Mrs. Doubtfire Would Eventually Decide Robin Williams' Role In The Birdcage

Robin Williams is known for flamboyant, larger-than-life characters that might break into dance or operatic song at any given moment. Throughout the early '90s, Williams breathed life into some of his quirkiest characters, including Euphegenia Doubtfire and the Genie. Parts of those roles called for more serious moments, but the majority of the films showed the actor's silly, boisterous side, which is in part why he was tapped for "The Birdcage."

In "The Birdcage," Albert (Nathan Lane) and Armand (Robin Williams) are an openly gay couple who run a drag nightclub. Armand is the level-headed business manager, and Albert is the star of the drag show. The couple's life is thrown into total chaos when Armand's son, Val (Dan Futterman), announces he is engaged to a conservative senator's daughter. When the senator and his wife come over for dinner, Albert and Armand pretend to be a straight couple, with Albert playing the mother, in order to better align with the senator's values. During the dinner party from hell, Murphy's law is in full effect, and everything that can go wrong does.

Williams was originally asked to play the flamboyant character, Albert, but his time as Mrs. Doubtfire would lead him to take on the more serious role of Armand.

Suppressing the desire to shriek

Director Mike Nichols thought Robin Williams was perfect for the role of Albert, but the actor felt he'd already played the role two years earlier in "Mrs. Doubtfire." Of course, Williams found a funnier way to express this opinion:

"I've already been a big, bad woman and besides, with this one, I can't use prosthetics in the makeup. Without prosthetics, let's face it, I'm not very attractive."

Williams' comparison is a fair one. Similar to Mrs. Doubtfire, Albert is caring and protective. He will do anything for those he loves, including pretending to be something he isn't. The dramatic, over-the-top character seemed too similar to his previous comedy roles, so he wanted to try something new:

"I thought, 'I want to try something different, something more elegant.' People expect me to be the more flamboyant one. I wanted something new ... It's a dry, restrained comedy, versus being so outrageous, and that's what was interesting for me. It's like learning a whole set of different muscles."

So Williams agreed to play no-nonsense businessman Armand, and Nathan Lane became Albert. Lane's portrayal of Albert is every bit as exaggerated and animated as Mrs. Doubtfire, and this gave Williams a lot to play with. The only humor we get out of Armand is sarcastic barbs lobbed toward other characters when they irritate him, which is often. Next to Albert's constant shrieking and melodrama, Armand could appear boring. However, watching Williams roll his eyes and suck his teeth at the rambunctious character type he usually plays is another thing that makes the movie fun. This is exactly how Nichols wanted the chemistry between Lane and Williams to play out:

"I wanted Robin to be the relatively still center ... I knew there would be great humor in Robin suppressing his desire to shriek."

After "The Birdcage," Williams would continue to impress with his dramatic performances.

Flexing a different muscle

After "The Birdcage," RobinWilliams went back to his ostentatious roots in "Jack" and "Flubber," before stepping into the role of Matt Damon's therapist in "Good Will Hunting." Williams would earn his first and only Oscar for the role, and he continued to rack up dramatic credits throughout the rest of his career in films like, "What Dreams May Come," "One Hour Photo," and "The Butler." When asked about his ability to transition from comedy to drama, Williams explained to ABC:

"It started a little bit, I think, with 'Good Morning, Vietnam' and 'Dead Poets [Society]' it was just having the luck to be in a movie that powerful, it's kind of like this [interview] in that sense that it had a power to it, that people went 'Oh!' that changed their perception. Even though I've done dramatic roles before like 'Moscow on the Hudson' and '[The World According to] Garp' and different pieces, somehow people went, 'Oh! You're an actor!' Yeah, I was trained as that ... I can create a part. I can focus. I can go off wild, but I can also, you know, focus and create a character. That's a joy for me, too."

Early in his career, Williams became known for his flamboyant and unpredictable characters, which proved he was a comedic genius. Throughout the remainder of his career, he floated effortlessly and successfully between comedy and drama, proving he was one of the most versatile actors in Hollywood.