Cary Elwes: What can I tell you?

Interviewer You got got a call from your agent.

Cary Elwes: I got a call from my agent saying Mel Brooks wants to meet you. And I thought it was a joke. Actually, I didn't I didn't think it was real. I had to sort of confirm it with the agent and they said, no, no, he really wants to see you. Wants to talk to you about a project. So I drove down to the cove a lot where he had his offices then. And I was very nervous because I obviously was a big fan of his. I knew his work. I'd screened his movies as a kid at school. I was the school projectionist and I had the opportunity to pick the films that I was allowed to screen. And obviously, once I became a connoisseur of Mel's work, I had a whole series of screenings of his movies. Anyway, I went in his office and he sat me down and he said, we're going to make a movie about Robin Hood. And I said, Really? He said, yes, and I want you to play Robin Hood. And I thought, okay, when does somebody jump out and say, you know, this is all some kind of big joke? But he was dead serious. I couldn't believe it. So I said, wow, I think that was my first reaction was, wow. And he said, well, I send you the script. Give it a read. Call me when you're done. Let's talk about it. So he put a script in my hand and I. We shook hands and left the office and went home and read it that night. And. It was hysterical. I just I really couldn't believe I was being offered the opportunity to work with with someone I admired so much. So that was it. We then proceeded to cast the movie together. Met a lot of fun actors and put a wonderful team together and went off and shot it. And that's pretty much how it went.

Interviewer When you say you cast togther meaning you read with other people? Were you recommended?

Cary Elwes: Yes. Both. Mel is actually brilliant casting. And as you look at his work, you see. He really doesn't use casting directors. He casts pretty much from his gut. And he doesn't have someone specific in mind. Then he'll meet actors and read with them and what have you. But mostly he's, you know, because he's the author. And he knows the piece so well. He's got an idea of who he wants in mind, very clearly in mind. And if he can't get that actor, he'll try and get someone very close to that. So there were, you know, for them, for the band of merry men, the men in tights. We read a lot of people I remember the main them the main part of casting that we had fun together with was was casting the role of Achu. And Dave came in and read and it was just he was just brilliant. Dave Chappelle, absolutely brilliant. And I just I think we were so blessed that he was available at that time that he wasn't doing his TV show or which he hadn't even started then, but that he wasn't busy on some other project that he happened to be available, because for me, he was just incredible. And then, of course, Amy Yasbeck was just delightful and perfect for the role. Just perfect. Perfect. He'd already cast. I think Richard Lewis, he he'd already had Richard in mind for King John. But then it was just a case of reading with other actors. And I just remember it being a very joyous experience. I really do.

Interviewer How different was the script he handed you that first day from your shooting script?

Cary Elwes: Oh, let me just mention that wasn't one. I did demand there were two castings. I specifically asked for. Gosh, I forget the name of the act and that's terrible. No, it's Dom DeLuise. I said we have to have Dom DeLuise in the in the movie. I said that's a given. I just re watched 12 chairs as part of my, you know, familiarizing myself with Mel's work again. And I said, we've got to have Dom in the picture. We've got to have him, you know. And again, luck. Luckily he was available and he wanted to do it and he ended up playing this sort of Marlon Brando role and he was just wonderful. And then there was the guy who I think it is this terrible. I forget his name.

Interviewer We can look it up.

Cary Elwes: You can look it up? Anyone IMDB? There's the the guy who hangs the horses Cast. Gosh. Here, let me have a look. I can tell you at a moment's notice who it is, and I'll redo this question because this is so good. Thank you. Robert Ridgley.

Interviewer OK, so you want to.

Cary Elwes: Yeah, I'll do that again. Ready?

Interviewer Yes.

Cary Elwes: And there were two other people, actually, that I wanted to have in the picture. One was Patrick Stewart, who I'd already worked with. We did Lady Jane together many years ago. And Mel asked me who he thought who I thought would work in that role of King Richard. And I said, you've got to have Patrick. I mean, he's classically trained actor. And, you know, he was busy on Star Trek. I think we got him during a break when he was available. And it was just I think it was a day or day or two of shooting. And and he said, yes. And that was great. And then there's Robert Ridgeley, who was there, wasn't in the script. But I remember him from Blazing Saddles, who is a wonderful actress, no longer with us, sadly, and wonderful, wonderful actor. And he played the hangman in in Blazing Saddles. And he was the one hanging the horses, you know. When Hedley Lamarr would open the window and this guy Ridgley hanging horses and he was dressed in a full medieval outfit, I said, Mel, why don't we put him in our movie? And that'll be a you know, since ours is set in medieval times, it'll be a nice sort of bookend to his character. He said, Oh, yes. Great idea. Let's do that. So we put him in. I'm glad we did. He was wonderful. Absolutely wonderful.

Interviewer So the question I had was from that first day, you've got the script of shooting. Did it change much?

Speaker You know, from rehearsing? You know, Dave, obviously out of my eye, we all add added stuff. Mel, Mel is very specific about how he wants a scene to go. But if he finds something funny and he's like any good director, if it's funny and it's good in rehearsal, we discover and it's in, you know. So, you know, there were variations here and there. But for the most part, you know, in terms of the structure, not not much changed, really. We had a very limited amount of time to shoot the picture and. And it was all on location. I think there were a couple of set pieces. Most of it was on location.

Interviewer Richard Lewis was saying that Mel would get frustrated at times, probably location related things, and he would sort of set him up. He'd sort of be his Carl Reiner to set it sort of, you know, get him off of being frustrated, you know, let him go into a routine. Do you remember that?

Cary Elwes: I don't remember ever seeing Mel frustrated at all. I mean, maybe other people did. I know he never. Honestly, I never saw him lose his temper or get upset or frustrated or anything. I mean, I really honestly remember him laughing hysterically every day with him. You know, his favorite word was yes. You know, I and that was one of the great things I learned from Mel and his positive affirmation. He loves saying yes. And if he didn't like it, he'd never say no. He'd just go.

Interviewer Because you hadn't, correct me if I'm wrong. Because you hadn't done a comedy like this before.

Cary Elwes: Yes.

Interviewer Did he? In rehearsal, you say, look, this is sort of the rhythm of it, or he just let you find the rhythm of it.

Cary Elwes: I had studied it. As I said, I had studied his work even as a kid. I was a projectionist at my my school. I ran the 16 mil camera and. Ended up being part of the process of picking the movies that were being screened at the school, and I had that privilege. And so I chose his films as as I said, as a series to watch. So I studied his films once. I'd seen them on the screen. And when they became when they before VHS, when I when they were on television, I'd watch them. And then when VHS came along, I bought them. Then when later this came along, I bought that. I mean, I. Ridiculous amount. I went through every format except Betamax. I think I lucked out not losing money on that one, but I would own his films enough to put them on to study them and have fun with them and enjoy them again over the years, you know. So I knew his rhythm. I knew his beats, I knew his style. I knew enough that I think that he felt confident enough first day, knowing that I knew all of that. That there wasn't really, you know, very rarely he'd come in and go try like this or let's do that or try something different, you know. But it really was just. You said you are Errol Flynn, but a little mustache on you and you'll look great. It'll be great.

Interviewer I'm sorry.

Cary Elwes: Sent me off to learn how to sword fight again for the second time with bigger swords this time to fight with Roger Rees, who was wonderful. I love Roger. Roger was great. Great, just great.

Interviewer Tracey Ullman was here earlier and she's saying how? And obviously, you know her work.

Cary Elwes: Yes.

Interviewer How how willing out on a limb she's willing to go. And she said, you know it. But with him, it's such a particularly American, also East Coast Jewish, you know, New York thing, but it's such a particularly American form of comedy. And she that's what she said when she was in England before she even came here, that when he was on. I wanna say Norman Parkinson. But it's not Norman. What's the talk show? Parkinson in England.

Cary Elwes: I think it is Norman Parksinson, isn't it?

Interviewer Norman Parkinson is a photographer.

Cary Elwes: Oh. Something Parkinson. Yeah that guy.

Interviewer But choosing how, you know, he when he came on the show. When he came to England. It would be the best show of the season because you said it was.

Cary Elwes: Put that anywhere. Anywhere at all.

Interviewer Yeah. That was actually the camera.

Cary Elwes: Oh no.

Interviewer Do you need us to stop or are you OK? She was saying that it would always be the best show of the season because he would come in and be himself, especially for England. He'd break through all class barriers.

Cary Elwes: Yeah. Well, the thing is, don't forget Mel and we didn't have standup in England, really. You know, we had vaudeville and and we had sort of kind of standup that was more clowny, more vaudevillian. We didn't have funny Jews standing up on stage doing shtick. We didn't have that. What we did have is we did have a comedy that was very British. We had we had situation comedy. We had we had good comedians. We didn't really have that kind of standup that kind of, as you say, that that East Coast Jewish fast, you know, fast talking, very quick humor. Most of the comedians in England who did who did that kind of stand up like Tommy Cooper, those kind of guys. It was more of a Rodney Dangerfield type. You know, it was like my wife. Let me tell you about my wife, you know, that kind of thing. You know, a setup and payoff joke.

Interviewer Right.

Cary Elwes: You know, I take my wife. Please take. So is that kind of thing. But Mel's humour is it's everything. It's all of it. It it it runs the whole gamut of of of humor. And then nothing's off limits. It can be potty humor. It can be very, you know, very intellectual. He he he covers the entire board.

Speaker Right. Yeah. You know, he's really drawing on as opposed to drawing on my wife so fat or.

Cary Elwes: Right.

Interviewer Kids are driving me crazy. He actually draws on literature and history.

Cary Elwes: Correct. Correct. Very bright. Very funny.

Interviewer Actually just now. I don't even know. I didn't even say this talk about this with Tracy, but somewhat of an equivalent, maybe Monty Python.

Cary Elwes: Yes. Yes. That's a good analogy. Early Monty Python, because Python, again, they draw on literature, but they also not put that anywhere, anywhere at all. They would Monty Python would definitely intellectual humor, but also they could do potty humor, too. So, I mean, yes, very much a precursor to that, which is in England, you can sort of literally like the Beatles. You can say that was pre Monty Python, then post Monty Python. You know, in terms of humor, that was before Python. There was Peter Sellars. And that was it really, Max, while Peter Sellers, those were the guys who you kind of looked up to and studied. But then the python came along and changed everything, just changed it all. So I grew up on that, too. So I guess I, I knew enough about Mel's work. I didn't see show of shows that come on in England, we didn't have that. And I didn't I hadn't seen his short that he made that he won an Oscar for which is I saw some years later, which is just brilliant. You've seen that, right? It's brilliant.

Interviewer Well, you raise a good point because it's pre Python. Python and probably Blazing Saddles would be pre Mel.

Cary Elwes: Absolutely.

Interviewer Comedy. And then Mel.

Cary Elwes: Absolutely. And then you have to look at these guys. And I bet you if you interviewed please, or Pailin or Terry Jones, this guys, if they tell you they definitely you studied Mel.

Interviewer Do you have a particularly favorite scene in Robin Hood?

Cary Elwes: Favorite scene. And Robin Hood. I enjoyed the process so much that I can't really specifically turn to one moment in time that I was early to work. You can ask him. He'll tell you. The 80s were blown away and they were like, why are you here so early? I got nowhere else to be right now. I had nowhere else I'd rather be. So I'd be early to work and I'd leave the same time he left, you know, because I enjoyed the process so much. I was just I didn't want it to end. You know.

Interviewer When you've done other comedy with other directors. Is there a distinct difference in the way he directs versus other comedy directors?

Cary Elwes: I would just say this, I would say that his he's very good at getting the best out of people because I say he's full of positive affirmation. I mean, he showers you with. With love when you do it right. And so you've got actors just melt like butter in front of you. Really? Oh, really. Mel Brooks. Like, okay, you know, so he has a very good way with being an actor, too. I think some of the best directors I think I've worked with ones who have either been actors themselves or are actors or at least studied acting because they get it and they know how to keep it light. And of course, keeping it light, especially on a comedy, is crucial. I mean, he keeps the lightest set. He's the loudest guy on the set, as he should be, and he wants to be. He doesn't need a megaphone. He can sign. I remember a time there was too much noise going on. He silenced the entire soundstage, at least 100 people with one silence. I think he yelled silence. And you could hear a pin drop after that. You know.

Interviewer This movie has an incredible staying power. It's shown all the time. I mean, all over the world, it's. And it gets keeps getting rediscovered. Kids. You know, Robinhood.

Cary Elwes: Oh, thank you. Well, I did. I mean, I thank you for on his behalf. I think all of Mel's films have staying power. Power. I really do. I think they all resonate. I get kids coming up to me today who's seeing it for the first time next, you know, next generation kids watching the picture and they just fans of Mel's that didn't know his work. And now because of Robin Hood, they've, you know, asked their parents if they can get, you know, Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein and the whole thing. And now they're diehard Mel Brooks fans, you know. So he keeps he's I think he's always resonated with with with audiences and he's always understood who is his audience is and never talk down to them.And always kept it light. Always kept the light. There was not nothing ever mean or mean spirited, like some humor out there that can be, you know, I mean.

Interviewer Yeah, Gene Wilder said a great thing, too, that he never asked for an audience sympathy.

Cary Elwes: No, never. Never completely confident in his own ability to make people laugh. I mean, completely confident. Which you were either born with that or you have the gift of being aware of it at some point in your life. But I think he was born with it. You look at Mal, he looks like he was born with it. Yeah. Doesn't he?

Interviewer Yeah. Absolutely. Yeah. And, you know. He admits to some of the jokes are cheap jokes. But I was talking to Tracy about that. And I said, you know, people will as they're laughing would say well, that's a cheap joke. But you're laughing. And she said, well, maybe it's because the the rhythms, the rhythm of the beat of the joke is so familiar to people.

Cary Elwes: Yes.

Interviewer But I said, you put it, but you're still laughing.

Cary Elwes: Yeah.

Interviewer You know, people will say, oh, it's cheap. And even Mel will say.

Cary Elwes: Yes. It was a cheap joke. But he'll find what your funny bone is and he'll tickle it. He'll find it and he'll get it. And you just I mean, just meeting anyone, he'll figure out very quickly what your soft spot is and zero in on it and tickle that. And that's a gift right there. You know, it really is. It's a real gift.

Interviewer And you particularly in the movie, you have such a great quality of. I wouldn't see it. I dont know how to describe it.

Cary Elwes: Thank you. Whatever it is I thank you.

Interviewer No but you're sort of,I wouldn't say you're tolerating our long suffering, everybody, but you're sort of here and everyone's below you just acting, you know.

Cary Elwes: Yes. I had to be I had to pay somewhat of the straight guy in the thing in order for it to work. And we talked about this beforehand because, I mean, you know, I got Dave Chappelle on my left and Abe Lincoln on my right. I mean, you know, it's somebody's got to be the straight guy in this for it to work. And and and, you know, I have some comic moments, obviously, but for the most part, in order for everybody else's humor to work around me, there has to be the straight guy in the scene.

Interviewer Let's do a reload really quick.

Cary Elwes: You did a movie about Gene Wilder. I have to watch you in the Semi or Gene Wilder documentary.

Interviewer No, Gene. Gene Kelly.

Cary Elwes: Oh it was Gene Kelly.

Interviewer And Cary Grant.

Cary Elwes: Wow. It says on IMDB, Gene Wilder.

Interviewer You know, what I did with Gene Wilder was it wasn't a. It was a show. We did this thing for Turner classic movies. That was it aired.

Cary Elwes: Who's your mentor.

Interviewer Yeah. Yeah. Alec Baldwin. We asked. We were gonna do a whole series of asking people, who do you want it? Who do you just admire that you want to talk to? And so we did it. The first episode we asked Alec. And you'd never think Alec would say, gee, we asked Chloe Sevigny. She said, Mia Farrow.

Cary Elwes: Right.

Interviewer We're going to do that. And so we did the one with Alec and Gene. And then the head of the network got fired. I mean, not because of that, but frankly, the head of the network got fired. And so we just you know, you know how it is that anything that they had put into production was tainted. So we aired that one.

Cary Elwes: I got to see it.

Interviewer And then we never did another.

Cary Elwes: Alright. Where we?

Interviewer Well, where were we?

Cary Elwes: Where were we? Mel.

Interviewer Mel.

Cary Elwes: I think we're talking about Mel Brooks.

Interviewer Well, let's pick it up. Or we just said we're talking about that one scene that I mentioned.

Cary Elwes: Yes, of course, Mel was going to put himself in the picture and I said, I hope so because, I mean, I think the only picture he wasn't in was Young Frankenstein. And that's because Gene asked him not to. But I was so glad he said, nah, I'll play the rabbi. I'll do that scene and. And the first line the other. The first line he had was something different. And on the day he came up and he literally looked at us, someone was standing there and our tights. He goes, Fagles. And I said, No, no, nothing like that. And he liked that rehearsal. So we kept that in. That was funny. It just instantly came up with that joke. You know, he'll just change something on the spot. And it's funny to watch him direct himself because he'd be wearing this great big beard. And this had this rabbi's hat and he'd run off the coat off to. The horse and cart and buggy, whatever thing he was driving, he'd run behind the camera. Have a look. Check it. No, no, no. Let's do it again. OK. Like this. And he'd run back and do it again. I think he gave himself several takes. We all got like two or three. You know, that's enough. That's plenty. We got to go. That's how he would direct. By the way. OK. We got that. All right. I'll cut around whatever. Sometime. And if he really liked, he'd come walk right in front of a camera. Kiss you right after you'd finish a scene. While it was still rolling. Wouldn't even yell cut. So it's lots of footage of Mel kissing people, which is great. You know.

Interviewer He he does look like Castro when he.

Cary Elwes: Right. The fake beard.

Interviewer Yeah, he does look like Fidel Castro. And it's also very funny in the movie that because there's a little behind the scenes thing also that he cast, Richard. And just let Richard be Richard.

Cary Elwes: Totally. Which was inspired to cast to, you know, Richard as King John. I mean, he's completely neurotic, New York Jewish standup. I mean, perfect. Perfect. Very funny. Very funny. When he said that line. He made up him. He came up with that tray like that. That was all, Richard. Yeah. No, I think, you know, good casting. When you're a director, I think he's having confidence in the people that you cast knowing that they can do what it is you want them to do. I mean, I think it was a Truffaut said 90 percent of making good movies, casting. I mean, I think you have to. And that's why you look at Mel's pictures. They are very cast specific. Right down to Gene Hackman as the blind man and young Frank. I mean, that's a one scene. He got Gene to come and do it, you know, and it's brilliant. You look back you go. That's brilliant. Absolutely brilliant lighting his thumb. Something as simple and as ridiculous as that gets a huge laugh. You know.

Interviewer When you said you want Don DeLouise to be in, it was the part written with him doing the Brando impersonation.

Cary Elwes: I don't think so. I think it was just written as a Don, I think. I'm not sure. I can't remember. You'd have to ask Mel that. But Don, obviously, you know, his, his his mollet is brilliant, you know.

Interviewer What else do we need to know about Mel from you before we?

Cary Elwes: Just that he's a lovely, lovely man. He's really got a beautiful heart. He really does. I'm so blessed. And and I got an opportunity to work with him. I cherish that. Is that my ride? Are we done?

Interviewer They heard you.

Cary Elwes: They heard me.

Interviewer Yeah. So we knew, you were wrapping up.

Cary Elwes: No, I really do. I really cherish that moment in my career, having that opportunity to work with someone I look up to and consider a friend and and became a friend as a result of him picking me out of many, many actors he could have picked. Really? Honestly. And he was taking a big gamble on me because I'd only really done Princess Bride. And, you know, I wasn't tested in the kind of comedy that he that he was used to to to having around him, you know, I mean, the kind of comedians he was used to having. So I feel really blessed, really blessed to have gotten that call and and know, like I said. I was just talking to Amy today at the screening, and she leaned over to make a guy miss working with him. I really miss working with him. And I said, I know. Me, too. I mean, it's it was such a joyous occasion. Mel made every day a joyous occasion that he would make sure that everybody had a good time, that they laughed and had a good time. That was more important to my think, actually, than the film itself. You know, I mean, having that family of people around him, especially working with old friends, he's like that kind of guy that would cast if he can't cast certain parts with people that he loved and was close with. Right. But also hiring crew that he'd worked with before. So it was very much a family atmosphere.

Interviewer And with him being paternal.

Cary Elwes: Complete father of the whole thing. You know, and a role very well suited to him, obviously. And then I had to go back and watch all these movies again because now I could look at them through a different prism of having worked with him and see. Oh, my gosh. How much fun they must have had on Blazing Saddles. Young Frank, all of them the producers. Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. Amazing. I'm sad he's not doing it anymore. I think that, you know, I look, I get it. He's you know, when you've got that kind of batting average, you don't want to jinx it. But I miss him. I miss seeing him on the screen. I think selfishly, I miss watching him doing his thing. You know, I think they're only a handful of comedic directors out there who can do what he does. And no one like him. There's others that doing their thing, but no one like him, really. No one when he goes. That's it. That was that would be the era of Mel Brooks, the great era of which I as I say, I can't believe to this day I'm part of it.

Cary Elwes
Interview Date:
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
"Cary Elwes, Mel Brooks: Make a Noise." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 12 Jul. 2012,
(2012, July 12). Cary Elwes, Mel Brooks: Make a Noise. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET).
"Cary Elwes, Mel Brooks: Make a Noise." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). July 12, 2012. Accessed January 28, 2022


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