- Robin Williams possessed exceptional improvisational skills as an actor and performer
- He was proficient at adapting to different situations and making them his own
- His improvisational know-how was best exemplified in Mrs. Doubtfire, a 1993 comedy-drama directed by Chris Columbus
Robin Williams’ brilliance as an actor and performer shone in most endeavors he partook in. Known as one of the greatest comedians to have lived, the Good Will Hunting actor possessed mind-blowing improvisational skills. He was proficient at adapting to different situations. Even if a scene didn’t go according to plan, he would make it his own one way or another.
Williams’ improvisational know-how was best exemplified in Chris Columbus’ 1993 comedy-drama Mrs. Doubtfire. The leading star’s on-screen expertise was underscored in several anecdotes from this particular production. One that especially stands out involves the infamous (as dubbed by the director) “pie-in-the-face sequence.”
During the physically demanding scene, it is believed that the studio’s bright and hot lights accidentally melted the actor’s cake mask. However, Williams displayed such finesse in managing the situation that the movie’s helmer kept the camera rolling!
Robin Williams’ Improv Skills Saved A Difficult Mrs. Doubtfire Scene
Directed by Chris Columbus, the 1993 film tells the story of Daniel Hillard, a divorced father, who dons the disguise of an elderly British nanny, dubbed “Mrs. Euphegenia Doubtfire,” to continue spending time with his children. The premise involved Robin Williams getting in and out of drag to facilitate the narrative. Post-release, the endeavor reaped a mixed critical reception.
On the commercial front, however, the comedy-drama amassed $441.3 million worldwide against a budget of $25 million. It was 1993’s second-highest-grossing film!
Among the many highlights of the flick, one that remains iconic—thanks to Robin Williams’ mind-blowing ad-lib skills—is the cake mask scene. Mrs. Sellner visits to inspect Daniel’s apartment in this scene, and after the actor’s Mrs. Doubtfire mask is flattened, we see him hopping around the kitchen while concealing his true identity with cake icing on his face. This scene proved challenging, with the actor having to shuffle between the two personas in quick succession (via January Media).
The unscripted and accidental nature of the icing melting and falling into Mrs. Sellner’s tea became the scene’s most astonishing element. Williams’s ability to improvise kept it seeming authentic.
So, when the studio’s hot, bright lights melted the cake facemask’s icing, Robin Williams, instead of breaking character, rolled with it, and viewers got to see his character exclaim, “There you go, you’ve got your cream and sugar now! It’s a little cappu-tea-no.”
Unscripted scenes typically may be removed from films if they don’t work well. But the leading star’s exceptional talent, in this case, allowed Chris Columbus to keep the cameras rolling.
Robin Williams’ Cake-Face Sequence Took 18 Takes
To celebrate 30 years of Mrs. Doubtfire, Business Insider spoke to director Chris Columbus. In this interview, the helmer of the pursuit was asked to shed light on Robin Williams’ improvisational expertise. The cake-face sequence, which he dubs “pie-in-the-face sequence,” was among the two scenes that immediately came to Columbus’ mind. According to the 65-year-old filmmaker, the star had to do the scene 18 times.
Following was his statement:
“…The second one that stands out is what I call the pie-in-the-face sequence. It’s when Mrs. Sellner (Anne Haney) comes to Daniel’s apartment, and he’s [Williams] going back and forth as Mrs. Doubtfire and Daniel.”
“When he’s in the bedroom putting on the Doubtfire costume, that probably was his hardest work on the film. Verbally and physically. He was physically spent after doing that. I think we did 18 takes on that sequence.”
Eighteen takes for the scene is no joke. Getting in and out of the fake nanny’s get-up must have been exhausting for the late actor. However, none of that is reflected in the film. He kept his finesse and deftness intact when on-screen.
On Rotten Tomatoes, Mrs. Doubtfire enjoys a 70% approval rating, with critics deeming Robin Williams’ portrayal unforgettable. The audience score, slightly higher, boasts a solid 77%. Since its release, the movie is now considered one of the best performances in Williams’ filmography.
Mrs. Doubtfire is available on Disney+.