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“You Were Able to Make Andre Human”- 2020 Highlights: Pat Laprade on Andre The Giant (Part 2)

15 min read

In part two of our exclusive interview with wrestling historian and co-author of The Eighth Wonder of the World: The True Story of , , we discuss Andre's memorable role in The Princess Bride and why that film was so special to him. Also, we look at modern wrestlers that possess similar characteristics to Andre, and the greatest compliment Pat and Bertrand Hébert received from readers about their book on Andre. Prenez plaisir à la lire (Enjoy reading it).

I love discussing the merging of wrestling and film, whether it's a film about wrestling or wrestlers starring in films, and Andre's highlight in this regard is The Princess Bride. What did you learn about his role in that film, and was there anything you found out that you didn't know before?

“The thing that probably surprised me the most was that during the film, he got the same feeling he had when he was in a wrestling locker room. Besides home and a wrestling locker room, Andre didn't really feel good anywhere. The wrestling locker room was like a sanctuary for him. It was the only place where he was not getting judged and where he wasn't being looked at in a weird way. He was just one of the boys, and he appreciated that a lot. While they were filming The Princess Bride, he kind of felt the same. He felt that he could be himself and that no one was there to judge him, and I remember one of the producers really made sure that would happen. He didn't want the other actors acting weird around Andre, you know like a normal person would have done meeting Andre at an airport.

“So by the end of the filming, he felt at home there. It felt like a wrestling locker room to him, where he was not treated differently, he could be himself, and he enjoyed himself a lot. So I was surprised to read about this, and it kind of made me sad because when I was trying to rationalise and analyse everything, I came to the realisation that if Andre would have made The Princess Bride ten years earlier, he probably would have left pro wrestling or made a deal that guys like John Cena and The Rock have made, where the movie career takes precedence. But by the time he did The Princess Bride, his health started to fail him, and the fight scenes were difficult for him. You would have thought a wrestler and a fight scene; it would be easy to do.”

He couldn't even catch Robin Wright.

“Exactly. He couldn't even catch Robin Wright, so she had to have cables attached to her to help with that because even his arms were getting weaker and weaker. So if that would have happened ten years before, when his health was not so bad, it could have been a whole different scenario for Andre, and perhaps he would have become more well known for his Hollywood days than his wrestling days. But there would have been fewer bumps on his body, and it would have been completely different. Money wasn't an issue, but he probably would have become richer and richer. Although the money was not an issue by the 1980s.

“Also, maybe it would have changed his life. Maybe someone in the movie world would have convinced him to do the surgery because it would not have changed a thing. It's a big what if for me. What if Andre found that Princess Bride set earlier in his life? Where he would have realised he could have been treated like a normal person, not only in a wrestling locker room but also on a movie set. To me, that's one of the big what-ifs of his life.”

That's actually amazing to think about. I never thought about it like that to be fair. The stories about Andre from the cast and crew of The Princess Bride are some of my favourite stories. I mean, there's a wonderful behind the scenes video on Andre making the film, and Mandy Patinkin told the story of when Andre was asked why he enjoyed making the film so much and that he replied by saying: “Nobody looks at me.”

“Yeah. He was just one of the boys, all over again, and that's what he was always trying to find in his life. A place where he could just be himself, and it was so hard for him to find that. So, yeah, that's one of the main reasons he enjoyed that set so much.”

There's also this, probably unintentional swerve in the book, as earlier on in the book, you discuss how Andre was not too enamoured with the movie-making process. He did The Six Million Dollar Man, but he didn't carry on. So as a reader, I was quite curious as to how we're going to get to The Princess Bride.

“He liked the story. He read the book, and he was like, “Oh, wow, I want to do that movie.” He always did other roles, but that was the movie he was the proudest of. To the point, he was always bringing a VHS copy of it, and he would play it in buses, hotel rooms, and some of the other wrestlers probably saw the movie more than once. But Andre would invite them to come to his room to watch the movie, and he would order food, and obviously, you were never paying when you were with Andre. So that was an incentive to go there and watch the movie with him because you were going to get free food, and you were going to drink and eat until you couldn't anymore. He was really, really proud of it, and I think that's the story, he liked the story, and he wanted to do it. On top of that, he was treated differently on the set, so everything was there for Andre to like it.”

The Princess Bride has grown over time, similar to Andre's wrestling career in a way, and it's considered one of the great films in the history of cinema. Do you think the film is a big part of Andre's legacy as well?

“Oh, definitely. There are probably people who know Andre more for what he did in Hollywood and this movie in particular than his wrestling days. But, he did that movie because he became known as a professional wrestler. It's the same deal as The Rock, John Cena, and even if you want to extend the list to [Rowdy] Piper, Steve Austin, and Hogan, they all did movies because of what they did as a pro wrestler. Andre's career as a pro wrestler was a lot bigger than his days in Hollywood, but The Princess Bride became such a cult movie, and probably years after Andre passed away. When the film was first released in 1987, it didn't win any Oscars. It won a few festival things, but it wasn't a big box office phenomenon. But over time, it became a cult movie, and that's why so many people remember Andre in this.”

In the book, you really highlight Andre's great characteristics and the respect he got from everyone. He was, of course, someone that could say and do things that no one else in the locker room could. Today, we have wrestlers like Big Show and The Great Khali, who have a similar physical stature to Andre, but when I think of people who maybe resemble Andre's kind of locker room influence, I think of Undertaker and . Would you agree with that?

“It depends on which side of Andre you're talking about. Big Show is probably the closest to what Andre was, especially the way WCW brought him into the business, and there have been a lot of comparisons between the two over the years since Big Show had acromegaly as well. As far as leadership in the locker room, Undertaker is definitely the one who replaced Andre. He became the captain of the team, and I was kind of mad that WWE's The Last Ride was released after we finished the book because even though we talk about Undertaker being the leader in the locker room, we didn't know to what extent it was comparable to Andre's leadership.

“When I saw The Last Ride, and I saw Taker playing cards in the locker room and people coming to Taker to shake his hand – pretty much like what people did to Andre. They were both like the godfathers of their era, but there were so many comparisons between the two of them that I was like, “Wow, I wish I could have explained that in the book.” Brock Lesnar is an interesting one, in the sense that the way Brock is booked is the only way Andre could be a huge star in today's wrestling. One of the reasons Andre was such an attraction was because he would come in a territory for like a week or two and then go somewhere else. Then you had to wait six months, sometimes a year before you would see Andre back in your town. So every time he was at a territory, he was an attraction because you knew you had to wait a very long time before you could see him again.

“He [Andre] wasn't on TV every single week. He was being protected in that way because Vince McMahon knew how to book Andre, and even Paul Vachon with Grand Prix Wrestling, the first territory that Andre worked for in North America, they realised the same thing. Quebec was too small to have Andre full time, and that's why you sent him to Vince McMahon, where, first of all, McMahon's territory was covering more ground. But when McMahon started sending Andre to every other promoter in North America for a fee, that was a stroke of genius because not only was he making money, but he didn't even need Andre in his territory to make money.

“So in today's wrestling where there are three hours of RAW and two hours of SmackDown every week, plus a pay-per-view every month, the only way Andre could still be special is by being booked the way Brock is. With Brock, you'll see him for a storyline. You're going to see him for three-four weeks in a row. You'll see the match on PPV, and then you won't hear of him for three months. That's the only way you could book Andre nowadays without him becoming just another wrestler, and that's what happened to Big Show, unfortunately. The way wrestling was in his [Big Show's] era, he was there every single week, and he was doing the house show runs every weekend and every month. I mean, Big Show, Taker, and Brock are probably the best comparisons to Andre, but all of them for different reasons.”

Yeah, and also, Brock has the power to get away with things that others cannot, which is probably very similar to Andre as well.

“That's a good point because Brock is special, and he can do things, and he can ask for things that no one else can. But I do think Andre got away with things way more than Brock does. I mean, you couldn't say no to Andre. If he was working for New Japan and he wanted to go and work for IWE because that was the first promotion in Japan that gave him a break, and that's one of his best qualities. He never forgot where he came from.  So every time he had a chance to help the people that helped him in the beginning, he wanted to do it. And it wasn't like, “Hey, Mr. Inoki, can I please do this? And it's okay if you say no.” It was, “I want to go there, and that's where I'm going to be going.” Inoki couldn't do anything because he was not going to lose Andre's box office appeal for something that did not really matter. Andre working for IWE at the time that he did, did not really matter to New Japan. It was not going to hurt New Japan.

“Andre's generosity was one of his qualities I learned about while doing the book. He was generous of his time, his money, and there is a story I like to tell of when Andre was in France, and he was learning the ropes. He was not making any money because he was just training at that time, and he had side jobs, and one of them was as a bouncer at clubs. But where he was training at that time was kind of at the red light district of Paris, where there were clubs and prostitution and things of that nature. He almost became some of the prostitutes' security guard in a way. He would protect them and run errands for them, and in return, the prostitutes would give him a bed (laughs) or a floor because Andre didn't fit on all the beds, but he would get a roof he could sleep under.

“Twenty years later, Andre's in Montreal. Money's not an issue anymore, and he's at The Ritz-Carlton, which is one of the biggest hotels in Montreal, and he's with Gino Brito, a local promoter and wrestler. They're having a drink, and all of a sudden, a prostitute comes in. Her clothes are all ripped off, and she's crying, so Andre looked at her and asked her what happened. She explained that she got attacked and robbed, so Andre reached into his pocket, and there was like seven or eight hundred dollars in there, and he gave it to the woman. Gino looked at him like, “What the hell are you doing?” Andre explained the story when he was in France and that it was a way to give back to the people that helped him twenty years ago. Obviously, it wasn't the same people, but it was the same work, and he had a fondness for those girls. He knew that some of them were really good people and that they helped him when he needed help. So it was a way to give back. I was listening to that story and thinking, “Who does that?” To me, that characterizes who Andre The Giant was as a person. He was someone who was generous enough to do that kind of thing.”

Andre the Giant HBO documentary

I think that's something you do so well in the book. Even as you dispel these urban legends, highlighting the real stories and explaining who Andre really was, makes him even bigger because he was such a good person.

“Oh yeah, his heart was as big in every sense of the word. It was one of the organs that was growing, and it was one of the reasons he died so young, but he really had a big heart in every sense of the word.”

You may have touched on it there, but what was your biggest take away from this project, and what was the biggest or most surprising thing you learned about Andre when writing this book?

“Well, the generosity part is something I am very happy to have learned more about because we knew who the wrestler was. Bertrand and I grew up watching wrestling in the 1980s, so we knew about his career in the WWF. We have done so much research about Montreal territories, so we knew about his days in Montreal. But we didn't know about him as a human being, and that's probably what we learned the most. We were really happy with it because we found someone who was a very good person, who had a disease – you know, his life is a tragedy in a sense because acromegaly made him the wrestler that he became, the attraction he became, and the most well-known wrestler for a number of years. But it's also the reason his health got worse and why he could be so irritable towards the end of his career and his life.

“That man was hurting all the time by the end of his life. That's the reason why his drinking habits changed. In the sense that he used to drink a lot of beers and wine, but by the end of his life, he would drink more hard liquor because he wanted to get rid of the pain. He was in so much pain by the end of his life because of that same disease that made him so famous. So it's kind of a big irony and such a tragedy when you take a look at his whole life because what made him so famous is also what made him pass away so young. So it always made me sad when I was able to take a step back, and I was able to look at his whole life because when you're working on a book like this, your nose is so stuck in certain things, it's tough to take a step back and see what you have. But once we were done with the book and rereading it to ensure we didn't miss anything or there were no errors, was when it really struck me that this is such a sad story when you take into account everything that happened in his life. Everything on the human side of Andre, whether it was the pain he had or the generosity he had, all of that was so fascinating to me.”

No, it was incredible, and you did an incredible job of bringing it all to life in the book.

“Well, thank you, and that's probably one of the compliments that I am so proud to hear. I was talking to the other day, and that's what he told me. He said, “You were able to make Andre human,” and I was like, “Wow.” (Laughs) I'm just telling you this, but I had Goosebumps. That's what we wanted, but sometimes, it's not always seen that way, and to hear that, I was like, “Wow, that's exactly what we wanted to do.” It's like what we did with the Mad Dog Vachon book. We had that example as well. Bertrand worked on the Pat Patterson book, but he was the ghost-writer, so it was not the same thing as when you do a biography of someone who has passed away.

“So we wanted to show the human side of Mad Dog Vachon, and we wanted to show the human side of Andre. But the only difference was, we had met Vachon, we met with his wife, and we had met with his kids. Andre was a more private person. He didn't have a wife, and he had one kid who didn't really know him. So when we were looking at this project at the beginning, we knew that this side of Andre would be difficult to get and to hear that we were able to make Andre more of a human than a wrestler by the end of the book, it's something Bertrand and I are very proud of.”

andre-the-giant-biography

You should be, and you end the book with that wonderful quote, I'm sorry, I can't remember it exactly. I'm not sure if you remember Pat?

“Yeah, after 500 hundred pages of the book, I don't know it off by heart (laughs).”

(Laughs) Yeah, of course.

“But I have it here. He said: “I live day to day, and I don't think about the future. You never know what might happen tomorrow.” And that was Andre's thinking. He knew he was doomed. He knew that he would die at a young age, and he was just living day to day, doing what he thought was best and just enjoying life. That's what he did from the day he started in this business because before he became a pro wrestler, he had a couple of jobs here and there, but never anything he really liked. Pro wrestling changed him, and he really enjoyed wrestling at the beginning. Later in his life, it was tougher on his body, so it was probably more of a burden than anything.

“During the 1970s and early ‘80s, it was not just about being in the locker room with the boys. He also liked the wrestling part as well, and he was very smart to the business, and he really found his calling. You know, God took him away pretty early from that. It's a side of Andre that needed to be explained for once, and we just felt that we were the ones that would be able to tell that story.”

You can read part one of this interview by clicking here.

To follow Pat Laprade and to keep up to date with his work, follow him on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook.

You can order The Eighth Wonder of the World: The True Story of Andre The Giant by clicking here.

Also, you can order Laprade and Hébert's previous books, which include: Mad Dog: The Maurice Vachon StoryAccepted: How the First Gay Superstar Changed WWEMad Dogs, Midgets and Screw Jobs, and Sisterhood of the Squared Circle: The History and Rise of Women's Wrestling.

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