Cary Elwes: Battle Of Wits Inspired by the iconic battle of wits scene from The Princess Bride, we challenged Elwes to guess his way out of other life-and-death situations in his Ask Me Another challenge.

Cary Elwes: Battle Of Wits

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

JONATHAN COULTON: This is ASK ME ANOTHER, NPR's hour of puzzles, word games and trivia. I'm Jonathan Coulton here with puzzle guru Art Chung. And now here's your host Ophira Eisenberg.



Thank you, Jonathan. We'll hear our music parody from Jonathan in just a little bit. But first it's time to welcome one of our special guests. You know him from "The Princess Bride" and "Saw." He's currently starring in the Crackle series "The Art Of More," it's Cary Elwes.



CARY ELWES: Thank you for having me.

EISENBERG: Yeah, a pleasure. Cary, "The Princess Bride" came out in 1987. But then 27 years later after this cult classic, you wrote a book about behind the scenes and stories from the movie.


EISENBERG: How did you remember the anecdotes?


ELWES: It's a good question. Actually, I remember maybe 2 or 3 stories from the making of the film. I said, well, let me see if I can figure something out. So I called Norman Lear. And Norman Lear - for those of you who don't know, Norman Lear is one of the great film producers of all time. And he personally put up the money for "The Princess Bride." He took a huge chance on me because I was an unknown actor at the time. I took him to lunch - by the way, whenever I take Norman to lunch, I always pay 'cause I always say to him, you know, I owe you, man.

So - and he said, well, don't worry about it, Cary. Here's what I'm going to do for you. I'm going to send you all the call sheets from the making of the film. Now, the call sheets, for those of you who don't know, are the work orders that we, the actors, and the crew get that tell you what scene you're shooting that day, rehearsals, all of that. And sure enough, a week later, this beautiful bound set of call sheets arrived at my house. And the very first one was my rehearsal time to go and study fencing.


ELWES: And it was like I was back there from 27 years ago. It was amazing. And I suddenly remembered everything. It was incredible. I couldn't believe that my memory was that good after all the damage I've done to my brain over the years.


EISENBERG: You worked with two of the greatest comedy directors...


EISENBERG: ...Of all time.

ELWES: Thank you.

EISENBERG: You worked with Rob Reiner and also you worked with Mel Brooks in "Robin Hood: Men In Tights."


EISENBERG: So what makes a great comedy director for you?

ELWES: Somebody who has a sense of humor.



ELWES: I figured Mel Brooks had one. I grew up with his movies. I was the school projectionist. At school, I used to run Mel Brooks movies. And that made me insanely popular. So, I mean, we watched "Blazing Saddles" and "Young Frankenstein" and "The Producers" like 50 times. So when I got the call from him, he goes, hi, this is Mel Brooks. And I went, yeah, right. And I hung up on him.


ELWES: I mean, right? I thought, it's one of my friends playing a joke on me. And then the phone rang again, he went, don't hang up, don't hang up.


ELWES: And, yeah, so that's how that happened.

EISENBERG: But you started in the movie business as a production assistant as a teenager.

ELWES: As a PA, yeah.

EISENBERG: And worked with a bunch of great actors, including Marlon Brando.


EISENBERG: There's got to be a story from that.

ELWES: Yes, Marlon. That was on "Superman." I stood in for an AD who was missing that week. And it was weird. The third AD who introduced me to him said, OK, so look, your job is just to get Marlon out of his trailer...


ELWES: ...Because Marlon was being paid a million dollars overages each day. So he had no incentive to be on time. And so I was nervous as heck, right? And we go to his trailer and we knock on the door. Yeah, who is it?


ELWES: And the third AD goes, Mr. Brando, we have a new PA here. And I'm just quivering in my shoes, right? He goes, who's this guy? And he said, oh, Mr. Brando, this is Cary Elwes. He goes, no, no it's not.


ELWES: He goes, no, no, your name is Rocky.


ELWES: And from there on in, he called me Rocky, right? I don't know why.

EISENBERG: So then when you become an actor after dealing with this, were you just extra sensitive about being super easy and...

ELWES: Totally.


ELWES: Well, look, it's a great film school for a kid. My stepfather was a producer. I'd always wanted to be in show business. And so when he came into my life and he told my brothers and myself, he said, look, if you want to be in this business, you're all going to have to start at the bottom. And I'll never forget what he said. He said, you're going to be gophers. He was from Harlem. You're going to be gophers. You know what a gopher is? I go, no. He goes, you go for this and you go for that.


ELWES: You make the coffee, you make the tea, you print the call sheets. That's what you do. So that's what I did. I got a massive overdose of gamma radiation from the Xerox machine and just printing call sheets, you know? By the time I stepped in front of the camera, I was very comfortable. It was great.

EISENBERG: Now, in "The Art Of More," you play an art collector. On the series "Psych" you played an art thief.


EISENBERG: So people must look at you, casting-wise, and go, sophisticated, accent, art.

ELWES: (Laughter) Yes.


ELWES: I guess so. I know, it's weird. This one was really fun, something I could really get into. I grew up in the art world. My real father was a portrait painter. I went to a lot of auctions as a kid and galleries and so I'd met people like Davenport. The character felt very comfortable.

EISENBERG: You already knew it.

ELWES: I already knew it.

EISENBERG: OK, well, we have a great ASK ME ANOTHER challenge for you that I think you'll enjoy. Are you ready for an ASK ME ANOTHER challenge?

ELWES: I'm ready, lay it on me.

EISENBERG: Very good, Cary Elwes.


EISENBERG: So, Cary, I have to tell you, we were inspired by your iconic scene in "The Princess Bride" where you challenge Wallace Shawn...


EISENBERG: ...To a battle of wits.

ELWES: Right.

EISENBERG: So in this game, you'll answer questions to extract yourself from a series of life-threatening scenarios.

ELWES: So this would be the battle of twits.

EISENBERG: (Laughter) Yeah, that's right.


EISENBERG: You'll see what I mean.

ELWES: Good.

EISENBERG: So here we go.


EISENBERG: Here are two goblets. One's filled with red wine. The other's filled with white. One of these is poisoned. To avoid death, choose the type of wine that is the most popular across the world. Is it red or is it white?

ELWES: I would have to say red.

EISENBERG: Yes, of course, it's red, yeah.


EISENBERG: Cabernet - number one. Merlot - number two. Number three is my favorite - boxed.


EISENBERG: Here are two salads, but one salad's dressings reached its sell-by date two weeks ago. To avoid the expired dressing, choose the salad with the most popular dressing in North America. Is it a ranch or Italian?

ELWES: Ranch.

EISENBERG: Oh, you are so correct. You are so correct.


EISENBERG: Undisputed king of salad dressing.


EISENBERG: All right. Here's your final one. Here are two glasses of tap water from two different, united states. One state's water tastes slightly worse than the other one according to the 2016 International Water Tasting Awards, which sounds like the most sober event of all time.


EISENBERG: Which state has the best tasting tap water? Is it Colorado or California?

ELWES: I've not tasted the tap water in Colorado. By the way, I hear New York has the best tap water.



ELWES: Right? Am I right? Right. I would have to go with California.

EISENBERG: I'm sorry. That is incorrect.

ELWES: It's Colorado.

EISENBERG: California did place fourth. Colorado was number one in the U.S.


EISENBERG: Turns out, you did enough to win.

ELWES: (Laughter).

EISENBERG: Cary, you did enough to win.


ELWES: Love it.

EISENBERG: Give it up for Cary Elwes.


Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.