Buckle up, nerds! As you may already know, Saturday is “the big one” every year at Wizard World. That’s because from the time the doors open til the main hall gets seated for the annual costume contest, Saturday is all about celebrity panels from everyone’s favorite franchises.
When you’ve been on the con floor all day every day, there’s no right side of the bed, so it feels appropriate to kick things off with the king of Hell himself, Supernatural’s Mark Sheppard. As fans may already know, Sheppard is Crowley as much as Crowley is Sheppard, and Mark kept his audience on their toes with his acerbic nature and sharp wit, seeming to even intimidate some in the crowd.
Honestly though, Sheppard is a consummate professional and sweet man. The actor only held his fans over the flames for a few moments at a time, but then pulled it back to encourage them, reminding everyone to celebrate what’s weird and unique about them. Sheppard also had only nice things to say about his time on set, waving off questions about favorite memories or cast members for the most part to talk about the family feel the cast had, while at the same time sending some silly barbs flying their way. In talking about Jared Padalecki’s well known nickname, Moose, he laughed and said “Have you ever seen him? Massive upper body and stupid little chicken legs.” He continued, “Have you ever seen a moose? Massive upper body, little stick legs.”
Mark went on to talk about his genuine affection for Misha Collins, at the same time making sure to skewer his character Castiel a little for being “SO stupid!” He talked a little about the actor and all his charitable work, and also about some time they spent together doing promos, and one particular case when the promos went wrong and Sheppard and Collins were given the script for the Vampire Diaries cast instead. For obvious reasons, the promo never aired, but Sheppard assured the crowd it would’ve been quite interesting if it did.
Next up was John Travolta, who got held up on his way out to the con, but was laid back and relaxed upon arrival, and immediately at ease with his fans. Travolta started off his time with his audience talking more about his feature film Fanatic, which would be screening later that night prior to the costume contest, and praised Fred Durst, who directed the film, as a revelation.
When asked if he’d run into any particularly frightening fan situations, Travolta calmly relayed a few tales for the audience. In one case, a fan that loved Travolta ended up inside his house in his closet, which led to what he considered a sort of “sitcom” scenario in which he opened the closet door, saw a person in there and screamed–which in turn scared the intruder, making her scream as well. He told a second story about another obsessive fan that ended up at his family dinner table, all with the chill demeanor of someone telling a story about something totally innocuous.
True to form, Travolta came to the stage with lots of fancy footwork and had no problem dancing for his fans, doing a little of everything from Saturday Night Fever and Grease to Pulp Fiction. When someone asked if he still dances, Travolta laughed and said “I was just in a video with Pit Bull about three weeks ago.” And guess what? That story checks out.
John Travolta also talked a little bit, and not unexpectedly so, about his love of flying. “It gets me out of my head” the actor said. As it turns out, a lot of his love of flying is tied to Chicago. This is because every year, Travolta would make the trip from New York to Chicago to see his sisters on the holidays, and recalled that spark of curiosity about flight being ignited on those Christmas trips.
Overall, John Travolta’s panel was refreshing. Despite his sort of “next level” Hollywood status, he never seemed anything but down to earth, laid back and fully willing to level with fans. He also seems truly excited about wherever his career takes him next. When he asked the entire audience to shout out what sequels to movies he’s done they’d want to see, he took a “yes and” approach and simply stated “Well, I guess I’m gonna be busy then. I’d do all of those. This’ll be great!”
The next stop on our schedule was for Jeff Goldblum, a favorite of our favorite Chicago Twitter celeb and resident T. Rex SUE. Goldblum was not very interested in standard con fare, and skipped a good portion of Q&A for some more stimulating entertainment, like games!
It worked out pretty much the same way, as the first game he introduced, suggested by the panelist and modified a little by Goldblum, was a sort of “Six Degrees of Jeff Goldblum” that turned into some interesting anecdotes about folks he’d worked with before. Starting off with an audience suggestion of Cyndi Lauper, he easily rolled through the six degrees all the while regaling fans with different tidbits from his famous roles.
Goldblum also played a little Never Have I Ever with his audience before putting on a little bit of a runway fashion show, too, asking the audience to guess where he’d put together the outfit he was wearing on stage, which turned out to be a mix of Stussy and Prada with a dash of adventure.
Our final stop in a packed con schedule was storybook fantastic, as well it should have been since it was a Princess Bride reunion with Cary Elwes and Chris Sarandon. This was a panel I’d been highly anticipating, as both the book and film are some of my favorites of all time, and the hall was packed with others who felt the same way.
What I hoped for, and what we got was more details about the magic of making the film from behind the scenes. Both Elwes and Sarandon had wonderful tales about their friend and castmate Andre the Giant, talking about how wonderful, generous and giant he was, and how silly, even though the former wrestler cum actor was plagued by so much pain, inconvenienced by his size and constantly mobbed by crowds. “He was an international superstar” Elwes reminded the audience. “Everyone in the world knew him.”
Elwes told tons of great stories from on set, including one about how he broke his toes veyr early on in filming (and, crucially, before most of the swordfighting scenes) and was sure he’d get fired for it. Similarly, Wallace Shawn had heard a rumor that his role was originally designed for Danny DeVito and he too often felt vulnerable. In the end, though, both author William Gold and Rob Reiner had very specific visions for who would play the roles, and everyone in the cast was there for a very good reason.
One of the best things about the panel, even to Sarandon and Elwes, was the scope of it. There was no one particular age group or subset in the throng of attendees, and according to the actors, there usually isn’t. “The Princess Bride is about love, right?” says Sarandon. “The love of a grandfather for his son, and the love Westley and Buttercup share.” But the film has gone on to forge friendships and even marriages.
The two talked about meeting fans who carried old ragged VHS tapes of the movie, and would just put the movie in whenever they showed up to a friend’s house, and both Elwes, who hates to watch himself on film and Sarandon, who’s more comfortable with it, admitted it was one of the few films they both starred in that they’d stop for if they found it on TV.
It was that kind of thing that originally took both Chris Sarandon and Cary Elwes by surprise, said Elwes. He described the first time he knew the film was such a big deal to people being about ten years after it released to the audible gasps of the audience. “You have to remember though,” Elwes said, “the film did not do well at release.”
Chris Sarandon and Elwes both talked about this, recalling a dinner they had with Rob Reiner after the premiere, in which Reiner delivered the disappointing news that the film hadn’t brought in as much as expected, but followed up with an impassioned speech about what a great job everyone had done and how the movie would always be close to his heart, no matter what anyone else thought. Little did they know that once the film was released on VHS, it would develop the sort of cult following that packed the panel room this evening.
There was so many delightful stories from the set and the making of the film we could write an entire article on that alone, but suffice it to say, the panel was exactly as we wished, and the perfect fairytale ending to a wonderful Wizard World Saturday.
We’ve got some more great stories ahead before the con comes to a close Sunday evening, but for now, stop by our super sized Saturday cosplay gallery and take a look at some of the amazing costumes we saw on the floor.
Contributing author: Antal Bokor