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The truth about Cary Elwes' Princess Bride injury

Making the classic 1987 film The Princess Bride wasn't always such a fairytale, according to star Cary Elwes.

In Elwes' 2014 book, As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales From the Making of The Princess Bride, he revealed that he actually got injured quite a few times on set, and one of those injuries actually ended up in the final cut of the film. As Westley, the farm boy who becomes a formidable fighter known as the Dread Pirate Roberts, Elwes had to endure plenty of fantasy danger on screen, but most viewers might not know that the actor put himself in some pretty real danger, as well.

According to Elwes, when Count Rugen (Christopher Guest), the evil six-fingered man, knocks Westley out in order to capture him and return Buttercup (Robin Wright) to Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon), Elwes ended up getting knocked out for real. As he recalls in As You Wish, the take wasn't really working because Guest, who was holding a real metal sword, was being too gentle so as not to hurt Elwes, which was preventing him from reacting and ruining the timing. 

After a while, Elwes made a simple suggestion — why didn't Guest just tap Elwes on the head with the sword for real so that he could react? That didn't exactly go as planned. Here's the real truth about Cary Elwes' on-screen injury during The Princess Bride.

Elwes ended up in the hospital while filming Princess Bride

According to Elwes, once Guest agreed to put a little more force into the blow, they were off to the races. "Chris [Guest] swung the heavy sword down toward my head," Elwes recalls. "However, as fate would have it, it landed just a touch harder than either of us anticipated. And that, folks, was the last thing I remember from that day's shoot. In the script Bill's [Goldman, who also wrote the original novel] stage directions from the end of this scene state: The screen goes black. In the darkness, frightening sounds. Which is precisely what happened."

Elwes reveals that, unfortunately, Guest really put him in the hospital: "I woke up in the emergency room, still in costume, to the frightening sound of stitches being sewn into my skull ... and of course Chris felt absolutely terrible about the whole thing, even though I kept telling him it wasn't his fault. It was my dumb idea. But you know what? That particular take was the one that ended up in the film. So when you see Westley fall to the ground and pass out, that's not acting. That's an overzealous actor actually losing consciousness."

At this point, Elwes had gained a bit of a reputation for being accident prone, as this was his second on-set injury after he severely broke one of his toes while goofing around on an ATV that Andre the Giant used to get around the set. In fact, the doctor who stitched up his skull had also treated his toe, and according to Elwes, the doctor ribbed him when he regained consciousness, saying, "Well, Zorro! You seem to be a little accident prone, don't you?"

The Princess Bride found new life in 2020

Years after Elwes created the onscreen character of Westley, several stars took up his mantle in a homegrown remake of The Princess Bride, made in actors' backyards during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis that has kept everyone shuttered away for several months. The project, distributed in super-short episodes by Quibi, benefits the World Central Kitchen to help provide fresh meals for those in need during this dangerous pandemic.

A handful of A-listers, including Kaitlyn Dever, Common, Chris Pine, Jon Hamm, Sam Rockwell, Jack Black, and a gender-bent Sophie Turner play Westley at various points during the film, from his stand-off against Vizzini (played in the original film by Wallace Shawn) to his sword fight with Inigo Montoya (a role originated by Mandy Patinkin). Watch Jack Black storm the scene armed with a lightsaber. See real-life newlyweds Joe Jonas and Sophie Turner's corgi play one of the Rodents of Unusual Size. These scenes are all pretty rough around the edges, but that's really part of the whole project's the charm. Thankfully, none of these stars succumbed to any of the various injuries Elwes experienced while making the original film.

If you want to watch your favorite actors relive their favorite scenes from the film and catch their much safer takes on Westley's adventures, you can find the episodes of The Princess Bride remake on Quibi.

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