What was your favorite sitcom from the 70s?
Oh, I have so many! I watched them all. Don't forget I was a kid when I arrived here and in the Golden Age of American television. We're talking about all the Norman Lear shows: Good Times, The Jeffersons. Also, The Brady Brunch...a little bit later, Soap...Taxi...all the Golden Age stuff! Even the early stuff, like Gilligan's Island...I mean I watched them all. I was absolutely riveted. I don't think my parents could have been happier that their kids were so quiet for so long during the day...we were just glued to the TV. Don't forget in England we only had two TV channels. In the States the whole cable explosion was just starting.
What is your favorite behind the scenes story from the book?
Oh gosh! There's so many, which is why I wrote it. It's hard to pick! If I had to sit down and think about it, I'd have to say the overall experience was so wonderful. It really was like camp for us. Here we were running around the English countryside dressed as pirates and princesses with giants and little people, it was hilarious! It was really fun. Sword fighting...and chasing...it was all great fun!
What was your favorite scene to film in The Princess Bride?
Well, I think the one I probably laughed the most was when I was filming the scene with Andre the Giant when he had some bad gas that day.
What scene were you filming when that happened?
When Westley wakes up after eating Miracle Max's chocolate pill.
Okay, so up on the wall when you're asking for the fire cloak?
Exactly! On the first take Andre let out one of the most mammoth farts. Well, he's a giant so it was a giant fart. Let me put it this way, he brought filming to a close for a little bit there (laughs).
So, I have to ask. Is that scene on film anywhere that somebody somewhere along the way is going to grace the world with?
You know, that's a good question. That's a very good question. I don't know if all the outtakes were printed on this film because this was shot pre-digital days on film. Because it was so expensive back then, they didn't print everything. They just printed the takes that they wanted...that they needed. So, unfortunately, it's not saved anywhere...I don't think?! Now, don't quote me on that, I don't know, but I suspect given what I just told you that it's not anywhere in the archives.
You mention in the book that you've only seen The Princess Bride in its entirety with an audience 3 times. How many times do you think you've seen the movie all up?
I never sat through it all other than those 3 times just because I didn't need to. I don't really watch my films much, but I did sit through a screening for a Q&A session for an event, of course I sat through the 25th anniversary, and the first time it was screened at the Toronto film festival, and then there was one other screening, an Academy screening I believe.
The Princess Bride has been called this generation's The Wizard of Oz. What do you think made The Princess Bride the classic that it is today?
I think it was a combination of everything. I think we were very fortunate in that we sort of captured lightening in a bottle. We had a wonderful writer in Bill Goldman--Rob Reiner was at the peak of his career as a director--he was coming off hit after hit with "Spinal Tap" and "The Sure Thing" and "Stand by Me." And the cast was just ridiculous. Everybody was perfectly cast in this film, it was just phenomenal.
I think it was one of those magical things where we happened to touch something special and I think a lot of it has to do with Rob and Bill Goldman. Rob really understood the material, it was one of his favorite books as a kid and he wanted to make it into a movie for a long long time. It nearly didn't get made on many many occasions, so we were really fortunate. Norman Lear really stepped up to the plate and financed the film.
Who would win in a real sword fight, you or Mandy Patinkin?
Ahh! You know, I think we were both very proficient at that point. I would think that we were probably as good as each other. An interesting thing happened while we were shooting. Remember the sequence where we're sword fighting up the steps of the castle ruin? The old castle tower on top the Cliffs of Insanity? Part of that sequence going up the steps was facing away from the camera and Rob couldn't see it through the lens, so Mandy said we should change it and make it work for the camera (it was about a minute's worth of fighting that we had to fix). Rob said, "alright, you got 20 minutes...fix it." After training for months and months to get it all perfected, in 20 minutes we changed part of the fight sequence right there on the spot and made it work. I think that shows you actually just how prepared we were. We literally practiced every single day...everyday! Even while we were shooting--in between setups--the stunt coordinators and sword choreographers would grab us between takes to go and rehearse with us. They wouldn't let us sit down to just hangout on the set, ever! So, we were quite proficient by the time it came around to shooting that sequence. We were proud of the fact that we could adjust it given a moment's notice.
You don't like your odds against him then?
No, I don't like anyone's odds against Wallace Shawn. The man is an incredibly intelligent human being. Again, perfect casting. He's an Oxford graduate...he's a very intelligent guy!
You had never acted in a comedy until being cast for The Princess Bride. Can you talk about the casting process?
I was shooting a film in Berlin and Helsinki at the time. I was shooting a little independent British/German/Finnish production. I knew the book...I had read it at as a kid. I read it when I was like 13, so I knew the material. So when my agent called and said, "they're thinking of flying out to Berlin to meet you," I couldn't have been more ecstatic because I knew the book and I was a huge fan. Like many people of William Goldman, I had seen all of his movies. I thought it was a real long shot that I would get the part because I was a fairly unknown actor at the time, but lucky for me Rob Reiner and his producing partner Andy Scheinman flew to Berlin and met with me at the Hotel Kempinski, I read one scene for them and that was that. I did a Fat Albert impersonation...I think that's what helped sell it for some reason. I don't know why or how that came up but for some reason it did.
How is acting in a comedy different than a drama or other film types?
Well, comedy they say is hard and drama is easy. I think that I kind of always had a comic sensibility and I studied comedy as a kid. I was a huge fan of Monty Python, of Peter Sellers, of the late great Robin Williams, Richard Pryor, Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner. It's funny, when Rob met me he was surprised to learn that I knew so much about American comedy. I had an American stepfather so we would go on vacations to the States when I was a kid, I would just devour everything on television. Especially sitcoms and comedies...I was fascinated by it. So I really had that sensibility...that's how I came to do the Fat Albert impersonation for Rob. I've seen All in the Family, I've studied All in the Family...we talked about All in the Family when we met and he was blown away that I even knew what the show was. I was a Brit in Berlin discussing The Jeffersons, and things like that...
Did you develop any close longstanding relationships with other cast members or crew from The Princess Bride?
We're all still friends. It's one of those things that we're all connected through this extraordinary experience. So, we all stay in touch.
What has affected you the most personally working with Mercy Corps?
Well, I went to Darfur during the crisis there and I saw first hand just how dire things were out there. And again, they believe that old saying "give someone a fish feed them for a day, give them a fishing rod and feed them for a lifetime"...their whole concept is to help provide the resources for that community to get back on its feet and actually be a thriving economic community again....that's their goal. When I saw what they were doing and how they took these communities in Darfur and helped put them back on their feet by getting them to open up stores where they could sell shoes and mats and ovens and things like that, it was just incredible! They irrigated their farms and got them back feeding themselves again. It was just incredible to see...absolutely incredible!
Did you get to keep any of the props or costumes from The Princess Bride? Any memorabilia?
I should have kept the sword...I ended up giving it to Rob. I didn't really keep anything from the show, I just kept my memories, which is what this. What I'm putting out now is what I kept...my memories.
Many actors rebel against their most iconic roles, but you seem really comfortable with being forever known as Westley. Can you talk about why that is?
I think you're blessed as an actor to have any movie resonate with an audience, and this one seems to be a film that families pass on to generation to generation. I feel blessed. Like I said, you're lucky to have any film that is successful in your career. I think I can speak for the rest of the cast when I say we all feel blessed that we're part of something so beloved.
After The Princess Bride, you were offered a lot of roles in costume period pieces, but turned them down. Why did you choose to wait for other acting opportunities, such as villain roles?
Because I didn't want to be typecast in one role. I wanted to stretch myself as an actor and I didn't want a lot of period costume offers after The Princess Bride...I just turned them down. I wanted to do something different.
What was your experience like working on Psych?
Oh my gosh, I had so much fun on that show! Those guys were so funny. I miss it! I had such a good time. It's really one of very special things as well. And again, the fans seemed to have really attached themselves to that series, and Pierre Despereaux in particular. So again, I feel very blessed.
What can you tell us about your upcoming film Sugar Mountain?
I've got two films coming out. One is called Sugar Mountain with Jason Momoa and Melora Walters. It's a drama set in Alaska. We shot it in a place called Seward, Alaska. It's a really wonderful film, really a beautiful ensemble piece. And then the other film is a drama we shot in Boston and it's called The Greens Are Gone, and it's a very dark movie, actually. It's not the demographic that's going to be reading this piece, I don't think (laughs).
How would you compare Sugar Mountain and The Greens Are Gone?
Sugar Mountain is more of a family drama. The Greens Are Gone is about loss...it's about family and loss. It's with Catherine Keener, and she's wonderful by the way...I loved working with her. Yeah, they're different. They're both dramas but they're both different.
Had you been to Alaska before? What was the experience like?
No. Oh my gosh, it's so beautiful! I recommend anyone who has never been to go. It's absolutely stunning. We had an incredible canvas to work with as far as our backdrop was concerned.
How was it working with the Saw franchise? Also, was the big reveal at the end of the final chapter always planned from Saw 1?
No, they literally were figuring it out as they went along. I think it was a fan who actually helped tie it all together, which is kind of cool. They were stumped as to what to do for Saw 7, and it was a fan who wrote the producers and figured out a way to tie it all together.
Given your experience acting in a variety of genres from comedy, to drama, to horror... in which do you find yourself most successful? In which are you most comfortable?
I'm most comfortable working. That's where I like to be. Other than being with my family, the only other place I'd rather be is on a set shooting.
You work with Mercy Corps. Can you talk about what they do and why you support them?
Mercy Corps are the most original non-governmental agency and non-profit that I came across. They are very creative: whereas Mercy Corps and most non-profits arrive in a country after a manmade or nature related event, when most of the non-governmental organizations leave, Mercy Corps stays behind to help rebuild that community. That's something that I thought was so unique about them and fascinating about them. After all the aid has been brought in: food, shelter, amenities, medical supplies...they stay behind to help plant the seed to help that community get back on its feet. They are unique in that respect.
What inspired you to write your book As You Wish?
I always get stopped by fans and asked about the making of the film and what it was like, and what Andre was like, and what it was like working with the cast. At the 25th anniversary we were all asked the same thing, but we really didn't get a lot of time to answer, so I thought this was the perfect time to do it. The rest of the cast were so wonderful...they all contributed to the book.