Iconic Female Roles That Were Originally Meant To Be Played By Men

Let’s look at women’s movie roles intended for men. Somewhere along the way in the development process, filmmakers have switched male roles to female, giving the world some of the most iconic screen characters of all time. Could you imagine Ripley in the Alien franchise as a man? How about Paula in the The 40-Year-Old Virgin?

Sigourney Weaver has played three roles that were intended for men. Glenn Close insisted that her character in The Paper stay the same, including a fistfight with Michael Keaton’s character. Ron Moore’s Starbuck, from Battlestar Galactica is still a cigar-smoking, sexual predator fighter pilot, she’s just got ovaries. Game of Thrones chieftain, Karsi, showed us that Wildling leaders can be a woman or a man because it doesn’t matter when you’re facing off with white walkers.

Even back in 1940, director Howard Hawks made the bold choice of making a prominent character in the screen adaptation of The Paper a female. Now, we can’t imagine His Girl Fridaywithout Rosalind Russell as Hildy Johnson.

Helen Mirren and Dame Judi Dench have taken on roles previously played by men. Mirren’s Hobson in the remake of Arthur was just as deadpan and engaging as Sir John Gielgud’s. Dench’s has M spanned seven Bond .

Women in film may face many challenges when it comes to pay, but hats off to the directors, writers, actors, and producers who create opportunities for women who are more qualified to play authority figures, villains, and tough characters rather than, say, a damsel in distress or run of the mill wife, girlfriend, or best friend.

What are your favorite male to female film roles? Upvote those you are most glad went to a female actress.

Weaver made Ripley one of the most iconic scifi characters to date. When Ridley Scott changed Ripley to a woman, he changed very little. Running from an acid-spitting alien pretty much takes wits, toughness, and knowing the ship corridors and hiding places by heart. Weaver added a whole new dimension to the character, which exponentially increased with each film.

Despite his sort of sexist comment on the way to creating Ripley, Scott said, “I just had a thought. What would you think if Ripley was a woman? She would be the last one you would think would survive—she’s beautiful.”

Dench played M in seven Bond films. Before Dench, M was played by Bernard Lee and then Robert Brown. Ralph Fiennes picked up where Dench left off.

When she learned that her time in the role would wrap up with Skyfall, Dench wasn’t thrilled with the news. “They told me gently and I laughed through my tears. Seven films is a long time. But MI6 would have given her the push by now, don’t you think?” Dench worked with a 24-year-old Sam Mendes in the theatre years before, and it was fitting that he be the director on her last Bond film. Still, Dench said she wasn’t ready to go. “Certainly not. No, certainly not. I could go on for years. Maybe I’ll come back as a ghost. Now that would be Shakespearian.”

Dench’s Bond films as M:

GoldenEye (1995)
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
The World Is Not Enough (1999)
Die Another Day (2002)
Casino Royale (2006)
Quantum of Solace (2008)
Skyfall (2012)

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Jane Lynch owes her role to Steve Carell’s wife. Comedian and Nancy Walls told Carell that there should be more women in the movie. So, the store manager was changed from male to female. The role wasn’t just handed to Lynch, though; she had to earn it. After improvising with the other actors, she nailed the part. She also added a new dimension to sexual harassment in the workplace.
His Girl Friday is based on the play The Front Page. The Hildy character was still Hildy in the play – a male reporter who quits the paper and plans to live a nice, quiet married life. The film twist is that Russell’s character used to be married to Cary Grant’s character, Walter Burns, and he’s not about to let his star reporter retire.

Director Howard Hawks quickly cast Cary Grant, but finding Hildy became problematic. When he heard his secretary read Hildy’s lines during auditions, he switched the character to female. Even then, he had a hard time casting the role. Carole Lombard, Katharine Hepburn, Claudette Colbert, Margaret Sullavan, Ginger Rogers, Irene Dunne, Jean Arthur, and Joan Crawford all passed on the role. Even after landing the role, Rosalind Russell had to fight for screen time and even hired her own writer to beef up her lines.

The switch was a bold choice for 1940. The film is considered one of the best comedies of all time and is an excellent example of onscreen chemistry.

Karsi in Game of Thrones, Played by Birgitte Hjort Sørensen

She only appeared in one episode in season five, but Karsi left an impression with viewers. In “Hardhome,” Sorensen’s clan chief and Wilding elder was tough and ready to kick white walker butt. Miguel Sapochnik, who directed the episode, said that Karsi was originally written as a man.   

They wanted to show another dimension to the Wildling plight as the dark forces closed in on the north. When the warrior and mother faces off with white walker children, the end result is powerful.

Edwin Salt became Evelyn Salt, though the role was created for Tom Cruise. Cruise passed and Jolie became the CIA agent, accused of being a Russian spy. Once Jolie got the part, she had to fight to keep the character from turning into a stereotype.

Director Phillip Noyce caused a stink when he said that didn’t want the male characters to “castrated” by a female hero. Jolie got that point, saying, “When they write something on purpose for a woman, it’s always about being a woman — using your femininity, all these kind of female obvious things. So we said let’s just keep all the things about it that are tough, and it’s about being what she is, it’s about the journey. And if anything, we have to make it darker and we have to make it meaner than the boys.”

Originally Cooper’s child Murph was a boy, but Nolan decided to switch, ”Maybe because my eldest child is a girl, I decided to change Murph into a girl. I found that came very naturally to me, writing that relationship between a father and a daughter                                                                                                                                              .Starbuck in Battlestar Galactica, Played by Katee Sackhoff
When Ron D. Moore resurrected Battlestar Galactica, he wanted to avoid any comparison of Starbuck to Han Solo. ”Making Starbuck a woman was a way of avoiding what I felt would be ’rogue pilot with a heart of gold’ cliche,” Moore said. He also wanted to update Kara Thrace and bring her into the modern world. “The whole notion of women in the military is a relatively new idea.”

Starbuck was still a cigar smoker, highly sexual, hard drinking fighter pilot with blonde hair.

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A lot can happen from the book pages to a film script. The character transformed from a man in Rico’s crew and Dina Meyer’s Dizzy Flores got to live longer than in Robert A. Heinlein’s book. The casting and story on screen created a diehard fandom.

Casper Van Dien and Meyer reunited 15 years after the movie at Phoenix Comicon.

Jane Bodine in Our Brand Is Crisis, Played by Sandra Bullock

Sandra Bullock took on the role (a “female Karl Rove”) intended for the film’s producer, George Clooney, after looking around for strong roles for women and finding the search to yield few results. “About two-and-a-half years ago, I just put out the feelers saying, ‘I’m not reading anything I’m excited about. Are there any male roles out there that they don’t mind switching to female, as long as it works?’”

“I put my blinders on and blazed forward. Sometimes you get a no. But I expect the no,” Bullock said. “With this I got very nervous. I didn’t know if George had made this for himself. But the response was, ‘We’re cool with it.'”

There wasn’t anything to change when the character became female. “You just change the sex; that was pretty much it,” Bullock said. “She’s human.”

Book readers will say that it’s not perfectly clear if the character was meant to be male. Regardless, director Gavin Hood landed the wonderful Viola Davis in the process.
The role was originally written as a father looking for his missing daughter on a plane. Although Sean Penn was first considered for the role, director Robert Schwentke began to feel that the character needed to a mother to capitalize on the material instincts.

“We sort of took one shot with an actor, and then we had the idea that this is maybe [the wrong story] to do with a man — maybe we need to do this with a mother. It’s much more archaic; the bond between a mother and daughter is a different one than the father and the daughter. Thinking along the lines of how we can make this the most emotionally impactful movie possible, we started thinking about Jodie and, thank God, she was interested in doing it,” Schwentke said.

Foster agreed. ”I was just looking for things that were going,” she said. “When I approached them and thought it was perfect to flip the gender, coincidentally the producers felt the same thing.”

They did keep the original name of the male character, though.

Delacourt in Elysium, Played by Jodie Foster
Foster had wanted to work with Neill Blomkamp since she saw District 9. As he was casting Elysium, he decided to make Secretary Rhodes female. But once he made the decision to switch the character’s genders, he didn’t know if Foster would do it. “I thought, ‘That would be f—ing awesome, but there’s just no way,” he said. “But then, within, like, a day, I had a meeting with her and she said, ‘I want to play it.’ I was like, ‘Holy s—!’”

Foster’s Delacourt proves women can be just as elitist as men when it comes to sharing snooty orbiting space real estate.

Sir John Gielgud was fantastic in 1981’s Arthur – so fantastic, he won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Mirren’s Hobson in the 2011 remake was no less hilarious and deadpan. Her performance had Gielgud’s same restrained tolerance for Arthur’s antics as well as the love of a parent. Well-played on both accounts.
On the way to production, the character of network president Lenny changed to female (Ben Stiller was originally considered for the role). Weaver insisted that nothing change about her character, including the obsession about whether women’s breasts were real. Besides Ripley in the Alien series, Weaver was also cast instead of a man in Vantage Point.
Antonio Banderas is the reason Lucy Liu is in this film. He suggested Liu to director Wych Kaosayananda as an interesting way to increase the dynamic. Wesley Snipes and Jet Li, and Vin Diesel and Sylvester Stallone were considered before Banderas and Liu were chosen. Impressive competition and good on Banderas.
Close has always had the cojones to take on any role and she was no different when it came to 1994’s The Paper. Writer Stephen Koepp said that he did adjust the character a bit, but Close played the character as close to the original as possible. Close even insisted on keeping in a fistfight between her character and Michael Keaton’s. Technically, only Close intentionally punches Keaton.
Jennifer Goines in 12 Monkeys, Played by Emily Hampshire
The Brad Pitt character in the 1995 film became female for the TV series, because producers didn’t want to put that kind of pressure on an actor. Jeffrey became Jennifer, but the interpretation is Hampshire’s. “It’s the same character, but I’m not doing an impression of his performance – it’s totally new.” The did give her character a replica of Pitt’s pullover – Comic-Con fans dug it.

The Ghostbusters Reboot Gals

Erin Gilbert, Jillian Holtzmann, Patty Tolan, and Abby Yates, played by Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, and Melissa McCarthy, respectfully.

The making of the new Ghostbusters with women in the lead roles caused quite a stir. Kristin Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones will not kill anyone’s childhood. They are comedy pros, and Paul Feig knows what he’s doing. There’s room for everyone in this world. It’s going to be fine. And probably awesome.

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