19 Gender-Swapped Film and TV Roles
The Characters Written One Way and Cast Another
A lot can happen to a script — or a character — between being written and being filmed. And in the case of these films and TV series, whether it was an artistic choice or a network mandate or a casting inspiration, it was the gender of a character that got switched before anyone yelled, “Action!” Check out these 19 pre-production gender-swaps from some of our favorite movies and shows, ahead.
Scott Patterson in Gilmore Girls
When the Gilmore Girls revival hit Netflix in 2016, series creator Amy Sherman-Palladino revealed to EW that Luke Danes, Stars Hollows' curmudgeonly diner owner and Lorelai Gilmore’s true love, was originally written as a woman. When the network pointed out that the pilot was too female-dominated, Sherman-Palladino switched the role from “Daisy” to “Luke,” and when Patterson and Lauren Graham had such undeniable chemistry, he became the will-they-won’t-they love interest.
Sigourney Weaver in Alien
Ridley Scott’s sci-fi classic gave us one of the most iconic female movie heroes of all time, but the role was famously originally written for a man. Sigourney Weaver got the gender-swapped role, starring as Ellen Ripley in 1979’s Alien and reprising the role in all three of the film’s sequels.
Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday
Howard Hawks’ iconic 1940 screwball comedy was almost very different: The play it was based on, Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s The Front Page, was written for two men. But when he had his secretary read for the role of reporter Hildy Johnson, Hawks realized it was even better between a man and a woman. Rosalind Russell played the role opposite Cary Grant in the classic film.
Angelina Jolie in Salt
The lead role in Phillip Noyce’s 2010 action thriller was originally named Edwin Salt and famously intended for Tom Cruise. The part was rewritten for a woman, however, renamed Evelyn Salt, and recast with another legendary action star: Angelina Jolie.
Katee Sackhoff in Battlestar Galactica
When Ronald D. Moore revamped Battlestar Galactica for his 2004 reboot of the 1978 sci-fi series, he swapped Lieutenant Starbuck to Kara “Starbuck” Thrace, and cast Katee Sackhoff in the new series. While fans of the original were shocked, Moore defended the switch by saying he didn’t want to depict a “rogue pilot with a heart of gold cliché.”
Jodie Foster in Elysium
Jodie Foster played the ruthless Secretary Delacourt in Neill Blomkamp’s 2013 sci-fi thriller Elysium. As Blomkamp and Foster told EW, when the director realized he could easily switch the role to being played by a woman, he offered it to Foster, who had long wanted to work with him. The rest is history.
Jane Lynch in The 40-Year-Old Virgin
Jane Lynch’s scene-stealing turn in Judd Apatow’s 2005 comedy The 40-Year-Old Virgin was also originally written for a man — and, as the Glee star told The Huffington Post, she has taken roles that were originally intended to be male characters more than once.
Mark Hamill in Star Wars
Forget the galaxy far, far away — how different would our world be if Luke Skywalker had been a girl? It almost happened. As George Lucas was developing his 1977 space opera, one of the many incarnations that his hero went through was that of a young woman. Eventually, of course, we find out that Luke Skywalker does have a twin sister Leia, but the protagonist himself had been switched to a man.
Gwendoline Christie in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
When a photo from the first table read of Star Wars: The Force Awakens blew up the internet, not all of the feedback was good — namely, viewers were disappointed to see so few women in the photo. At that point, writer-director J.J. Abrams and co-writer Lawrence Kasdan thought they could shake up their cast by gender-flipping the chrome Stormtrooper Captain Phasma, a role that eventually went to Game of Thrones’ Gwendoline Christie.
Judi Dench in the Bond Movies
Following Robert Brown and Bernard Lee, Dame Judi Dench assumed the role of M in the James Bond franchise beginning with 1995’s GoldenEye. She appeared in seven Bond films, completing her tenure in the role with 2012’s Skyfall, and has been succeeded by Ralph Fiennes.
Ellen DeGeneres in Finding Nemo
The lovable regal blue tang fish from Finding Nemo and the spinoff that put her in the spotlight, Finding Dory, was almost — if you can imagine — not voiced by Ellen DeGeneres. Finding Nemo director Andrew Stanton told EW that Dory was originally a male fish named Gill, but then he heard an episode of DeGeneres’ sitcom, Ellen, playing in the background while he worked, and “once I had Ellen’s voice in my head, it was a breeze to write for.”
Jodie Foster in Flightplan
Eight years before she played Secretary Delacourt in Elysium, Jodie Foster had already taken on a role written for a man with Robert Schwentke’s Flightplan in 2005. Foster stars as a desperate mother searching for her child on an airplane mid-flight, in a part that was originally conceived as a father.
Helen Mirren in The Tempest
Dame Helen Mirren played Prospero (here called Prospera), Shakespeare’s most magical overprotective parent, in Julie Taymor’s 2010 adaptation of The Tempest. The character, who was written as the father rather than the mother of the lovely Miranda, is often read as a stand-in for Shakespeare himself, which makes it all too fitting that a female director would recast her onscreen counterpart as a woman as well.
Tilda Swinton in Snowpiercer
Ever the chameleon, Tilda Swinton made one of her most dramatic transformations to date in Bong Joon-Ho’s 2014 dystopian thriller Snowpiercer, in which she plays a character written as a “mild-mannered man in a suit,” as the actress told Deadline.
Glenn Close in The Paper
Ron Howard’s 1994 newsroom comedy-drama cast Glenn Close as Alicia Clark, the paper’s managing editor. The role was originally written for a man, but Close took it on and changed as little as possible about the hardworking journalist, including a physical fight between her character and Michael Keaton’s metro editor.
Grace Jones in Conan the Destroyer
The character of Zula first appeared in Marvel’s Conan the Barbarian comic books as a male character. But in Conan the Destroyer, the 1984 sequel to 1982’s live-action Conan the Barbarian starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, director Richard Fleischer cast Grace Jones as the warrior bandit.
Helen Mirren in Monsters University
Pixar wasn’t done gender-swapping with Finding Nemo. In Dan Scanlon’s 2013 Monsters Inc. follow-up Monsters University, Dean Hardscrabble was originally conceived as a male character. Scanlon decided to change the commanding Hardscrabble into a female character, necessitating a redesign of the figure, and cast Helen Mirren to voice the part.
Sandra Bullock in Our Brand Is Crisis
In 2015, Sandra Bullock starred as political strategist “Calamity” Jane Bodine in David Gordon Green’s Our Brand Is Crisis. The Oscar winner tracked down the role when, as she told EW, she “put out feelers saying, ‘I’m not reading anything I’m excited about. Are there any male roles out there that [the filmmakers] don’t mind switching to female?’”
Jessica Chastain in Interstellar
Christopher Nolan’s 2014 sci-fi epic made the switch for Jessica Chastain, whose character, Matthew McConaughey’s grown daughter Murph, was originally written as a male. “Maybe because my eldest child is a girl, I decided to change Murph into a girl,” the director told Dazed. “I found that came very naturally to me, writing that relationship between a father and a daughter.”