Elwes was born in Westminster, London, England , and is the third and youngest son of English portrait-painter Dominick Elwes and interior designer Tessa Georgina Kennedy, who is of Croatian and Anglo-Irish descent. He attended Harrow School in London and Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, where he studied, among other acting-related subjects, German Expressionist Film. While living in New York Elwes studied acting at both the Actors' Studio and the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute.
In 1991, Elwes met photographer Lisa Marie Kurbikoff. They became engaged in 1997 and wed in 2000. The couple has one daughter.
One of his ancestors is John Elwes, who is believed to be the inspiration for Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol (1843). Elwes played the role of Dick Wilkins in the 2009 film adaptation of the novel.
Elwes made his acting debut in Marek Kanievska's film Another Country (where he played James Harcourt, a young and sentimental homosexual student from an Eton-esque English boarding school), with Rupert Everett and Colin Firth. The film, adapted from a play, was loosely based on the formative years of British spy Guy Burgess, one of the Cambridge Five. His first notable role was Guilford Dudley in the highly acclaimed British epic Lady Jane, co-starring Helena Bonham Carter. He was personally chosen by Trevor Nunn, director of the Royal Shakespeare Company. His performance in that film led director Rob Reiner to cast Elwes in another leading role, this time as the stable boy turned swashbuckler Westley in the comedy The Princess Bride, which required Elwes to do all of his own swordfighting and acrobatics. Elwes' breakthrough performance in this film gained him international acclaim.
He continued working steadily, varying between dramatic roles, as in the Academy Award-winning Glory (1989), and comedic roles, as in Hot Shots! (1991). In 1993, he starred as Robin Hood in Mel Brooks' classic comedy, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, parodying Errol Flynn and Kevin Costner. Elwes also appeared in such popular films as Francis Coppola's adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula, The Crush, Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book, Twister, Liar Liar, Cradle Will Rock, The Cat's Meow and Kiss the Girls with Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd. In 2004, he starred in the horror/thriller Saw which, at a budget of a little over $1 million, grossed over $100 million worldwide. The same year he appeared in the film Ella Enchanted, portraying the villain rather than the hero. He made an uncredited appearance as Sam Green, the man who introduced Andy Warhol to Edie Sedgwick, in the 2006 film Factory Girl. In 2007, he appeared in Garry Marshall's Georgia Rule with Jane Fonda. In 2009 Elwes worked on two performance capture films, Robert Zemeckis' A Christmas Carol and The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn directed by Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson. He also stars in the Mystery thriller Shadows under the direction from John Penney. Elwes portrayed Dr. Clement in the psychological thriller Psych 9, which was directed by Andrew Shortell. It was confirmed on April 25, 2010 that Elwes will return in Saw VII as Dr. Lawrence Gordon.
In 1996, Elwes made his first television appearance as "David Lookner" on the sitcom Seinfeld. In 1998, he played astronaut Michael Collins in the Golden Globe Award-winning HBO miniseries From the Earth To the Moon. In 1999, he guest starred as Dr. John York in an episode of the television series The Outer Limits. He earned two Golden Satellite Award nominations for his performances in the television films The Pentagon Wars and Uprising. Elwes had a recurring role in the final season (2001–2002) of The X-Files as FBI Assistant Director Brad Follmer. Chris Carter, creator of The X-Files, wrote the character especially for him.
In 2004, he received great praise with his portrayal of serial killer Ted Bundy in the A&E Network film The Riverman, which was based on the book The Riverman: Ted Bundy and I Hunt for the Green River Killer written by Robert D. Keppel. The Riverman became one of the highest rated original movies in the network’s history and garnered a prestigious BANFF Rockie Award nomination. In 2005 Elwes again received international critical acclaim with his portrayal of the young Pope John Paul II in the CBS made-for-TV movie epic Pope John Paul II. The TV film was highly successful not only in North America, but also in Europe, where it broke box office records in the late pope's native Poland and became the first film ever to break $1 million (GBP588,200) in three days.
In 2007, he made a guest appearance on the Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode "Dependant" as a Mafia lawyer. In 2009, he played the role of Pierre Despereaux, an international art thief, in the 4th season premiere of Psych. Most recently, Elwes starred in a national Enterprise Rental Car commercial, beginning in July 2009.
Elwes' voice-over works include the narrator in James Patterson's audio book The Jester as well as characters in film and television animations such as Quest for Camelot, Pinky and The Brain, Batman Beyond (which also featured Mark Rolston), and the English versions of the highly popular Studio Ghibli films Porco Rosso, Whisper of the Heart and The Cat Returns. For the 2004 video game The Bard's Tale, he served as scriptwriter, improviser, and voice actor of the main character The Bard.
In August 2005, he filed a lawsuit against his management firm and the producers of Saw. He alleged that he was promised a percentage of the profits and did not receive the full amount as promised. The producers eventually settled out of court.
|1979||Yesterday's Hero||Disco Dancer|
|1984||Another Country||James Harcourt|
|1985||The Bride||Captain Josef Schoden|
|1986||Lady Jane||Guilford Dudley|
|The Princess Bride||Westley/The Dread Pirate Roberts|
|1988||Never on Tuesday||Tow Truck Driver||Uncredited|
|1989||Glory||Major Cabot Forbes|
|1990||Days of Thunder||Russ Wheeler|
|1991||Hot Shots!||Lieutenant Kent Gregory|
|1992||Bram Stoker's Dracula||Lord Arthur Holmwood|
|Kurenai no buta||Curtis||aka Porco RossoVoice English version|
|1993||Robin Hood: Men in Tights||Robin Hood|
|The Crush||Nick Eliot|
|1994||The Jungle Book||Captain William Boone|
|The Chase||Steve Horsegroovy|
|1996||Twister||Dr. Jonas Miller|
|1997||Kiss the Girls||Detective Nick Ruskin/Casanova||Nominated - Blockbuster enternainment awards best supporting actor|
|The Informant||Lieutenant David Ferris|
|1998||Quest for Camelot||Garrett||Voice|
|1999||Cradle Will Rock||John Houseman|
|2000||Shadow of the Vampire||Fritz Arno "Firtzy" Wagner|
|2001||The Cat's Meow||Thomas H. Ince|
|2002||Wish You Were Dead||Mac "Macbeth" Wilson|
|Comic Book Villains||Carter||Direct-to-video|
|2004||Saw||Lawrence Gordon||Nominated — MTV Movie Award for Best Frightened Performance|
|Ella Enchanted||Sir Edgar|
|American Crime||Albert Bodine||Direct-to-video|
|The Bard's Tale||The Bard||Video Game|
|2005||Edison||Reigert||aka Edison Force|
|Neo Ned||Dr. Magnuson|
|The Cat Returns||The Baron||Voice (English dub)|
|2006||Whisper of the Heart||The Baron||Voice (English dub)|
|Pope John Paul II||The Young Karol Wojtyla|
|National Lampoon's Pucked||Norman||aka National Lampoon's The Trouble with Frank|
|Factory Girl||Sam Green||Uncredited|
|2007||Walk the Talk||Erik|
|2008||The Alphabet Killer||Capt. Kenneth Shine|
|2009||A Christmas Carol||Portly Gentleman #1/Dick Wilkins/Mad Fiddler/Guest #2/Business Man #1||Voice|
|2010||Psych 9||Dr. Clement||awaiting release|
|Flying Lessons||Steven Jennings||awaiting release|
|As Good as Dead||Ethan Belfrage||awaiting release|
|Little Murder||Barry Fitzgerald||post-production|
|Saw VII||Lawrence Gordon||post-production|
|2011||The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn||Pilot||post-production|
|1996||Seinfeld||David Lookner||Episode: "The Wait Out"|
|1998||The Pentagon Wars||Lt. Col. James Burton||HBO TV film|
|From the Earth to the Moon||Michael Collins||Episodes: "Can We Do This"|
|Pinky and the Brain||Director / Hamlet||Voice|
"Brainie the Poo/Melancholy Brain"
"Whatever Happened to Baby Brain/Just Say Narf"
|Quest for Camelot||Garrett||Voice|
|Hercules||Paris of Troy||Voice|
Episode: "Hercules and the Trojan War"
|1999||The Outer Limits||Dr. John York||Episode: "Ripper"|
|Batman Beyond||Paxton Powers||Episode: "Ascension"|
|2000||Race Against Time||Burke||TV film|
|2001||Night Visions||Gerald||Episode: "Quiet Please"|
|Uprising||Dr. Fritz Hippler||TV film|
|2001–2002||The X-Files||FBI Assistant Director Brad Follmer||Episodes:|
"Nothing Important Happened Today"
"Nothing Important Happened Today II"4-D"
|2004||The Riverman||Ted Bundy||TV film|
|2005||Pope John Paul II||Young Karol Wojtyla||TV mini-series|
|2006||Haskett's Chance||TV film|
|2007||Law & Order: Special Victims Unit||Sidney Truex||Episode: "Dependent"|
|2009||Psych||Pierre Despereaux||Episode: "Extradition: British Columbia"|