25 Things You Never Knew About Mrs. Doubtfire
Directed by Home Alone’s Chris Columbus and the late comedy legend Robin Williams, Mrs Doubtfire is comedy drama about Daniel Hillard, a struggling actor whose world is rocked when his wife divorces him, taking custody of their children. To deal with this, Hillard takes the shocking step of disguising himself as an elderly woman and becoming his wife’s new housekeeper, so he can still be close to his kids.
Here are some facts about the much-loved 1993 film which you might not have known.
25. It’s an adaptation of an English novel for teenagers
Like a lot of hit movies, Mrs. Doubtfire is an adaptation of a story originally told in a different medium. The film is based on a novel entitled Madame Doubtfire (or Alias Madame Doubtfire, as it was entitled in the US). Published in 1987, the book was written by English author Anne Fine and set in the United Kingdom.
Madame Doubtfire was aimed at teenage audiences, and follows roughly the same storyline as the film it was adapted into. The book was well received, and wound up being shortlisted for the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize, as well as the Whitbread Children’s Book Award. Other books by Anne Fine include Goggle-Eyes, Bill’s New Frock, Flour Babies and The Granny Project.
24. The filmmakers based Mrs Doubtfire’s look on an actual person
Mrs Doubtfire was the sixth film directed by the highly successful American writer and filmmaker Chris Columbus. Columbus came to film fresh from the success of the first two Home Alone movies. The director said at the time he was drawn to the project “because it’s rare to find a comedy script with an original premise that works this well, and on top of that there was the opportunity to work with Robin, who I think is a genius.”
Columbus also considered Mrs Doubtfire “a chance to move slightly away from the type of comedies I’ve been doing and try a more sophisticated adult comedy.” In working on the character of Mrs Doubtfire herself, Columbus wanted her to look like “the perfect grandmother.” To this end, he and the other filmmakers looked through hundreds of photographs of old women until they came across the ideal 1940s lady on which to base Williams’ make-up and costume design.
23. Williams visited a sex shop dressed as Mrs. Doubtfire
There are no shortage of stories from the film business of actors deciding to go a bit ‘method’ with their character. This often means remaining in character, and sometimes even in costume, when the cameras aren’t rolling. Apparently, Robin Williams got up to a bit of this when in full drag as Mrs Doubtfire.
Williams admitted that on multiple occasions he went out into the streets of San Francisco with his make-up and costume on. Of course, Williams being the outrageous comedian that he was, his antics while in costume and character got a bit out there. The actor admitted that on one occasion he visited a sex shop, and made a reportedly sizeable purchase (ahem).
22. The house became a shrine after Robin Williams’ death
Production on Mrs Doubtfire was based in the California city of San Francisco, where the film was set. One scene in the film sees the address of Miranda’s house given over the phone. Perhaps surprisingly, the address that is spoken aloud – 2640 Steiner Street – is the genuine address of the house in question.
Following Robin William’s death in 2014, the house became something of a shrine for fans of the late actor. Many mourners visited the house in the aftermath of his passing to leave personal tributes. Built in 1893, the picturesque house in the Pacific Heights area of San Francisco went on the market for $4.45 million in 2016.
21. More than 30 minutes of scenes were deleted from the theatrical cut
The screenplay adaptation of Mrs Doubtfire was written by Randi Mayem Singer and Leslie Dixon. However, a great deal of the dialogue was added to the film by Williams himself. As a comedy legend with a knack for improvisation, Williams ad-libbed a lot, with director Chris Columbus’ approval. It was in part thanks to this that the filmmakers wound up shooting a great deal more footage than they needed for a two hour film.
Because of this, more than half an hour of scenes that made the initial rough cut had to be deleted. These included a subplot about Daniel’s conflict with his neighbour, as well as a scene where Daniel and Miranda fight at Lydia’s spelling competition.
20. There was controversy over the film’s rating in the UK
As a film that dealt with family issues involving young children, Mrs Doubtfire was broadly aimed at a family audience. In the US, the film was given a PG-13 rating, which allows young children in so long as they’re accompanied by adults. However, Mrs Doubtfire had a problem in the UK, as at the time the equivalent British film certificate was the 12 rating. This meant that no one under 12 could gain admittance to the film at all, which upset some parents and cinema chains.
After widespread requests, Mrs Doubtfire was re-released as a PG with 13 seconds of ‘sexual innuendos’ cut. This version was also released to VHS and DVD. In 2002, the 12 certificate was amended to the 12A, which allows entry to children under the age of 12.
19. It won two Golden Globes and an Oscar
Mrs Doubtfire wasn’t necessarily met with the warmest reception from critics on release in 1993. However, this wasn’t enough to keep the film from doing well when awards season arrived. Mrs Doubtfire proved to be a big winner at the 51st Golden Globe Awards, winning Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy. Robin Williams was also awarded the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy, his third win in this category.
Williams had previously been given the same award for his performances in Good Morning, Vietnam and The Fisher King. The movie also scooped an Academy Award, with Greg Cannom, Ve Neill and Yolanda Toussieng taking home Oscars for Best Make Up.
18. Robin Williams turned down a proposed sequel because the script was bad
Because of the success of Mrs Doubtfire, studio 20th Century Fox were of course eager to make a sequel. The problem, of course, was finding the right story idea that would give Williams’ Daniel Hillard an excuse to go undercover as a woman again. One slightly creepy-sounding angle that was suggested was for him to again become Mrs Doubtfire to spy on his daughter at college.
This was pitched to Williams, who turned it down, declaring, “the script they had just didn’t work.” The question of a Mrs Doubtfire sequel came up in a number of the later interviews Williams gave. Each time Williams insisted that no decent ideas had been hit upon, and he said the chances of a sequel were “highly unlikely.”
17. A stage musical adaptation has been produced
In 2015, it was announced that that a musical adaptation of Mrs. Doubtfire was in the works. Originally, this was poised to be made by the team of composer Alan Menken, lyricist David Zippel and playwright Harvey Fierstein (also an actor, who co-stars in the movie). However, this incarnation of the Mrs Doubtfire struggled to come together, and was ultimately cancelled.
In 2018, the project was revived with composers Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick, and writer John O’Farrell. This show opened to positive notices in Seattle in late 2019 – but unfortunately, its Broadway run closed almost immediately in March 2020 due to Covid-19. Currently, the Mrs Doubtfire musical is set to open on Broadway a second time in October 2021.
16. There were rumours of an NC-17-rated cut
We’ve mentioned that Mrs Doubtfire ran into some trouble with the censors over its more risqué humour. With his background as an adult-oriented stand-up comedian, Robin Williams was no stranger to dirty jokes. In early 2021, the internet went in a frenzy over remarks from director Chris Columbus that some of the cut material from Mrs Doubtfire was so vulgar it would have landed them an NC-17 certificate. Columbus has since clarified these remarks were meant in jest, but admits that a lot of the deleted scenes were too much for a family friendly rating, due to Williams’ smutty ad-libs.
Columbus explains, “there was a deal between Robin and myself, which was, he’ll do one or two, three scripted takes. And then he would say, ‘Then let me play.’ He would sometimes go into territory that wouldn’t be appropriate for a PG-13 movie, but certainly appropriate and hilariously funny for an R-rated film.”
15. A sequel had just gone into development before Williams’ death
Even though Robin Williams himself seemed to have lost interest, by early 2014 there was still talk of a Mrs Doubtfire sequel. Chris Columbus was hopeful, explaining he and Williams had “talked about it, and the studio’s interested.” The director mused, “[usually] when you come back and do that character [20 years later], well, you’re twenty years older so, you’re not going to look the same.”
“The cool thing with Mrs. Doubtfire is there’s a character, there’s a woman, who is actually going to look exactly as she did in 1993.” The sequel was officially announced in April 2014, with David Berenbaum (Elf) brought on board to write the script. However, the plug was pulled on the project when Williams tragically died in August of that year.
14. Lisa Jakub was expelled from school for taking her role in the film
Mrs Doubtfire co-stars Lisa Jakub in the role of Lydia, daughter of Williams’ Daniel and Sally Field’s Miranda. Jakub was 14 years old at the time, and had previously appeared in Rambling Rose and Matinee. While she may have been building up a respectable body of work for a child actor, this didn’t go down to well at her school. On accepting a role in Mrs Doubtfire, Jakub found that she had been expelled from school for taking too many absences due to acting work.
When Robin Williams found out he wrote a letter to the school asking them to reconsider, but this was not successful. Jakub went on to appear in Independence Day and several other films before quitting acting. She has since worked as a writer and yoga teacher.
13. It was Pierce Brosnan’s last role before being cast as James Bond
Mrs Doubtfire co-stars Pierce Brosnan in the key supporting role of Stu, the new boyfriend of Sally Field’s Miranda. At the time, the Irish actor was 40, and best known for his role on hit TV series Remington Steele. However, just over six months after Mrs Doubtfire was released, Brosnan’s career was changed forever.
In June 1994, he was officially announced as the fifth actor to take on the role of James Bond 007. Brosnan would debut as the famed secret agent in 1995’s GoldenEye, and played the in a further three films thereafter. The Bond actor still reflects fondly on Mrs Doubtfire, remarking in 2017, “I am so proud to have been part of that movie and to have known the great Robin Williams.”
12. It was the second biggest hit of 1993 behind Jurassic Park
In the current climate, we probably wouldn’t expect a family-based comedy like Mrs Doubtfire to be a real blockbuster. Things weren’t quite the same back in 1993, however, as the film proved to be a major league hit. Having cost just $25 million to make, Mrs Doubtfire wound up grossing a cool $441.3 million at the global box office.
This made it the second biggest movie of the year – behind that iconic mega-blockbuster, Jurassic Park. Steven Spielberg’s dinosaur epic earned just shy of $915 million, the most that any film in history had earned up to that point. Mrs Doubtfire also wound up the third biggest moneymaker of Robin Williams’ film career, behind Aladdin (which earned $504 million) and Night at the Museum ($579 million).
11. Williams once burned Kim Kardashian over a Mrs Doubtfire-esque outfit choice
American socialite and reality TV star Kim Kardashian makes tabloid headlines on a regular basis. However, it’s comparatively rare that Kardashian ‘breaks the internet’ over anything related to Mrs Doubtfire. This was the case in 2013, when the celebrity – heavily pregnant at the time, with then-husband Kanye West – wore an eye-opening floral dress to the Met Gala. It was not lost on Robin Williams that the dress bore more than a passing resemblance to one of his Mrs Doubtfire dresses.
The comedy star tweeted side-by-side photos of himself and Kardashian, remarking, “I think I wore it better!” Kardashian stated later that Williams’ jibe hurt, but she was still among the many who paid tribute to the actor on his death in 2014, tweeting, “I laughed my whole childhood because of you.”
10. Tim Allen turned the movie down
Before Robin Williams officially signed on to Mrs Doubtfire, another noted comedian-turned-actor was considered. Early in the project’s development, the filmmakers approached Tim Allen with a view to making him the star. While a noted stand-up comic, Allen had never played the lead role in a movie before.
However, the success of TV sitcom Home Improvement had significantly raised his profile in Hollywood. Allen was subsequently asked whether he’d be interested in playing Mrs Doubtfire, or otherwise taking the role of Stu. The actor said no to both parts, however, but later made his break in family movies with 1994’s The Santa Clause.
9. Pierce Brosnan first met Robin Williams halfway through getting his Mrs Doubtfire make-up on
By all accounts, Robin Williams was every bit as larger-than-life behind the scenes as he was when cameras were rolling. Pierce Brosnan found this to be very much the case when he was first introduced to the late comedy icon. Brosnan recalls arriving on set and being asked, “‘Do you want to meet Robin Williams?’ I said, ‘Yeah, sure.’ I went into the makeup trailer and Robin was there.”
“He was sitting at the end of the trailer in his Hawaiian shirt and his big hairy arms, and his hairy legs coming out of his cargo pants. But he had the head of Mrs. Doubtfire. He said [in his Mrs Doubtfire voice], ‘Pierce. Oh, Pierce. Oh, you’re so handsome. Oh, look at ya, Pierce. Oh, give us a kiss. Come here, give us a hug.’” In 2019, Brosnan said of the sadly missed Williams, “His humanity was so far reaching, and joy of people, and love of life, bountiful… his passing still hurts deeply. I miss him.”
8. Lisa Jakub says Williams helped her deal with depression
Having Robin Williams portray her on-screen father proved to have a great impact on actress Lisa Jakub. On top of trying to help keep her from being kicked out of school, Williams helped Jakub in other ways. The two spoke openly about their mental health struggles, and the elder actor gave his young co-star useful advice.
Jakub recalls, “Robin was everything that you would hope he would be, and he was very open and honest with me about his issues with anxiety and depression. I was able to share with him that anxiety was something that I struggled with, and he would talk to me about mental health issues in a way that 14-year-olds aren’t usually used to adults being really open about those sorts of personal experiences with them.” Since giving up acting in her late teens, Jakub has taught classes on mental health and wellbeing.
7. Blake Lively unsuccessfully auditioned for Mara Wilson’s role
One actress who went on to big things narrowly missed out on a role in Mrs Doubtfire. The actress in question was Blake Lively, later star of TV’s Gossip Girl and films including Green Lantern (on which she met husband Ryan Reynolds). Lively was five years old when she read for the role of the Hillards’ youngest child Natalie – but wound up blowing the audition for a rather adorable reason. In order to keep her from getting too nervous and starstruck, Lively’s father told her she would be reading her audition with Robin Williams’ twin brother.
However, on sitting down, the casting director introduced Williams by his first name – at which the young actress suddenly froze. The part would instead go to Mara Wilson, who went on to even greater child star fame in the title role of 1996’s Matilda.
6. Legendary animator Chuck Jones oversaw the opening cartoon scene
Daniel Hillard, Williams’ character in Mrs Doubtfire, is a professional actor specialising in comedy and voice-over work. We’re given a taste of this early on, in the form of an old-fashioned cartoon. The clip in question, Pudgy Parakeet and Grunge the Cat, effectively conveys the spirit of such traditional animated shorts. There’s a good reason for this: the animation was overseen by a genuine legend in that field.
Chuck Jones, director of many of the best-loved Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies shorts, supervised work on the sequence. This proved to be one of Jones’ last credits; he died aged 89 in February 2002, just over eight years after Mrs Doubtfire was released.
5. A fan re-edit of the trailer as a horror movie went viral
While Mrs Doubtfire may be a beloved family classic, there’s no denying that its central conceit is – well – at least little bit creepy. After all, the film centres on a man legally ruled unfit to look after his children, which sends him into a downward spiral of despair. He then breaks all manner of laws by disguising himself as someone else in order to be close to them.
The chilling overtones were recognised by Youtuber Peter Javidpour, who assembled a new, rather different take on the Mrs Doubtfire trailer. Released in 2012, the video presented Mrs Doubtfire as though it were a horror movie, and this soon went viral online. At the time of writing, the clip has been viewed nearly four million times on the popular streaming service.
4. The studio wanted a happier ending in which the family re-united
Mrs Doubtfire presents a difficult but worthwhile message: that families can learn to move on in the wake of a divorce. Even so, there were concerns that the film would end on too much of a downer for what was meant to be a fun family comedy. It’s not too surprising, then, that studio executives at 20th Century Fox were at one point demanding a happier ending in which the family re-united.
This demand appalled original screenwriter Randi Mayem Singer, who refused to rewrite the ending and left the movie. Singer’s replacement, credited co-writer Leslie Dixon, did indeed write an ending which saw the Hillards get back together. Of course, it was ultimately agreed that this didn’t work, and Singer’s originally scripted ending was re-instated.
3. In the restaurant scene, Williams’ co-stars didn’t know his false teeth were going to fall out
Towards the end of the movie, there’s a moment when a somewhat tipsy Mrs Doubtfire loses her teeth in a glass of wine. This was another comedic ad-lib on Williams’ part, as the actor had not informed his co-stars he was going to do it. As a result, the amusement on the faces of the children and the shock on the faces of Sally Field and Pierce Brosnan are genuine.
As an added bonus, Williams ad-libbed a line in this scene which nods to another of his most famous roles. Mrs Doubtfire murmurs, “Carpe dentum, seize the teeth” – a play on “Carpe Diem, seize the day.” This line was made famous by Williams in 1989 drama Dead Poet’s Society, for which he earned a Best Actor Oscar nomination.
2. Author Anne Fine’s original suggestion for the lead role was Warren Beatty
It’s very hard now to imagine anyone other than Robin Williams playing the dual roles of Daniel Hillard/Mrs Euphegenia Doubtfire. However, when author Anne Fine first sold the film rights to her novel Madame Doubtfire, she had a rather different suggestion. Fine’s personal recommendation for the lead role in the movie was none other than Warren Beatty. The author thought the esteemed, long-standing Hollywood star would make for an interesting, against-type choice.
Fine’s reasoning was that, given Beatty’s notorious reputation as one of the film industry’s biggest womanisers, it would be unexpected to see him dress up as a woman himself. However, there’s no indication that studio 20th Century Fox seriously considered this, or if Beatty himself was actually interested.
1. Robin Williams’ dress from the kitchen fire scene sold at auction for thousands
One of the most famous scenes in Mrs Doubtfire sees Williams’ Daniel, whilst in full drag, struggling to get dinner ready. In all the hubbub, his false breasts are accidentally set on fire, prompting the famous line, “my first day as a woman and I’m having hot flashes.” Williams’ screen-worn costume from this scene proved to be a coveted piece of movie memorabilia.
In June 2021, the costume was put up for auction, and it wound up selling for an impressive price. An unknown bidder forked out the sum of $27,645 to get their hands on the outfit.