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The Untold Truth Of Mrs. Doubtfire

Who doesn't love "Mrs. Doubtfire"? After all, the movie stars Robin Williams as Daniel, a father who disguises himself as what he calls "a hip old granny" so he can spend more time with his kids after a divorce.

Of course, it may surprise you to learn that this movie is the product of several happy accidents – not unlike Mrs. Doubtfire herself, whose name sprang from a random newspaper headline glimpsed by Daniel. If the stars (Hollywood and otherwise) hadn't aligned perfectly, we might not have ended up with the "Mrs. Doubtfire" we know and love. We can't help but wonder: what if Tim Allen had been cast in the titular role instead of Robin Williams? What if director Chris Columbus had decided to reinsert a deleted scene that would have changed the entire movie? What if there hadn't been a makeup malfunction on-set to give Williams the idea to improvise an iconic line? With so many factors in the movie that came down to chance, it's astounding that everything managed to click into place.

Let's explore all these little-known stories about the making of "Mrs. Doubtfire."

Most of the cast members didn't even recognize Robin Williams in-costume

Not only is Mrs. Doubtfire's disguise extremely convincing in the movie, but Williams also had his co-stars fooled, too. In an interview with the Today Show, Pierce Brosnan (who played Daniel's rival suitor Stu) recalled the first time he met Williams. He had been invited into the actor's makeup trailer, where he was surprised to find his host was Mrs. Doubtfire from the neck up but Robin Williams from the neck down. "I never felt I worked with Robin Williams," he joked. "I was always working with Mrs. Doubtfire."

Meanwhile, Matthew Lawrence (who played Daniel's son Chris) admits he was slow to catch on. In a behind-the-scenes interview, he described his first screen test. "[Williams] was sitting on the couch with my two sisters, and I didn't know that it was Mrs. Doubtfire or Robin. I just thought, well, it could be the social worker or the teacher or something."

Lisa Jakobs (who played Daniel's daughter Lydia) actually mistook Mrs. Doubtfire for the director's mother; she went out of her way to please someone she assumed was a close relative of her employer. "I wanted to make a good impression," Jakobs told The Chicago Tribune. "It wasn't until later that I realized [it was Williams]. I totally fell for it."

The crew needed multiple cameras to keep up with Robin Williams

Robin Williams was such a brilliant improv artist that sometimes the crew of "Mrs. Doubtfire" couldn't keep pace. Director Chris Columbus often kept multiple cameras rolling at once to make sure he wouldn't miss anything that came out of the lead actor's mouth – or the reactions of his fellow cast members. Columbus told Yahoo! that he wanted to capture everyone's "expressions and reactions the first time they ever heard [Williams] say something like that."

Sometimes not even multiple cameras was enough; Columbus also encouraged Williams to do extra takes where he would come up with new lines on the spot. "There was a deal between Robin and myself," said Columbus in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. The arrangement was that Williams would shoot "three scripted takes. And then he would say, 'Then let me play.'" As a result, Columbus would end up with over 20 versions of a single shot – sometimes even more. 

Thankfully for Pierce Brosnan, there was one scene that didn't require too many takes. In the famous "run-by fruiting" scene (where Mrs. Doubtfire pelts Stu with a lime and then feigns innocence), Brosnan was concerned they would need to do dozens of takes. "I thought, 'My God, we're going to be here all day,'" he told the Today Show. To his immense relief, he nailed it on the second try.

Mrs. Doubtfire almost cast a different lead actor

It's hard to imagine anybody else besides Williams in the role of Mrs. Doubtfire, but there was a point in the movie's production when this inspired casting choice hadn't been a given. Bustle says that Tim Allen was offered not one but two roles in the movie; he was invited to play either Mrs. Doubtfire or Stu, but he declined both.

Author Anne Fine, who wrote the book that inspired the movie, had her own idea of who should slip into Mrs. Doubtfire's shoes. According to ScreenCrush, her ideal casting would have been Warren Beatty – simply because she found it amusing to imagine a notorious ladies' man cast as a lady.

While Tim Allen was under consideration for the role, 20th Century Fox reportedly considered adapting the book as a spinoff of "Home Improvement," where Allen's character would fill the role of the father-turned-nanny, says Fun Film Facts. Needless to say, that would have resulted in a dramatically different movie.

There are over 30 mins of deleted scenes

The "Mrs. Doubtfire" Full Screen DVD Edition includes over a dozen deleted scenes. If these scenes had been added back in, the film's running time would have been over 150 minutes.

For instance, an entire subplot involving the next-door neighbor Gloria (Polly Holliday) ended up on the cutting-room floor. In the final film, Gloria only appears in two scenes and exists mainly as a plot device. However in earlier versions, she was portrayed as an extremely nosy neighbor trying to intervene on the Hilliards' marriage problems. Daniel gets his revenge on her by convincing her (under the guise of Mrs. Doubtfire) that the secret recipe for a healthy garden is to spray it regularly with urine. While this subplot might have been amusing, it added nothing to the story.

In another deleted scene, Daniel and Miranda (Sally Field) are attending Lydia's spelling bee competition, yet Lydia gets distracted and messes up because her parents are arguing. Afterward, Daniel apologizes to Lydia, who asks her father why he and Miranda can't just "pretend to be happy." Most viewers agree that, despite some very moving dialogue from Daniel, the scene was too much of a downer and would've taken the movie too far away from its (mostly) comedic roots. Besides, the movie works best whenever it focuses on its central conceit: Daniel's new identity as Mrs. Doubtfire and how it brings out the best in him. Showing Daniel out-of-costume, arguing with his wife like always, would have disrupted that forward momentum.

Several iconic moments weren't in the original script

To say that Robin Williams ad-libbed half of "Mrs. Doubtfire" is only a slight exaggeration. The late actor made countless contributions to the character of Mrs. Doubtfire that weren't in the original script.

For instance, Williams didn't tell his fellow cast members that, during the restaurant scene, his false teeth were going to fall out and then rattle around his wine glass, according to Cult of Whatever. Instead, he kept his plans secret so that the filmmakers could catch everyone's genuine reactions on camera. Along the way, Williams came up with a clever pop culture reference on the spot. While fishing in the glass for her false teeth, Mrs. Doubtfire says, "Carpe dentum – seize the teeth." This is a nod to another Robin Williams film: "Dead Poets Society" (where Williams spoke about seizing the day instead of seizing teeth).

One of the most memorable moments from the movie sprung from a happy accident. The original script had Daniel waltzing around the kitchen with cake icing on his face, to hide his identity from Mrs. Sellner (Anne Haney) after his Mrs. Doubtfire mask got flattened. However, there was one thing the filmmakers hadn't counted on – Mrs. Doubtfire's "face mask" melting under the heat of the studio lights and sending a glob of icing into Mrs. Sellner's tea (January Media). They caught the incident on camera, and Williams decided to roll with it. That was how we ended up with the hilarious line, "One drop or two?"

Mrs. Doubtfire had some real-life inspiration

The plot of "Mrs. Doubtfire" is not based on a true story. To our knowledge, nobody in real-life actually lived a double-life as a housekeeper in order to see their children after a divorce. (Robin Williams did go through a divorce, he shared in an interview, but that's where the similarities stop.) However, certain aspects of Mrs. Doubtfire's character were drawn from reality, and the sources of inspiration might surprise you.

Makeup artist Greg Cannom used a black-and-white picture of a woman from the 1940s as a photo reference, and he built the design of Mrs. Doubtfire around it. Meanwhile, the character's name was also borrowed from a real person. Anne Fine, the author of the original book, recalls a shop in her Scottish neighborhood owned by a woman named Annabella Coutts. According to The Scotsman, the shop's sign read "Madame Doubtfire," and Fine loved the name so much she adopted it for her iconic nanny.

For Mrs. Doubtfire's accent, Williams modeled it after the accent of Scottish director Bill Forsythe, says January Media. The voice of the character went through a bit of an evolution. In his initial pass at Mrs. Doubtfire, Williams went for a Margaret Thatcher voice, he explained in a behind-the-scenes interview. However, they quickly realized that would be too harsh for the character, so her voice "softened up as she got softer," until they arrived at the gentle and soothing voice that you hear in the final film.

It took hours for Williams to get into his makeup each day

The scene from the movie where Daniel is seen changing out of his Mrs. Doubtfire disguise makes it seem like it's fairly easy to put on. It's just a bodysuit, clothes, a mask, and a wig, right? On the contrary, becoming Mrs. Doubtfire is a lot more complicated than that.

The character's face isn't just a simple mask; instead it's made up of eight separate pieces of foam and latex. In the scenes where he plays Mrs. Doubtfire, Williams never actually wears the one-piece mask that his character stores on a mannequin head, says January Media. According to a behind-the-scenes clip, the makeup team needed to recreate the eight latex prosthetics every week, to keep them from shrinking. After applying the prosthetics, they needed to add several layers of makeup on top to simulate the look and feel of real skin.

This whole process would sometimes take as long as four-and-a-half hours – and then Williams would spend another 10 hours filming. So makeup artist Ve Neill came up with a way to ensure that the exhausted Williams wouldn't nod off in the makeup chair. She positioned a TV behind the actor so he could watch a movie in the mirror, Williams explained in an interview. By the end of production, the makeup team had gotten the hang of it and managed to get the job done in a slightly more-bearable three hours.

A sequel was considered but never came to fruition

Unfortunately, we will never get to see a "Mrs. Doubtfire" sequel, after the untimely passing of Robin Williams. According to The Hollywood Reporter, there had been talk of a sequel as early as 2001. Yet it stalled in development hell for years, in part because Williams and Columbus never quite felt like the project would do the original film justice. Still, they came really close to shooting a sequel in 2014, when Fox announced it had greenlit another "Mrs. Doubtfire" movie. "We said for years that we would never do it," Columbus told Entertainment Weekly. "Then somebody came up with a really interesting idea, and we agreed to develop a script." With the loss of Robin Williams, however, the project died; absolutely no one else could fill the shoes of the beloved nanny.

When Mara Wilson (who played Daniel's youngest daughter Natalie) caught wind of the planned sequel, she announced on Twitter that the filmmakers could count her out. Wilson was skeptical of the sequel and had no intentions of participating. "Sequels generally suck unless they were planned as part of a trilogy or series," she wrote, adding that, "I think Doubtfire ended where it needed to end." That's not to say that Wilson regretted participating in the first one. To the contrary, she tweeted, "I'm glad I had the chance to be in it, and I'm proud of what we did, but I don't see how we could do it again."

Mrs. Doubtfire was groundbreaking in its approach to divorce

"Mrs. Doubtfire" is certainly not the first movie to explore divorce, nor is it the first comedy with gender-bending hijinks, but it is quite possibly the first to combine the two. More importantly, what sets "Mrs. Doubtfire" apart from the crowd is how it handles the topic of divorce, which was pretty revolutionary at the time of its release.

"Before 'Mrs. Doubtfire,' I think not a lot of movies dealt in a realistic way with divorce," Lisa Jakobs told the Today Show. The tendency in Hollywood at the time was for divorced couples to get back together in the end, but "Mrs. Doubtfire" doesn't take the easy way out. It depicts divorce in all its messiness, while still assuring viewers that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

It's especially significant, says Den of Geek, because "Mrs. Doubtfire" wasn't some kind of indie drama about divorce meant for a very "niche" adult audience. Instead, it was intended to be a comedy with a broad appeal for all ages, and it succeeded. Despite its sometimes uncomfortable subject matter, it grew to be hugely popular.

Filming the hot flashes scene was complicated

In one iconic scene, Daniel (as Mrs. Doubtfire) is trying to prepare a fancy dinner for his kids, but his plans go up in smoke after he leans too close to the stovetop and his fake breasts catch fire. Whenever he is done extinguishing his flaming bosom, Daniel remarks, "Look at this! My first day as a woman, and I'm getting hot flashes."

This was not an easy scene to shoot. Robin Williams explained in an interview that there was always the risk that the flames from Mrs. Doubtfire's breasts could shoot up into the stunt double's face. He joked, "I wanted to do [my own stunts], but they said, 'You have to have a stunt man, because if you burn your eyelashes, we're screwed.'" According to January Media, Williams burned his hand after trying to pick up the hot metal spoon, so the filmmakers replaced that shot with another one (sans spoon) in which Mrs. Doubtfire drops a pot of boiling water.

It's worth noting that the "hot flashes" scene was so popular among fans that the original dress Williams wore in this scene – complete with the charred patches on the chest – sold for $27,645 at Propstore.

Lisa Jakobs got kicked out of school while filming

Not many fans know this, but Lisa Jakobs needed to deal with some drama off-set, and Robin Williams graciously stood up for her. While filming "Mrs. Doubtfire," Jakobs was also in high school, so she made an arrangement where she would spend a few hours each day working with a tutor. As she explained in an interview with the Today Show, "It wasn't really working with my high school. They were a little frustrated that I was away for so long," so her school informed her that she was essentially expelled.

That's when Williams intervened. "Robin was incredibly sweet," said Jakobs. After learning what happened, Williams reached out to the school on her behalf, asking if they would consider accepting the young actress back. The full text of his letter was later shared on the Today website. Williams wrote that "A student of her caliber and talent should be encouraged to go out in the world and learn through her work," while still being given the opportunity to try and have a normal high school experience. He added that Lisa was "an asset to any classroom."

In the end, the school didn't invite Jakobs back. They did, however, place the letter from Robin Williams in a frame and hang it on the wall. Ultimately, Jakobs attended a different school, and things worked out for her in the end. Nevertheless, this kind gesture from Williams meant a lot to her, and she remembers it fondly, even 25 years later.

The cast members' favorite scenes might surprise you

Whenever some of the "Mrs. Doubtfire" cast reunited on the Today Show for the film's 25th anniversary, they each shared their favorite scene to film.

Matthew Lawrence fondly remembered working on the restaurant scene, saying it was "incredible, just to be at a table with those people." Of course, being an eleven-year-old boy at the time, he also enjoyed the moment where his character caught Mrs. Doubtfire taking a whiz; he recalled being inordinately curious about how the filmmakers would simulate that effect. That scene was also Jakobs' favorite moment from the movie, too. Laughing, she told Today, "Any time you get to brandish a tennis racquet as a weapon at work is kind of fun." Meanwhile, Mara Wilson loved the scene at the birthday party. As far as she was concerned, she might as well have been attending a real party. "We were making a mess," she said. "It was great."

For Brosnan, it was no contest; the "run-by fruiting" scene would win every time. "It just tickles me to no end," he said. He even admitted that he sometimes emails his friends gifs of his character getting beaned in the head with a lime.

The film almost had an ending where Daniel and Miranda got back together

One thing that makes "Mrs. Doubtfire" so unique is its bittersweet ending. Sure, there are plenty of laughs throughout, but Daniel and Miranda's divorce is resolved in a nuanced and realistic way. But it's scary to think that this moving ending almost didn't happen. In a slightly different scenario, the movie might've had a more predictable Hollywood ending.

While "Mrs. Doubtfire" was being made, the studio began pressuring screenwriter Randi Mayem Singer to give the movie a "happy ending" where the Hillard parents got back together, according to Eighties Kids. Singer felt that such an ending wouldn't be in-character for Daniel and Miranda, and it would undermine the integrity of the movie. Yet when Fox refused to budge, Singer resigned from the project (The Los Angeles Times). However, the studio soon discovered that the newer version of the script wasn't working, so they invited Singer to return to the project and let her keep the original ending.

Singer is satisfied with the ending of the final film. Not only would the alternate ending have missed the point of the original book, it would've also left "kids in the audience with false hope," as Singer told The Chicago Tribune. "I'm so proud that in 1993, we had a message that says there are all kind of families." The movie is far more poignant when viewers see that Daniel and Miranda don't love each other yet still work together to make sure their kids are happy.