13 Secrets About Mrs. Doubtfire Are on the Way, Dear

No need to wait until after Dick Van Dyke to vacuum up these secrets about Mrs. Doubtfire in honor of the classic comedy's 30th anniversary.

By Natalie Finn Nov 24, 2023 8:00 AMTags
Watch: Robin Williams on His "Mrs. Doubtfire" Transformation


As exclaimed in a mottled English accent by a grandmotherly type indulging in her nightly merengue mask, of course.

The scene is still fresh in our minds despite it being 30 years since the release of Mrs. Doubtfire, starring the late Robin Williams as divorced dad Daniel Hillard. Desperate to spend more time with his kids after losing custody, the out-of-work actor poses as the titular housekeeper and nanny extraordinaire

The fairly deranged plan only works for so long until he's found out in spectacularly hectic fashion, but the 1993 film itself was the perfect showcase for Williams' singular blend of antic energy, quick wit and heartbreaking sincerity.

"Along with the outrageous comedy is this realistic side that has resonance for families now," the Oscar winner told E! News when the movie came out. "There's a different concept of families other than the Norman Rockwell picture."

Robin Williams' Best Roles

The father of three had already been through one divorce, so he spoke from experience, adding to the heart underneath Mrs. Doubtfire's voluminous padded bosom.

Because lest we forget, the Chris Columbus-helmed blockbuster was first and foremost a laugh riot, especially when the director stood back and just let Williams do his thing.

"It got to the point that I had to shoot the entire movie with four cameras to keep up with him," Columbus recently told Business Insider. "None of us knew what he was going to say when he got going and so I wanted a camera on the other actors to get their reactions."

Let's just say that guffaws, snorts and spit takes were on the menu. So make yourself at home and let us fill your tummies with secrets about Mrs. Doubtfire:

I Need a Face

Robin Williams' Daniel Hillard had a makeup artist brother, played by the inimitable Harvey Fierstein, so it would be believable that he could acquire a Hollywood-grade disguise. They tested out several looks and accents that didn't cut it before arriving at Mrs. Doubtfire, dear, of fictitious Elbourne, England.

"It was English channeling, really," Williams quipped to E! News ahead of the film's Nov. 24, 1993, release. "If you put it on, she will arrive. And she's a kinder, gentler one...a sweet old lady with a blue mouth."

Crowning Achievement

Not surprisingly, Mrs. Doubtfire's makeup team won an Oscar for their efforts in 1994.

Ve Neill, who shared the honor with Greg Cannom and Yolanda Toussieng, told E! News in 2018 that it was easily "the most difficult" job she'd had, but obviously well worth it, and she remained friends with the "fantastic" Williams for the rest of his life.

"It was all overlapping latex pieces, and Robin was a sweater," Neill recalled. "I mean he really perspired a lot, so I had to make sure that every single one of those pieces was completely overlapped, and his face was completely encased."

And from the neck down...

You tend to cook," Williams told E!. "When you're encased like that it's like being in the world's largest condom...At a certain point, if it's hot, the makeup also starts to blow out. You start to eventually look like House of Wax [miming oozing down his face]. And you have to know when to stop and protect the makeup, and light it a certain way."

How to Make Sally Field Laugh

Two-time Oscar winner Sally Field was the consummate pro, and she was determined not to break character while playing Daniel's fed-up-to-here ex-wife, Miranda Hillard—even though Williams was constantly cracking everybody else up.

"Everyone except me," Field recalled to Yahoo! Entertainment in 2022. "I would be like, 'What? Just this?' and keep going. It would drive him crazy that he couldn't break me up in the scene."

And Williams never managed to, Field said. But while shooting the climactic restaurant scene, "We were around this dinner table forever in a restaurant. And Pierce Brosnan made this inappropriate [fart] noise on his arm. And I fell down laughing. I mean, that was it. They had to cut for the day, practically. And Robin said, 'Well, who knew that it was only potty humor that you were gonna laugh at?'"

Doubtfire, Mrs. Doubtfire

Brosnan, who played Miranda's post-divorce love interest Stu Dunmeyer, will never forget the first time he saw Williams on the film's San Francisco set.

"I'm getting to work with someone that I really love and have the greatest admiration for," the Irish actor described the moment to E! News in May. Brosnan went to see Williams in the makeup chair, where his co-star had "kind of a Hawaiian shirt on, hairy arms, hairy chest, boots—but he had the head of Mrs. Doubtfire."

Slipping into the Doubtfire accent, Brosnan recalled him saying, "'Ooh, hello Pierce. Ooh, you're so handsome, ooh, give us a kiss.'" Finally Williams welcomed the Goldeneye star to the set in his regular voice, noting he'd been in makeup since 3 a.m.

And because Williams started his day roughly four hours before everyone else did—and, according to makeup artist Neill, they worked their magic 54 times—Brosnan noted that he never really worked with Williams himself, quipping, "I always worked with Mrs. Doubtfire."

What a Character

Matthew Lawrence, who played middle Hillard child Chris, had an even more surreal Mrs. Doubtfire experience when he auditioned for the part at 12. 

"We get there and there's this weird feeling in the air...just a little tense in a good way," he told Page Six in 2018 of flying up to San Francisco to read for the role. "There's this couch in the middle of little stage area and they sit me down on the couch and all of a sudden this elderly British woman sits next to me."

Only, Lawrence didn't know that it wasn't really an elderly British woman.

When "she" started teasing the kid, his reaction prompted a big laugh and only then did Williams break character.

Once they started filming, Lawrence added, Williams would go on "experimental walks" around the city in full costume and when he took his young co-star with him once, "nobody questioned that this was my British nanny."

The Man Behind the Mask

"Love, joy, beautiful man, giving," Brosnan described Williams to E!. "Very present, very funny—and vibrated at a high frequency, but always in a way that filled a room."

Calling Mrs. Doubtfire "such a joyful film," the erstwhile James Bond observed that it's held up for three decades because it's "something I think we can identify with, wrapped up in this beautiful, theatrical story of dress-up—the lengths a man will go to keep his family!"

She Really Liked Him

Williams may not have had her clutching her sides mid-scene, but he was a "spectacular human," Field told Yahoo! Entertainment. "Even more than his humor to me was Robin himself."

He would come over during filming to the house where she was staying in San Francisco and they'd play the latest Legend of Zelda game, Williams obviously a fan since his daughter is, after all, Zelda Williams.

Rated E for Everyone

Williams didn't just keep the grown-ups entertained: He also came armed with age-appropriate shtick for his youngest co-stars.

Mara Williams, who made her feature debut at 5 playing youngest sibling Natalie Hillard, recalled to E! News in 2018 how Williams would make hand puppets and make "his carpet bag talk like a dog."

She was admittedly "a little intimidated" the first time she saw Williams in full makeup as Mrs. Doubtfire, "but he immediately said, you know, 'Don't be afraid' in his gentle Scottish lilt, and I wasn't anymore."

Home Improvement

Wilson felt the warm 'n' fuzzy effects of Mrs. Doubtfire for years, as did Lisa Jakub, who played big sister Lydia.

An apartment manager once gave Wilson spare keys free of charge, she told E!, "because Mrs. Doubtfire got her through a difficult time in her life."

Jakub said in 2018 that people still came up to her "and they will hug me, and they will cry, and they will talk about their parents' divorce and how much the movie helped them."

Life Lessons

Jakub told E! that, even when she was just a 13-year-old kid on set, Williams talked with her about his own experience with mental health issues and addiction, candor she "was always really, really grateful for" as someone who struggled with anxiety.

Lawrence also remembered Williams as being the first grown-up who ever talked openly about such things with him—and he took to heart Williams' advice to never do drugs, especially cocaine.

"He was very serious," the now 43-year-old recalled at 90s Con in 2022, per People. "He was like, 'You know when you come to my trailer and you see me like that?' He's like, 'That's the reason why. And now I'm fighting for the rest of my life because I spent 10 years doing something very stupid every day. Do not do it.' I stayed away from it because of him."

Steiner, How Lovely

Miranda gives her address as 2640 Steiner St.—and that's exactly where the impressive Victorian home that served as the exterior of the Hillard house can be found in San Francisco's upscale Pacific Heights neighborhood.

While the house became an immediate tourist destination after Mrs. Doubtfire came out, fans flocked there to leave flowers, notes and mementos after Williams died in 2014.

And... Less Action

While the usual game plan was to wind Williams up and let him go, the actor admitted to E! that he needed reining in sometimes.

He was always "rallying for more takes," Williams said, "but sometimes having to let the director say they'd done enough" was important. Because, he added, "in the end, they can only use one."

Lawrence, however, recalled no one minding having to do dozens of takes.

"In fact," he told Page Six, "sometimes all the crew...would come and stand around and watch every single take because with Robin on the set there [were] no bad takes. There was like 50 takes of something but they were all different. And all good."

But Wait, There's More!

Well, Williams may have thought only one take per scene could prove useful.

Chris Columbus, who also directed Williams in 1999's Bicentennial Man, recently told Business Insider that there are "roughly 972 boxes" containing hours of footage of Williams improvising during the making of Mrs. Doubtfire, and he's in talks about putting together a documentary.

"We would like to hire an editor to go in and look at all of that footage," the filmmaker said. "We want to show Robin's process. There is something special and magical about how he went about his work and I think it would be fun to delve into it. I mean, there's 2 million feet of film in that warehouse so there could be something we can do with all of that."