Cross-gender acting

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Mary Pickford as Cedric Errol in a lobby card for the 1921 film Little Lord Fauntleroy
In this sketch by Marguerite Martyn, the College Club of St. Louis was in rehearsal for “The Amazons,” a play by Arthur Wing Pinero, in which all the parts were played by women, April 1910.

Cross-gender acting refers to actors or actresses portraying a character of the opposite gender. It is distinct from roles where transgender characters or characters who cross-dress are played.

In the ancient Greek theatre men played females, as they did in English Renaissance theatre and continue to do in Japanese kabuki theatre (see onnagata). In Chinese opera specialized male actors who play female roles (dàn) are referred to as nándàn (男旦); the practice arose during the Qing dynasty due to imperial prohibitions against women performing on stage, considered detrimental to public morality.[1][2]

A breeches role refers to a male character (usually a youth or young man) traditionally played by a woman in theatre or in opera. The term travesti refers to both actresses playing men and actors playing women in the theatre.

In animations it is not unusual for female actors to voice young male characters. One example is Nancy Cartwright voicing Bart Simpson in The Simpsons. An example of a man voicing a female character is Bob Peterson as Roz in Monsters, Inc..

When the casting director of a production decides to employ cross-gender acting, selecting the actors in this way is sometimes also called "cross-gender casting" or simply "cross-casting".

In film and television[edit]

Title Actor Role Direction Role Language Note(s)
1914 A Busy Day Charlie Chaplin "Wife" male to female comedic English Short comedy.
1914 Sweedie the Swatter Wallace Beery Sweedie male to female comedic English The first of a series of Sweedie films, made between 1914 and 1916
1921 Little Lord Fauntleroy Mary Pickford Cedric Errol female to male dramatic English Mary Pickford starred as both Cedric Errol and Widow Errol
1924 Peter Pan Betty Bronson Peter Pan female to male dramatic English
1936 Stars on Parade Arthur Lucan Old Mother Riley male to female English The first of 17 films with Old Mother Riley
1939 Wilton's Zoo Annie van Ees Jan Grovers (Boefje) female to male dramatic Dutch 45-year-old Annie van Ees plays the 16-year-old Boefje. She had played this role since 1922 in theatre.
1949 Kind Hearts and Coronets Alec Guinness Lady Agatha D'Ascoyne male to female comedic English Alec Guinness plays eight members of the aristocratic D'Ascoyne family.
1954 The Belles of St Trinian's Alastair Sim Headmistress Millicent Fritton male to female comedic English Alastair Sim plays both Millicent Fritton and her brother, Clarence Fritton.
1957 Blue Murder at St Trinian's Alastair Sim Headmistress Miss Fritton male to female comedic English
1959 The Mouse that Roared Peter Sellers Grand Duchess Gloriana XII male to female comedic English
1977 Sjors en Sjimmie en het zwaard van Krijn Mariska Fikkie Sjimmie female to male dramatic Dutch In the titles Mariska's name is abbreviated to more male sounding Mar Fikkie.
1977 Die Vorstadtkrokodile Birgit Komanns Kurt female to male dramatic German A disabled boy, Kurt, was played by Birgit Komanns, who was wheelchairbound in real life; Kurt's voice was dubbed by Oliver Rohrbeck
1978 Monkey (Saiyūki) Masako Natsume Tripitaka (Tang Sanzang) female to male dramatic Japanese Maria Warburg provided Tripitaka's voice in the dubbed, English version.[3]
1979 Monty Python's Life of Brian Terry Jones Mandy Cohen (Brian's mother) male to female comedic English
1981 Göta kanal Christer Lindarw Queen Silvia male to female Swedish Cameo
1982 The Year of Living Dangerously Linda Hunt Billy Kwan female to male dramatic English Hunt won Academy Award for best actress in a supporting role
1985 Didi und die Rache der Enterbten Dieter Hallervorden Florentine male to female comedic German
1986 The Golden Child J.L. Reate The Golden Child female to male dramatic English Reate was nominated to a Young Artist Awards
for Best Young Actress[4]
1988 Hairspray Divine Edna Turnblad male to female comedic English
1988 Coming to America Arsenio Hall "Extremely Ugly Girl" male to female comedic English Hall has a minor role, as girl trying to pick up Akeem and Semmi at a bar.
1989 Back to the Future Part II Michael J. Fox Marlene McFly male to female English Michael J. Fox plays three characters - Marty McFly,
Marty McFly Jr. and Marlene McFly.
1991 Hook Glenn Close Gutless female to male English Cameo
1991 Nothing but Trouble John Candy Eldona male to female comedic English
1992-1997 Martin Martin Lawrence Sheneneh & Mama Payne male to female comedic English
1992 Swordsman II Brigitte Lin Invincible Asia female to male English Asia is a man who has castrated himself.[5]
1992 Orlando Tilda Swinton Orlando female to male dramatic English Orlando is a man the first 2/3 of the film
1992 Orlando Quentin Crisp Elizabeth I male to female dramatic[6] English
1993 The Beverly Hillbillies Diedrich Bader Jethrine Bodine male to female comedic English Bader also plays Jethrine's twin brother Jethro.
1995 Filmpje! Paul de Leeuw Annie de Rooij male to female comedic Dutch Paul de Leeuw introduced the character of Annie de Rooij in 1992 in the third seasons of his television show De schreeuw van De Leeuw. Annie was married to Bob de Rooij, also played by Paul de Leeuw.
1996 A Very Brady Sequel RuPaul Mrs. Cummings male to female English Minor role as the High school teacher
1996 The Nutty Professor Eddie Murphy Mama Klump, Grandma Klump male to female comedic English
1999 Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo Big Boy Fluisa male to female comedic English
2000 Nutty Professor II: The Klumps Eddie Murphy Mama Klump, Granny Klump male to female comedic English
2000 Big Momma's House Martin Lawrence Big Momma Male to Female comedic English
2002 EvenHand iO Tillett Wright Toby female to male dramatic English
2003 Girls Will Be Girls Jack Plotnick, Clinton Leupp, Jeffery Roberson Evie Harris, Coco Peru, Varla Jean Merman male to female comedic English All the female characters in this film were played by males.
2004 De duistere diamant (nl) Peter Van Den Begin Tante Sidonia male to female comedic Dutch
2004 My Nikifor Krystyna Feldman Nikifor female to male dramatic Polish Feldman won 2005 Polish Film Awards for best actress
2005 Diary of a Mad Black Woman Tyler Perry Mable "Madea" Simmons male to female comedic English
2005 Transamerica Felicity Huffman Bree Osborne female to male dramatic comedy English Huffman won many nominations and awards including the Golden Globe for Best Actress
2005 Alatriste Blanca Portillo Emilio Bocanegra female to male Spanish
2006 Madea's Family Reunion Tyler Perry Mable "Madea" Simmons male to female comedic English
2007 I'm Not There Cate Blanchett Jude Quinn female to male dramatic English Jude Quinn is stylized after Bob Dylan
2007 Hairspray John Travolta Edna Turnblad male to female comedic English
2007 Norbit Eddie Murphy Rasputia male to female English
2007 St. Trinian's Rupert Everett Miss Camilla Dagey Fritton male to female comedic English As in the earlier St. Trinian's films, a man plays the character of the Headmistress, Miss Fritton.
2007 Negima!! Yukina Kashiwa Negi Springfield female to male Japanese Live action adaptation of the manga Negima! Magister Negi Magi. The main character, Negi Springfield, is a 10-year-old mage.
2008 Meet the Browns Tyler Perry Mable "Madea" Simmons male to female comedic English
2009 Madea Goes to Jail Tyler Perry Mable "Madea" Simmons male to female comedic English
2009 St. Trinian's 2: The Legend of Fritton's Gold Rupert Everett Miss Camilla Dagey Fritton male to female comedic English
2011 Jack and Jill Adam Sandler, David Spade Jill Sadelstein, Monica male to female comedic English Sandler plays both Jack and Jill Sadelstein
2012 Cloud Atlas Hugo Weaving Nurse Noakes male to female English
2012 Cloud Atlas Ben Whishaw Georgette male to female English
2012 Cloud Atlas Zhou Xun Talbot / Hotel Manager female to male English
2012 Cloud Atlas Susan Sarandon Yosouf Suleiman female to male English
2014 Black Butler Live Action Ayame Goriki Earl Kiyohara Genpu (Ciel Phantomhive) female to male dramatic Japanese
2014 Mrs. Brown's Boys D'Movie Brendan O'Carroll Agnes Brown male to female comedic English
2015 Bon Bini Holland Jandino Asporaat Judeska, Gerrie male to female comedic Dutch

Meta examples[edit]

  • Tootsie (1982) - The character Michael Dorsey (portrayed by Dustin Hoffman) star as Dorothy Michaels in the show-within-show soap opera Southwest General
  • Victor Victoria (1982) - Victoria Grant (portrayed by Julie Andrews) pretends to be Count Victor Grezinski and finds work as a female impersonator.
  • Flickan vid stenbänken (1989) - Carolin (Anna Edlund) briefly portrays a man in a (show-within-show) play.
  • Shakespeare in Love (1998) - The character Viola de Lesseps (portrayed by Gwyneth Paltrow) disguises herself as Thomas Kent and then plays the part of Romeo in the show-within-show Romeo and Juliet.
  • Mrs. Doubtfire (1993) - Daniel Hillard (Robin Williams) dressed up as a nanny, to try to spend more time with his kids. (His wife and him just split up) Although this movie is not completely about cross-gender acting, it takes it down to a minimum.
  • Nancy Cartwright helped pave the way for cross dress voice acting for female voice actors such as Tara Strong

Theatre, operas, plays, ballets and pantomime[edit]

Katarina Karnéus as Serse in a 2009 production of Serse at the Royal Swedish Opera.

A travesti is a theatrical term referring to the portrayal of a character in an opera, play, or ballet by a performer of the opposite sex. In 1904, Nina Boucicault originated the theatrical tradition of cross-gender casting for Peter Pan, continued thereafter by Maude Adams, Marilyn Miller, Eva Le Gallienne, Sandy Duncan, and Cathy Rigby, among others.[7] In 1954 Mary Martin portrayed the title character in the musical Peter Pan.

More specifically, an operatic role in which an actress appears in male clothing is called a "breeches role", "pants role" or "trouser role" and roles once performed by a male soprano castrato are more recently sometimes performed by a female mezzo-soprano or contralto.

In pantomime, a principal boy role is the young male protagonist of the play, traditionally played by a young actress in boy's clothes. A pantomime dame is a portrayal of female characters by male actors in drag.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Huang Tingting (2016-08-17). "Peking Opera struggles to preserve tradition of male actors playing female parts". Global Times. Retrieved 2018-04-24. 
  2. ^ Guanda Wu (2013). "Should Nandan Be Abolished? The Debate over Female Impersonation in Early Republican China and Its Underlying Cultural Logic". Asian Theatre Journal. 30 (1). doi:10.1353/atj.2013.0008. ISSN 1527-2109. Retrieved 2018-04-24. 
  3. ^ "Maria Warburg". Retrieved 13 January 2012. 
  4. ^ "Awards for J.L. Reate", IMDb. Retrieved 10 September 2011.
  5. ^ Hammond, Stefan; Wilkins, Mike (1996), Sex and Zen & a bullet in the head, Simon and Schuster, p. 80, ISBN 978-0-684-80341-8 
  6. ^ Orlando is a drama film and the film's press kit reads "[The director's] research has shown that Crisp's portrayal of Queen Elizabeth may be more than simply an interesting political or comic move", Press kit, Retrieved 12 September 2011.
  7. ^ Pilkington, Angel M. "Peter Pan: Myth and Fantasy", Archived 2009-01-08 at the Wayback Machine. Midsummer Magazine, 2000, reprinted at the Utah Shakespearean Festival website, 2007