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‘Mrs. Doubtfire’ Director Reveals Robin Williams’ Improv Created 2 Million Feet of Film

‘Mrs. Doubtfire’ Director Reveals Robin Williams’ Improv Created 2 Million Feet of Film

Director Chris Columbus fondly remembered Robin Williams’ “magical’ process 30 years after the release of Mrs. Doubtfire

The late comedic star remains a legend today, thanks to his well-known kind demeanor and over-the-top hilarious acting. Mrs. Doubtfire is one of the best examples of his style. In the movie, he plays a divorced man who loses time with his kids because he can’t get his life together. So, in an attempt to stay in their lives, he dresses up as a woman and applies to be their nanny. And his ex-wife unwittingly hires him. 

Robin Williams gives a wholesomely brilliant and laugh-out-loud portrayal in the film. Columbus is largely to thank for this, as he allowed the star complete creative freedom. 

“Early on in the process, he went to me, ‘Hey boss, the way I like to work, if you’re up for it, is I’ll give you three or four scripted takes, and then let’s play,’” Columbus shared with EW. “By saying that, what he meant was he wanted to improvise. And that’s exactly how we shot every scene. We would have exactly what was scripted, and then Robin would go off, and it was something to behold.”

Chris Columbus Hopes to Create a ‘Mrs. Doubtfire’ Documentary With Robin Williams’ Ad-Libbing Footage

Robin Williams’ improv took up nearly 2 million feet of film in the end. The crew had to set up multiple cameras to keep up with his ad-libbing because the reels kept running dry. Even then, they missed golden moments from him and the other stars that couldn’t be recreated.

According to Columbus, the actor would have been allowed more freedom in current times thanks to advanced production technology.

“If it were today, we would never end. But back then, we were shooting film. So once we were out of film in the camera, we would say to Robin, ‘We’re out of film,’” he continued. “That happened on several occasions. It got to the point that I had to shoot the entire movie with four cameras to keep up with him. 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.”

While the producers did the best they could to include the best footage in the film, there are still hundreds of boxes of footage collecting dust today. Columbus hopes he can turn it into a documentary one day. 

“There are roughly 972 boxes of footage from Doubtfire—footage we used in the movie, outtakes, behind-the-scenes footage—in a warehouse somewhere. And we would like to hire an editor to go in and look at all of that footage,” he shared. “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.”