Is there anyone who doesn’t love The Princess Bride? Whether in it’s original novel form written by William Goldman, or the dry and endlessly-quotable movie by Rob Reiner, there’s no doubt that The Princess Bride has a cult following with plenty of loyal fans. And when I say “plenty”, I really mean “an entire auditorium-sized panel room packed to the brim with no standing room” number of loyal fans. If there’s any question of how excited fans were to have their questions answered by Wallace Shawn, Carry Elwes, and Chris Sarandon, Saturday afternoon at Rose City Comic Con is the best example there is.
The panel was, oddly, split into two parts, with the first to introduced being Wallace Shawn.
“Strangely, we all have different personalities, us actors,” joked Shawn as he came on stage to a roar of applause. “I’ll be here for a little while and then other people will appear. I am rather boring though…so we should all just calm down and sit down. Yes. I’ll be me to the extent that I can be, and that’ll nicely lower your expectations”
When asked what body of work he was most proud of, however, Shawn seemed to go off the beaten path and surprise the audience with his humility. Instead of talking up his most well-known works (such as playing the Sicilian in Reiner’s film adaptation of The Princess Bride, or Zek — The Grand Nagus of the Ferengi Alliance — in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), Shawn chose to talk about his work as a playwright.
“I started writing plays. So I’ve spent most of my life devoted to creating plays that only a handful of people have seen. It’s a strange way to spend your life,” remarked Shawn. “For me I still really think of acting as a strange job that I’ve taken on the side of my actual life; but it turns out that some of the things I’ve done as an actor have amused quite a few people.”
As if to punctuate Shawn’s understatement, the audience began to applaud and roar with laughter.
Shawn continued by saying that he considers himself very lucky and grateful as his “side job” acting has been very enjoyable. However — looking back on his life — it had been remarkable to him that while most people know him for his roles in film and TV, that his thoughts have been used much more on strange plays that almost no one has enjoyed.
“They all have been done and performed in small spaces in big cities. Let’s put it that way,” he joked. “But they’re all in print and it’s possible — and legal — to go out and buy them. Just so you know.”
The attention of the first half-panel then turned to the audience who were more than ready to fire off some questions at Shawn; the first of which — unsurprisingly — about what it was like work with the late wrestler and actor Andre “Andre The Giant” Roussimoff.
“He was particularly kind to me because I was basically shocked to realize what we had to do in the scene where we were physically tied together,” Wallace laughed. “We were supposed to go on a little forklift and pretend we were climbing up the Cliffs of Insanity…and I was not prepared for that. When I had auditioned for the part, I asked if we would literally be doing what was in the script…and thankfully, no, we didn’t have climb the 400 ft cliffs. For me, though, climbing the studio was already almost beyond my abilities. [Andre] always did have a flask of brandy though, which he offered to share with me as we were tied together 35 feet above the ground. I always turned him down, but the offer helped me along, and the possibility of changing my mind was very helpful — as was his sweetness. He was very lovable.”
The next audience question lead to Deep Space Nine, and how Shawn felt about effectively becoming an advocate for promoting female rights within the show. Obviously he thought it was absolutely delightful, and expressed his love for the idea of the Ferengi (of all genders) not experiencing loneliness and exclusion…despite them all having to wear strange undergarments, apparently.
“The idea of the Ferengi was that they were greedy. To bring love into the picture was radical and to bring female Ferengi into the inner circle was a bold gesture. Deep Space Nine was a rather subversive gesture to begin with, though,” remarked Shawn. “I thought I was going to be playing a solitary creature who had no love in their life and was living in a senseless, greedy world. But then again Star Trek always had kind of a strange thing about sex. Men had no visible sexuality, and women — whatever their form — had to wear large breasts if they didn’t bring them to the set themselves. I found it all very creepy.”
After the laughter had died down a bit, Shawn took his leave; charming everyone to pieces by giving a confused shrug as the crowd gave him a standing ovation.
Having initially started later than expected (and beginning to run short on time), the panel turned to their next guests quicker than you could say “Inconceivable!” The room nearly blew the walls off of the room as The Princess Bride stars Cary Elwes and Chris Sarandon took the stage.
“Wow. That’s a LOT of people,” beamed Elwes.
“We should come back to Portland way more often if this is what it’s like!” laughed Sarandon.
It took a few minutes to really get things going, though, as the stars were inundated with cries of “I love you!” from the crowd; each of which they took the time to answer personally. Once things calmed down, the audience was welcomed to ask questions; beginning with a fan asking what it was like to work with Mel Brooks and if Elwes was allowed to ad lib any of his lines in Robin Hood Men In Tights.
“Mel was very specific about Robin Hood Men in Tights, weirdly enough,” Elwes replied. “I think the only person he really trusted to riff was Dave Chapelle — but he’s a professional comedian. I really loved working with Mel a lot, though.”
The questions moved quickly with both stars being charming, but brief; taking only a moment to expound on the experience of learning how to choreograph the fencing scene between Elwes and The Princess Bride co-star, Mandy Patinkin.
“We really only filmed the fencing scene on the cliffs once because we has rehearsed so much. But then it ended up being shorter than Rob [Reiner] had expected,” said Elwes. “So we rehearsed the fight one last time in front of Rob for shooting, we get finished, we’re covered in sweat and panting, and we walk up to him like hopeful children asking for a teacher’s approval and he just goes ‘Wait. That’s it?’ So we had to add an additional minute of fighting onto it. It wiped us out.”
One of the final questions was a fan who asked what made their roles in The Princess Bride the most difficult upon being cast.
“Fulfilling everyone’s wishes for my ability to play the part,” replied Sarandon. “The script had such big expectations for the character and for me, so there was a lot to assure there.”
“Yeah,” added Elwes. “See, Chris was a seasoned actor by then and there I was just a fresh-faced twenty-one year old actor. I honestly couldn’t believe anyone wanted to take that chance on me. I just feel really luck that they did.”