CAN THERE BE SUCH A THING AS A dashing slob? Actor Cary Elwes comes close. Onscreen, Elwes, 33, has inherited Errol Flynn’s mantle as Hollywood’s favorite swashbuckler. With his angular face and a stiff upper lip perfect for trim mustaches, the London-born Elwes has oozed élan while playing heroic figures in The Princess Bride in 1987 and Robin Hood: Men in Tights in ’93. He has cut a fine figure in 19th-century military garb, playing a Civil War officer in 1989’s Glory, and in his latest role, as the villainous Captain Boone in the hit Disney film The Jungle Book. “I’m something of a history buff,” Elwes says. “It’s deliberate that a lot of my films have been period pieces.”
At home he’s another man entirely. Though his Malibu villa overlooks a rocky Pacific coastline perfect for pirates and distressed damsels, Elwes ruins the effect, lounging in a hammock in a rumpled denim shirt and baggy jeans. “Onscreen, Cary’s this commanding, great-looking guy,” says Jungle Book director Stephen Sommers. “Off the set, he never tucks in his shirt. He wears this goofy fishing hat. He’s a rumpled mess.” As Elwes’s brother Cassian, 36, an L.A. film producer, sees it, “Cary’s very American in many ways.”
He certainly grew up in the best Tom Sawyer tradition, an imaginative and restless child. The youngest of three sons of Dominick Elwes, a portrait artist, and his wife, Tessa, Elwes was 8 when his parents divorced. To support her sons, Tessa went to work as an interior designer. The boys filled their afternoons watching movies. Just entering a movie theater was “a phenomenal experience to me,” he says. “I used to sit in school and dream about getting into films.”
He and his brothers understood the practical side of show business too. When their mother married movie producer Elliott Kastner, the boys’ new home included a projection room. “We’d get prints from film libraries,” says Cassian. “And we watched movies every weekend.”
After graduating high school, Elwes knew where he wanted to head. A childhood trip to the United States “whetted my appetite,” he says. “I decided to go back and gorge myself.” He entered Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N.Y., to study drama but left after two years. “I had to get out there and work,” he says. Within a year he landed his first big film role, as a gay British spy in 1984’s Another Country.
Thanks to his good looks and flair for comedy, work came steadily—and eventually love walked in too. In the summer of 1991 he met model-actress Lisa Marie Kubrikoff, 23, at a Malibu chili cook-off—an odd venue, he concedes, “since we both hate chili.” She was reluctant to date at first. “I’d heard these horror stories about actors,” she says. “But more than three years later nothing’s gone wrong, and now I don’t think it ever will.”
Marriage plans are on hold for now, at Kubrikoff’s insistence. “I’m concentrating on my career,” she says.
As is Elwes. Though fans are still waiting for a part that will confirm him in leading-man status, Elwes is philosophical. “I take away something from every role,” he says. “I’m still learning, and that’s what life is about.”
KRISTINA JOHNSON in Malibu