During the conversion to film, most of the characters were moderated heavily. In the book, all the main characters, apart from Natalie, tend to act in self-interest and expect a large amount of credit whenever they do otherwise. The divorce of Miranda and Daniel in the book is also much more bitter.
According to one biography, Robin Williams decided to test out the believability of his Mrs. Doubtfire character during filming by going, as Mrs. Doubtfire, into an adult bookstore and making a purchase. He was able to do so without being recognized.
During the scene when Mrs. Sellner comes to inspect Daniel's apartment and Daniel/Mrs. Doubtfire is serving her tea, the icing on his/her face is melting off. This was not intentional. The heat from the set lights melted the icing on his face and Robin Williams improvised the bulk of that scene.
Chris Columbus would use two or three cameras at a time, when shooting Robin Williams' scenes, uncertain of what the famously improvisational actor would come up with. Columbus viewed shooting these scenes as if he were making a documentary.
During the restaurant scene when Mrs. Doubtfire's teeth fell into the wine glass, the cast didn't know Robin Williams would do that, and their reactions on film were genuine, mirroring the shock of the crew.
Known for his trademark spontaneity of improvisation, Robin Williams was given free range by Chris Columbus to do what he needed. However, his improvisation can occasionally spark off numerous references to other works that prove to be legal headaches for movie studios. The scene where Daniel speaks with his wife and refers to her clothes as "this lovely Dances with Wolves (1990) motif," required legal clearance for the studio to put it in the film. Associate Producer Paula DuPré Pesmen later kept track of every reference Williams made while improvising.
Talk of a sequel began in 2003, with a script being written by Bonnie Hunt. Robin Williams was set to return in disguise as an old nanny like in the first movie. Due to problems with the script, re-writing began in early 2006 as Robin was allegedly unhappy with the plot. The film was expected to be released in late 2007, but following further script problems, the sequel was declared "scrapped" in mid 2006. The sequel's story was originally said to involve Williams, as Mrs. Doubtfire, moving close to his daughter's college, so he could keep an eye on her. Serious discussions regarding the sequel re-ignited in April 2014, with an announcement that Robin Williams and Chris Columbus would be teaming up with Fox 2000 to produce the sequel. Williams' sudden death just four months later ultimately sealed the project's fate once and for all. No one replaced him either.
Chris Columbus was amazed how far Robin Williams took his performance. First, he played each scene as scripted two to three times, and then was allowed to improvise, or "playing" as Williams called it. Columbus allowed Williams a lot of improvisation, because that was where the film's funniest material came from; in fact, Columbus called it magical at times.
Robin Williams used much of his real childhood nanny to characterize Mrs. Doubtfire. When British tabloids found this out, they went looking for his former nanny. They found his real nanny, "Lolly", in a Michigan nursing home, and the reporters and photographers flocked to the little town to get an interview with her. Lolly balked at the attention and downplayed her impressive role. (The reporter found out Lolly had in fact been a nanny to other Hollywood celebrities, including Mr. and Mrs. Lyle Waggoner.) As a result, the local newspaper ran a story of Lolly with the heading "The Real Mrs. Doubtfire".
Harvey Fierstein had seen and been impressed by Robin Williams's impersonation of him on Comic Relief. He heard through friends that Williams would be playing a character with a gay brother, and approached him about playing the part.
Throughout the movie, Mrs. Doubtfire says the word "dear" one hundred one times. In some scenes, she either mumbles the word or says it quickly. You have to listen very carefully to what she is saying.
Stu was originally scripted to be an arrogant villain, but Chris Columbus felt that it hurt the relationship with Mrs. Doubtfire, so Stu was re-written to be more the perfect potential replacement for a father for the kids.
Polly Holliday's character of the Hillard family's next door neighbor Gloria Chaney, was originally scripted as a large supporting character and had a much bigger role in the film. Many scenes were filmed in which Daniel as Mrs. Doubtfire gets even with Gloria as Gloria tells Mrs. Doubtfire that she heard rumors that Daniel cheated on Miranda and abused his children. This leads Daniel as Mrs. Doubtfire, observing Gloria's passion for gardening, to give Gloria a formula that will help her flowers bloom better, and the secret ingredient in the formula is dog urine. Several scenes show Gloria actually getting dog urine and applying it to her flowers which kills them, and upsets her very much. Due to time constraints all of these scenes were cut out, and as a result, in the final cut of the film, the character of Gloria is only seen once during the opening credits before she calls Miranda to complain about Daniel throwing a birthday party next door, and later right before Daniel/Mrs. Doubtfire, rips the logo off of Stu's Mercedes Benz, you can see a brief glimpse of Gloria doing some gardening. All of Gloria's deleted scenes can be seen in the special features on the film's DVD.
When the family is looking for Mrs. Doubtfire's replacement, many of the potential nannies are members of the crew, including Production Assistant Erik Ross, Art Department Coordinator Kristen Ross, and Production Coordinator Jacqueline A. Shea. The final name crossed off the list is that of Associate Producer Paula DuPré Pesmen.
According to Chris Columbus, the film was initially going to be set in Chicago. But, after checking out San Francisco, they chose to set the film there. Columbus had been living in New York City for years, and was in need of a change of scenery to raise his family. During filming, he and his family had been so taken with the city, that they settled in San Francisco after the film was completed.
When Anne Fine was approached to make a movie out of her novel, her original choice for the lead role was Warren Beatty. Because of Beatty's reputation as a great womanizer she thought it would be hysterical to see him dress up and pretend to be a woman.
One of the make-up attempts winds up looking more like an old Jewish woman. Robin Williams improvised on this for a moment, then Williams, Harvey Fierstein, and Scott Capurro sing the chorus of "Matchmaker" from Fiddler On The Roof (1971). Fierstein has starred in "Fiddler" in two different Broadway revivals.
Chris Columbus is a big James Bond fan, and he was crushed when Pierce Brosnan didn't get cast when he was offered the part during the making of Remington Steele (1982), but they wouldn't release him from his contract. During the making of this film, Columbus told Brosnan he'd make a great James Bond, but Brosnan thought that ship had sailed. In 1995, MGM called Columbus telling him they're looking for the new James Bond, and Brosnan was one of the choices, so Columbus recommended him; his little contribution to the James Bond saga.
There were many instances when Robin Williams tried to break the concentration of Pierce Brosnan. In the scene when Brosnan (Stu) was attempting to choke on the shrimp, Williams kept making sexually suggestive comments to make his task much more difficult.
While extracting the false teeth from the wine glass, Mrs. Doubtfire jokes "Carpe Dentum... seize the teeth." This echoes "Carpe Diem... seize the day", Robin Williams' recurring phrase from Dead Poets Society (1989). Coincidentally, Williams had earlier appeared in the little-known movie Seize the Day (1986).
The Animation Director who scolds Daniel for wasting the studio's money at the beginning of the movie is played by Terence McGovern. Terence McGovern lends his voice to animation often, most notably as Launchpad McQuack for DuckTales (1987) and Darkwing Duck (1991). McGovern is a native of Berkeley, California, and a former DJ and radio personality at KSFO radio in San Francisco.
There are several versions of the film because of the sheer amount of material Robin Williams improvised, so it was difficult to edit the film to something resembling the script. Chris Columbus likened it to editing a documentary; these other versions were unworkable tonally because they were all over the place.
Chuck Jones, the iconic animator of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons for Warner Brothers, supervised the opening animation. The full five minutes of Pudgy Parakeet and Grunge the Cat was released as a DVD feature.
According to some rumors, it's been suggested parts of the story were originally intended for a potential plot of a film version of the television series Home Improvement (1991) at the time. With the story being Tim getting divorced from Jill, and being forced to pretend to be a sixty-year-old nanny in order to spend time with the kids. It's been said the reason for this not happening, was because Tim Allen and Patricia Richardson hated the idea, plus didn't feel Home Improvement needed a film version.
Daniel Hillard's career as a voice actor is unusual, being that he is based in San Francisco (not known as a key hub of voice-over work) and we see him providing full voices for finished animation (extremely rare in American voice-over traditions). This could be considered a mistake, but it could also be assumed that Daniel is replacing a voice track that is for some reason faulty, and must do the entire track over in an automated dialogue replacement session. This could be why the voice director points out how much money the session is costing the studio.
Chris Columbus had already seen Robin Williams in comedy clubs when he lived in Los Angeles. He was blown away at his energy and called him one of the most brilliant minds he had ever come across in terms of comedy. On stage he was an impressive ball of fire.
This movie is actually based on a British novel. During the mid 1970s, author Anne Fine walked by a "bric-a-brac" shop selling jewelry and old furs. She never had the time to walk inside and meet the shop owner, one Madame Doubtfire. Fine remembered the name in 1986 when she wrote her book "Alias Madame Doubtfire".
During the scene were Mrs. Doubtfire's children are watching her on television during her new job, she mentions that the next weeks show is going to England and quotes "That's where I come from." Even though her accent is distinctly Scottish.
When Miranda's boss (played by Martin Mull), towards the beginning of the movie stated that Stu wanted to invest millions into the Wellman Mansion. Martin Mull played on Roseanne (1988) where Roseanne and Jackie (Roseanne's sister) worked for Wellman plastics during the early seasons of the show.
After Chris Columbus finished Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992), he wanted a new project and was sent the script for this film. He was initially critical of it, saying it didn't work for him. He discussed with them why he felt it didn't work.
Robin Williams, dressed as Mrs. Doubtfire, says "Carpe dentum. Seize the teeth", while trying to fish his dentures out of his wine. This is a play on his famous line from Dead Poets Society (1989), "Carpe diem. Seize the day."
In one of the original scripts, Daniel finds a new love interest after he and Miranda got divorced. However, this would be in the way of Daniel going undercover as Mrs Doubtfire in order to be able to spend time with his children. The script is rewritten as Miranda finding a new lover after the divorce.
Michael Keaton, Alec Baldwin, Steve Martin, Matthew Broderick, Adam Sandler, Mike Myers, Kevin Kline, Dudley Moore, Bill Paxton, Nathan Lane, Martin Short, John Candy, John Goodman, Jeff Bridges, Kurt Russell, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chevy Chase, Jim Carrey, Emilio Estevez, Michael J Fox, Kevin Bacon, Jason Alexander, Wayne Knight, Chris Farley, Daniel Stern, Howie Mandel and Billy Crystal were considered to play Daniel Hillard/Mrs. Doubtfire.
A scene was filmed, but deleted and remained unseen until after Robin Williams death, as the deleted scene was omitted from the deleted scenes on the DVD . After the birthday dinner, Daniel turns up at the house and Daniel and Miranda have a heated argument about Daniel as Mrs. Doubtfire and Daniel tells Miranda that Lydia and Chris found out the truth and that they knew and the argument ends when Lydia angrily says that she hates them both and races up the stairs to her bedroom and Chris also says that he also hates them and joins Lydia with Natalie upstairs.
Daniel Hillard (Robin Williams) says to his son Chris (Matthew Lawrence), near the start of the film as follows: Daniel: (to Chris) Hey, dude! Congratulations on your twelfth birthday, all right! Got a surprise for you! Chris: Ooh, a stripper? Daniel: No, please! Chris: Two strippers? Daniel: Hoo hah, boy! The "Hoo hah" was Al Pacino's recurring expression in Scent of a Woman (1992). Robin Williams and Pacino co-starred in Insomnia (2002).
The film could have ended with Lundy visiting Daniel at a mental hospital, to which he has been committed by the judge, and Lundy telling Daniel that he wants to make a children's television show about Mrs. Doubtfire, and he wants Daniel to star in it as Mrs. Doubtfire.
There are connections to A Perfect World (1993). This is to do with the reference to Dances with Wolves (1990), in which Kevin Costner starred and directed. In Bridges restaurant, Daniel/Mrs. Doubtfire says, "I though I saw Clint Eastwood. That would make my day. He is such a stud muffin", in a memorable scene when he/she has a dinner meeting with Mr. Lundy, and a family occasion to celebrate Miranda Hillard's birthday at the same time. Costner and Eastwood co-starred in A Perfect World (1993) which Eastwood also directed.
Lisa Jakub, Matthew Lawrence and Mara Wilson were chosen to play the Hillard siblings because Chris Colombus needed to find 1 child and 2 teens whom physically resembled Robin Williams and Sally Field.
Mrs. Doubtfire was the favorite film of Tony's ten-year-old daughter, Selena, in the book Bittersweet Symphony by Rebecca McNutt. She owns a copy of the film on VHS and repeatedly watches it while spending the summer with her father.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
The producers fired the original screenwriter because of an "unhappy" ending, where the parents do not get back together. After several re-writes, with a different, "happy" ending, they realized that the original ending was, in fact, better, because they did not want to create the illusion that divorced parents will eventually get back together. They re-hired the original writer, and went back to the original ending.
Mrs. Doubtfire is quietly singing "The Crying Game" as she walks up to Stu's Mercedes (the scene where she pulls the hood ornament off). The song is the theme from The Crying Game (1992), a movie that became famous (or notorious, depending on the viewer) for its surprise plot line about a transgender woman.
When the mailman, "Mr. Sprinkles", visits Mrs. Doubtfire, when she has her own show at the end of the movie, he calls her "Mrs. Doubtflyer" when handing the mail to her, as a play on the words since he delivers mail and could have delivered a flyer as well.
Robin Williams and Paul Guilfoyle appeared in Cadillac Man (1990). Guilfoyle played the head chef at Bridges Restaurant. If you look carefully, you can spot him when Daniel/Mrs. Doubtfire is in the kitchen to put pepper on Stu's food, out of spite, as he knew fully well that Stu was allergic to pepper. It didn't go down well. Literally.
In the narrative behind why Daniel saves Stu in the restaurant scene. Daniel didn't think that the pepper would make Stu choke or possibly kill him and Daniel didn't want to kill Stu, just spoil his meal. When he saw Stu choking and Miranda's plead for help and realizing he had gone too far and what he has done, Daniel as Mrs. Doubtfire decided to save Stu.