy, but each played a role in the film: Diamond was the Tusken Raider that surprises Luke on the Tatooine cliff, and Anderson was Vader in all the light-saber sequences.
8. Filming started with “a fairly simple scene” that was not at all simple.
Filming began on Aug. 18, 1986, with the fire swamp scene, an incredibly audacious place to start given the scene’s complex pyrotechnics. “’We’re starting out with a fairly simple scene,’” Elwes recalled Reiner saying. “’You know, the one where you reveal how you became the Dread Pirate Roberts to Buttercup while you carry her through the swamp? Then, all you gotta do is save Robin [Wright] from the fire.’”
“Fire … quicksand … This was Rob’s idea of basic stuff?” Elwes wrote.
9. Author William Goldman was literally praying for success on set.
Even though he trusted his beloved novel in Reiner’s hands, author William Goldman was so nervous at the outset of filming, he ruined the first few takes because he could be heard audibly praying by the sound technicians.
10. Elwes upped Westley’s heroic street cred.
Westley’s headfirst dive into the quicksand was not how he was originally scripted to react — Elwes was supposed to step in and hold his nose, but felt that looked “feeble.”
“There was something rather unheroic about jumping into quicksand feet-first,” he wrote. “Especially holding one’s nose.” So, the actor suggested a headfirst dive — an idea that gave everyone pause. While the sandpit featured a trapdoor that gave way to a host of padding, if Elwes executed the dive wrong, he could have broken his neck.
Eventually the rejiggered leap was tested with a stuntman, who executed it perfectly, so Elwes was allowed to attempt the dive himself — and he nailed it. In fact, the scene you see in the finished film is actually the first take. “It definitely helped the movie,” Scheinman wrote. “It’s way more Errol Flynn-y and hero-y to dive than not to dive.”
11. André self-medicated because he was in constant pain.
“André was not at his physical peak,” Elwes wrote. “He was in fact suffering. All those years of toting around so much weight had left him with this very painful condition.”
“André was due to have an operation after he wrapped the movie, but until then the only medication he could take to deal with the pain was alcohol,” he added. “Now, if you think André could eat, you should have seen him drink. It was legendary. Instead of using a regular glass, André drank from a beer pitcher, which looked a lot like a regular glass in his hands. In reality, it was 40 ounces of alcohol, which he nicknamed ‘The American.’”
Reiner wrote about one morning where André arrived to set not feeling well because he drank three bottles of cognac and 12 bottles of wine the night before. “’I got a little tipsy,’” Reiner recalled André saying.
And while André could typically handle his alcohol, he got so drunk one night that he passed out in the lobby of their hotel and, instead of waking him, the managers simply decided to place a small velvet rope around his unconscious body. Elwes described it as seeing “an unconscious 500-pound Gulliver spread out on their very ornate carpet.”
The next morning, André woke up, walked outside, and hailed a cab as if nothing had happened.
12. Wallace Shawn was convinced he was going to get fired.
While his performance as Vizzini is one of the film’s most quoted, Wallace Shawn was under the impression Reiner was going to fire him — every. single. day.
“I remember a dinner I had with Wally … and he kept saying, ‘Chris, this just isn’t going to work. Rob’s going to send me home. This isn’t going to be good,” wrote Christopher Guest, who played Count Tyrone Rugen. Scheinman also experienced Shawn’s crippling insecurity: “He kept saying to me, ‘I’m going to get fired!’ I didn’t realize it at the time, but he later said he had no understanding of the comedy of this movie.”
For his part, Reiner wrote, “The first day he messed up a bunch of takes and kept thinking that I was going to fire him or something. Never even considered it.”
Shawn explained that this fear stemmed from being told he was the third choice for Vizzini. “I knew I was wrong for the part because, for whatever reason, I had been informed by someone in my agency that it had first been offered to Danny DeVito and then to Richard Dreyfus and that they had both turned down the part,” he wrote. “Before every single shot of the film I imagined how Danny would’ve played it so much better than I could. I was haunted by that during every single shot of the film. So if any agents are reading this book, my advice to them is: Don’t tell your client that he’s the third choice.”
13. Billy Crystal and Carol Kane ad-libbed their best lines.
While Goldman’s screenplay was considered sacred by all involved, Reiner gave Billy Crystal (Miracle Max) and Carol Kane (Valerie) license to improvise for the three days they worked on the film.
“Billy improvised 13th Century period jokes, never saying the same thing or the same line twice,” Elwes wrote. “Such was the hilarity of his ad-libbing that he actually caused Mandy to injure himself while fighting to suppress the need to laugh.”
“I literally bruised a bit from holding in my laughter,” Patinkin wrote. “That’s the only injury I got on the whole film.”
While Kane improvised the chocolate-covered pill scene, Crystal invented the idea of rating true love on a scale with a sandwich: the MLT (mutton, lettuce, and tomato).
“Once you have the [make-up] on, you can’t not be in character,” Crystal wrote. “So I’d order lunch in character as Max and it was like, ‘How is the shepherd’s pie? Is it spicy? Will I regret in in the morning?’ And the waitress would be like, ‘No, sir, I think it’s quite lovely.’ ‘Well, yeah, but you don’t know my colon.’”
14. Fred Savage and Peter Falk never met the other actors.
Fred Savage and the late Peter Falk filmed their scenes long after the rest of the cast had wrapped, creating a unique bond between the two actors.
“I don’t even remember when we were shooting or when we weren’t shooting,” Savage wrote. “He would sit in that chair and I would be in that bed and he would talk to me all day. I grew very fond of him. Over the years he and I remained in contact. That’s what I remember more than anything: Peter and his warmth.”
15. Elwes injured himself and tried to keep it a secret.
André used an ATV to circumnavigate the rocky terrain at Cave Dale in Derbyshire where The Man in Black tells Buttercup, “Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”
After much prodding by André, Elwes took the ATV out for a ride. “As I applied the gas, the vehicle bounced over a thick patch of rocks and my foot slipped from the clutch and became wedged between the pedal and one of the rocks, which caused the engine to sputter and stall,” he wrote. “I looked down to see that the big toe on my left foot was bent straight downwards.”
While the pain was immeasurable, Elwes was more afraid that Reiner would have to shut down production, so he attempted to keep the injury a secret. The on-set medic applied a splint and the wardrobe department cut a hole in the back of his boot to accommodate the newly engorged foot. “I wasn’t fooling anyone,” Elwes wrote. “Least of all myself. I wasn’t going to be able to walk without a limp, let alone run or fight a sword fight.”
Reiner found out about the injury, but wasn’t mad — only hurt that Elwes thought he had to keep it a secret as opposed to knowing everyone would work together to make sure the scene could still be achieved.
“If you look closely at the film, when he’s on the top of the mountain with Robin, before she pushes him down the hill, they have this scene where he sits down and he’s leaning up against this log,” Reiner wrote. “And you can see the way he sits down, with his leg extended, he didn’t want to put any weight on it. And when he did it, I thought, Wow! What an elegant way to sit down. I didn’t realize that he just couldn’t put any weight on his foot.”
16. That wasn’t the only time Elwes was seriously injured.
A second injury came when Rugen hits Westley on the head with a sword handle — but Guest was afraid of hitting Elwes, so it was clear on-screen that he wasn’t making contact. Elwes suggested Guest just hit him once so they could get the reaction timing right. He agreed and Reiner yelled action.
“That was the last thing I remember from that day’s shoot,” Elwes wrote, as Guest accidentally him him harder than intended. “I woke up in the emergency room, still in costume, to the frightened sound of stitches being sewn into my skull. From the same doctor, no less, who had treated me only a few weeks earlier for my broken toe. I remember him saying to me after I came to, ‘Well, Zorro! You seem to be a little accident prone, don’t you?’”
17. The Greatest Swordfight in Modern Times took months of practice.
Reiner decided early on that the film’s epic duel — simply referred to in the book as “The Greatest Swordfight in Modern Times” — would be shot in close-up, meaning Elwes and Patinkin had to become expert fencers in a short amount of time. So Diamond and Anderson would pull the actors aside any time they were not filming to rehearse, roughly dedicating eight hours a day, every day to training.
Finally, after months of practice, shooting began at 8:30 a.m. on Nov. 10. Originally intended to film over the course of a single day, Elwes wrote that, quickly “one day became two. Two days became three. Three then became four. In all, we ended up spending the better part of a week filming The Greatest Swordfight in Modern Times, which I suppose is appropriate.”
18. There was a never-filmed alternate ending.
In a never-shot alternate ending, Savage’s character is looking through The Princess Bride book when he hears something outside his window. “He goes to open it only to find all four of us — myself, Robin, Mandy, Andrew — on top of four gray stallions outside his house, beckoning him to join us on our next adventure,” Elwes wrote.
Turns out, Reiner found the concept too confusing and worried that audiences wouldn’t like it if the two worlds collided. “It turned out to be the better choice,” the actor added.
19. The film was sealed with a kiss for Elwes.
On Nov. 21, Elwes filmed his final scene: the now-famous movie-ending kiss between Westley and Buttercup. In the book, Goldman wrote, “Since the invention of the kiss … there have been five kisses that have been rated the most passionate, the most pure. This one left them all behind.”
For Reiner, it took six takes to get the kiss right. “I could have gone on shooting that scene all day, as I don’t think I wanted the movie to end,” Elwes wrote. “It was also a very tender way to end the movie. Sealing it with a kiss, so to speak.”