Very few actors find a project that connects so strongly with fans that it becomes an obsession. Cary Elwes is among a smaller group that’s done it twice. The unassuming British actor burst onto film screens as Westley in The Princess Bride in 1987 and still gets fan letters from a generation that was born after its release. In 2004, Elwes tapped into a very different fan base with the smash hit Saw. It scared up more than $103 million worldwide. Not bad for a film that barely cost $1 million to make. Additionally, more than a few industry observers have said it helped to save Lionsgate, the studio that bought it just prior to its world premiere at Sundance. Five intervening films and $633 million in global box office later, the British actor returned to help bookend the series in Saw 3D.
Elwes filled Collider in on the film recently. Hit the jump for the interview’s full audio and transcript along with his take on the R rating, why no one with a heart condition or a baby on the way should see the film, the Yellow Submarine remake, twisting Steven Spielberg’s arm into a part in Tintin, and the lasting impact of The Princess Bride.
Click here for the audio or read on for the full transcript of what is a pretty unique interview since those attending the press day weren’t allowed to see the film or even full press notes beforehand and Elwes wasn’t allowed to discuss the plot. It became the starting point for a conversation that became a good-natured game of cat and mouse.
Cary Elwes: I can’t tell you anything about the plot.
Collider: Well, ok. So, contractually, you can’t say anything about it.
Ok, let’s approach it this way, then. If you were a fan, where would you want to see your character (Dr. Gordon) go (after the first film)?
Elwes: That’s, again, falls into the category of—I’ll tell you, I can say this: It’s thanks to the fans that my character returned. They’re the ones who campaigned heavily for Dr. Gordon to make a comeback and they wanted to know what happened to him and so, I was discussing it with the producers and I really felt like I wanted to return in the last one and really bookend the series and they agreed and they came up with a really good idea to bring him back and, you know, when they approached me with it, I knew it was something that the fans were gonna be excited about and it answers a lot of unanswered questions at the end about him, so I think they’ll be happy.
So, it is definitely, definitely, definitely the last-
Elwes: It’s the last one.
It is absolutely-
Elwes: I can’t see them doing any more. I mean, we want to go out with a bang and this is definitely the best of them all. I’ve seen the film. It’s the most graphically violent film I’ve ever seen in my entire life. I mean, I’m surprised we got the rating (R) that we got. Even the director told me he was surprised they gave it the rating that we got.
There was the rating for the new Ryan Gosling –Michelle Williams film (Blue Valentine) that got an NC-17 (to almost unanimous surprise by those who have seen it at festivals and say the film’s sex and violence don’t warrant the rating). What’s your take on, on the ratings system in that something, like you were saying, you were surprised that Saw 3D got the rating that you did where there are art films that end up with an NC-17 or –
Elwes: Well, no. I, I can’t- You know, I don’t know what goes into the decision making process of the ratings board and I wouldn’t want to try and tell them how to do their job. I’m just grateful to them at this point that they gave us the rating that allowed us to make a commercial film. You know, I’m sorry for Ryan (Gosling). I hope they manage to get the rating they need. You know, look, it’s not an easy job being on a ratings board, by any means. It’s almost a thankless job. You know, you’re constantly at loggerheads with the filmmakers who want to push the envelope each time and so, like I said, I’m just grateful they gave us the rating we got. (Note: the first film in the Saw series was originally rated NC-17 before an additional edit earned an R).
Now, your daughter’s 3 years old.
How old will she be when you say, “Ok. Now you can watch Saw (3D)?”
Elwes: (Laughs) Probably in her 40s? I don’t know.
She’ll be collecting social security-
Elwes: Yes. That might be an appropriate age for her.
Yeah. On the commentary for the 1st Saw DVD, (Saw Co-writer/Co-Star/Executive Producer) Leigh (Whannell) was talking about the fact that there was a fan fiction of you slithering out (from the fateful room in the first film) and I know that you can’t talk about the plot, but how much of that played into this, because you said fans were the ones who —
Elwes: Well, you know, the filmmakers and the producers, in particular, are very attentive to the fan response and the blogosphere and the chat rooms, obviously, as all intelligent filmmakers are today, when they’re dealing with sequels. And our fans are probably some of the most passionate fans ever. I mean, they pore over these films with a fine tooth comb and they go over every single frame and find things that you and I would probably miss, but thankfully our producers don’t and there’s one fan in particular, who’s name I don’t know, but they actually do interview this guy because he’s such an incredible student of the films that he has details that they didn’t even think of and so he impressed them enough for them to meet with him every year and hear what he has to say. That just gives you an idea of the level, the passion of the fans that we have. And so I’m eternally grateful to them. Really. I wouldn’t be here without them.
Elwes: I don’t think that way. I’m all of “suspend disbelief.” I go into pure enjoyment. This film is particularly violent. It’s one of the most violent, gory, intense films I’ve ever seen and I don’t think the fans will be disappointed at all, especially in 3D. It’s not for the faint-hearted or anyone with a heart problem (Laughter) and if you’re pregnant, please don’t go and see this film. I really, really, really don’t want you to go and see it. Ok? Just wait ‘til you’ve had the kid and, and you can get a babysitter, then you can go.
Maybe wait until the kid has a driver’s license.
Elwes: Yeah. You know? Just be smart. You know it should have a warning on it. It really should. It’s very, very, very graphic. So, there.
Well, on a lighter note, you’re a huge fan of (the) Tin Tin (books) growing up and now you’re in the film (directed by Steven Spielberg). How did cereal shopping play into-
Elwes: Oh, you heard that story?
Yeah. (Elwes initially asked Spielberg about a part in Tin Tin on the set of A Christmas Carol when the director was visiting the film’s director Robert Zemeckis and ran into the director again two weeks later in the cereal aisle of a grocery store where he closed the deal)
Elwes: Well, I was very fortunate to run across Mr. Spielberg and I kind of twisted his arm a little bit to be in the film and I think he responded to the fact that I’m such a Tin Tin fan. God bless him for it because how much this guy must be inundated with people tugging his sleeve every minute of every day and he was so gracious about it.
It’s not like you don’t have a resume coming in, though.
Elwes: I know, but you know what? Can you imagine how many actors (just) bully him all the time? Just accost him everywhere he goes? The guy probably never gets a break. So, I felt a little trepidatious approaching him, but then, he was so sweet and gracious about it and I’d already talked to him about it a little bit beforehand. So, he knew where I was coming from and I think he sensed that I was such a huge fan and that it meant so much to me and, honestly, the role (of Pilot) is very small and that’s all he had left in the casting process, so I was grateful to do anything. So, I said sure.
Well, you first met him on the set of A-
Elwes: Christmas Carol.
Christmas Carol, with-
– Robert Zemeckis directing.
And he’s also directing The Yellow Submarine (Elwes is playing the voice of The Beatles guitarist George Harrison). First of all, as a Beatles fan-
What kind of a weight do you feel or is it just such an honor?
Elwes: Well, it’s both. It’s a great honor and it’s a great weight. Obviously, you know, one can’t underestimate The Beatles’ fans and one has to be respectful to them and respectful to The Beatles and their legacy and I can’t say too much about it because I’m not aloud to, except to say that I’m obviously greatly honored and greatly thrilled to be a part of it and it’s gonna be an incredible film. We’ve got an incredible director, Bob Zemeckis, at the helm and I can’t think of a better person. He’s a big Beatles fan himself and I have some idea of how the film’s gonna be made and I can tell you right now, it’s gonna be extraordinary.
Elwes: It’s gonna be all CGI, much like Avatar.
So, the look of it will-
Elwes: I can’t tell you. (Laughter) I can’t tell you anything. I’d love to tell you. I’ve even told you too much. I can get in trouble.
Ok. Well, can we talk about the research, though?
Did you talk to George Harrison’s widow? Did you talk to—
Elwes: I, I did. I have spoken with the family and I made a trip to (the birthplace of The Beatles) Liverpool, (England) myself and went up to the Cavern Club (where Brian Epstein reportedly first saw The Beatles perform) and went to see George’s house and all their homes actually. It’s really beautiful. I went to The Beatles Museum. You know, The Beatles Experience-
Elwes: -there in Liverpool? And I thoroughly recommend it for any Beatles fan. If you really want to understand the history of these guys and where they came from and really appreciate-, their story is incredible really when you think about it. Just four lads from Liverpool taking over the world. For 20 years, they were on the front cover of every single paper. Now, that’s a phenomenal thing right there and just what they accomplished, so you know, I’m, as a fan, I’m thrilled. Just to study what he studied and to learn what he learned and to find how he found peace. It’s a beautiful thing. I mean, he was my favorite Beatle anyway, so I’m really blessed.
Some time has passed since The Princess Bride (was released in September, 1987). Can you walk down the street without hearing “As You Wish” everywhere?
Elwes: I am blessed in that, you know, the film has had incredible legs. It has a real longevity to it. I still get fan mail from kids. The film, you know, has crossed boundaries, in terms of one generation to another and I feel very blessed to be a part of a film that has had that impact and you’re lucky as an actor to be remembered for anything and to be part of a film that still has an effect on people? You know, I have kids accosting me with swords in toy stores. I try and avoid the fake sword departments if I can help it ‘cause usually I get recognized there.
Well, you’ve said you love doing historical pieces.
It was your favorite subject at school.
What’s one historical subject that you would love to tackle?
Elwes: I’d like to tackle the First World War, I think.
Any figure, particularly?
Elwes: No. Just, I’d like to explore that. I, you know, it’s an area I have not explored yet. I haven’t done Second World War, either. Well, I guess, no. I have done Uprising (where he played Dr. Fritz Hippler, a real-life Nazi filmmaker who ran Germany’s propaganda film department) I’ve done the Second World War a little bit. But I haven’t played a British officer yet. I’d like to do that. That’d be fun.
Great. Thank you so much.