Fictional M to fictional F?
October 23, 2009 7:27 AM   Subscribe

Looking for fictional female characters originally written as men.

I'm interested in fictional women in literature, cinema, comic books, TV etc., whose characters were originally meant to be men, but at some point during the creative process / production became female characters in stead. (Be it due to casting decisions, publisher's feedback, other external influence, writer's sudden eureka moments... Any reason at all.)

The only two examples coming to my mind are:
- Judi Dench as M
- Sigourney Weaver as Ripley (although according to Wikipedia, all the characters in Alien were originally written "unisex", and the producers decided to cast a woman)

Although "MTF" is my main interest, I'm also curious to hear about male characters originally intended to be women - if that ever happens - or other gender-bending changes during any stage of the process, for that matter. (Just to be sure: I don't mean stories such as Orlando, where gender change itself is part of the story line.)

Also, any suggestions for further reading, background or general articles related to this topic would be much appreciated.
posted by sively to Media & Arts (42 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Perhaps not precisely what you asked, but Hot Fuzz originally had an additional female character that was cut in later drafts and the lines (often unmodified) given to Danny (mentioned on the trivia page on imdb).
posted by VeritableSaintOfBrevity at 7:35 AM on October 23, 2009

Starbuck from Battlestar: Galactica? A man in the original series, rewritten as a female for the re-imagination. Sorry, I let my geek show again.
posted by teabag at 7:36 AM on October 23, 2009

Female Starbuck on the new Battlestar Galactica vs. male Starbuck on the original Battlestar Galactica.

Not sure if this counts, but Dr. Kate Pulaski on Star Trek: The Next Generation is a thinly-disguised female version of Dr. McCoy from the original series.
posted by Jacqueline at 7:36 AM on October 23, 2009

Kara "Starbuck" Thrace (male in original Battlestar Galactica, female in the reimagined BSG).
posted by googly at 7:38 AM on October 23, 2009

Flightplan is a relatively recent one -- Jodie Foster's role was originally written for a man. Then there's Cate Blanchett cast as Jude in I'm Not There.
posted by mochapickle at 7:41 AM on October 23, 2009

I heard that Demi Moore's character on "A Few Good Men" was supposed to be a man. (There's not even a hint of flirting between her and Tom Cruise, quelle horreur.)
posted by Melismata at 7:42 AM on October 23, 2009

Angelina Jolie's character in Salt was originally written for a man (Tom Cruise was in the role first), then re-written once she was cast as the lead.
posted by darksong at 7:48 AM on October 23, 2009

The first film adaptation of The Andromeda Strain switched the gender of one of the scientists.
posted by mkb at 7:52 AM on October 23, 2009

One of Whoopi Goldberg's film roles was originally written for a man -- I want to say it was "Jumpin' Jack Flash", but that doesn't sound right, upon reflection.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:54 AM on October 23, 2009

A search for "originally written as a man" brings up a pile of possibilities from movies and TV - Flightplan and Salt as mentioned above, plus McCoy in Streets of Fire, JD in Weather Girl, Detective-Sgt. Rebecca White in The Criminal ("Simpson was concerned that there was 'a male bias' and wanted to avoid making 'too much of a boy's film', so simply changed the sex of the main police officer. The lines remained the same, however, to convincing effect. "I always thought that I couldn't write female parts", Simpson said. "Then you find that they speak the same way [as men]!""), Lieutenant Starck in Event Horizon. Several of these changes seem to have been the result of an already-famous woman actor reading the script and going "I like that part, can I do it?".

Are you also interested in new versions of stories where characters have changed from one to another (Starbuck in Battlestar Galactica as mentioned above, seventy-eight gazillion rewritten versions of Shakespeare plays, etc), or just work where the switch was made pre-publication/release/whatever?
posted by severalbees at 7:55 AM on October 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

A very literal example would be the character of Holly on Red Dwarf. Originally played by a male actor, switched to a female actress (and back), and a female was used as the prototype for the failed American pilots.
Another Red Dwarf example was the reimagined Cat for one of said failed American pilots.
posted by jozxyqk at 7:59 AM on October 23, 2009

The "female" vampire in Let The Right One In was a unisex casting and they expected to cast a boy, but it went to Lina Leandersson.
posted by fire&wings at 8:02 AM on October 23, 2009

Best answer: I expected sixteen Starbucks and a couple of Ripleys in the answers, and MeFi did not disappoint. (The "Hey, Ripley, have you ever been mistaken for a man?" line in Aliens makes me smirk sometimes.)

Kim Cattrell played "Claire" Harrison for awhile in "Whose Life Is It Anyway?", the Brian Clark play whose main character is usually named Ken. I did not see this version, but apparently it worked very well.

This definitely happens a lot in film, where changes in director or casting or just brilliant ideas can remake a project overnight. Rosalind Russell was the title character in Howard Hawks's His Girl Friday (1940), a movie that wouldn't have been nearly as memorable if they'd stuck to the man's role in the play that it's based on (The Front Page).

In The Paper (1994), Glenn Close played Alicia Clark, who was "Arnold Clark" in the screenplay.

Recently, Nathalie Baye played a female cop in Xavier Beauvois's Le Petit Lieutenant (2005), a role written for a man.

And in Jake Kasdan's The TV Set (2006), Sigourney Weaver plays a woman named Lenny... originally a man in the screenplay too. Something about media movies, I guess.

There are hundreds and hundreds of these. Movies kick around for decades before being made, and someone eventually pitches the "Hey, what if this was a woman instead?" idea.
posted by rokusan at 8:04 AM on October 23, 2009

Best answer: And aha, searching for "originally written for a man" brings up even more, of course, far too many to list but including Jesse Crossman in Drop Zone, Mazeppa in the late nineteenth century - and of course, and wonderfully, Hildy Johnson in The Front Page / (ah, mentioned above by rokusan, now; I was too slow).

There's also this startlingly dreadful article from 1983 about this crazy modern world where women are playing characters intended as men:
The mind heaves with possibilities: The Sisters Karamazov? Twelve Angry Ladies'? Young Girl with a Cornet? Mrs. Roberts? How long before the world is treated to a revival of Moby Dick, starring Victoria Principal as Captain Alice and ubiquitous Meryl Streep as the passionate yet complex crew? Or Steven Spielberg's E.T.T.E.? Or Richard Attenborough's epic film biography of the Indian pacifist Blandhi?
I have no idea what E.T.T.E. is meant to stand for, but golly, the idea of female aliens or jurors sure is hilarious!
posted by severalbees at 8:10 AM on October 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

Mazeppa in the late nineteenth century

I think Mazeppa is a slightly different case -- with that, you have an instance where the CHARACTER was male, but the ACTOR was female. That kind of stunt casting happened a few times in the 19th Century -- Sarah Bernhardt playing Hamlet is another example. But in those cases, the actual CHARACTER in Mazeppa and the CHARACTER of Hamlet was still male in the production. So basically, Sarah Bernhardt's Hamlet was also Sarah Bernhardt in drag; even though it was Sarah performing, Hamlet was still the PRINCE of Denmark.

I think the OP is looking more for cases where they went, "okay, well, originally we wrote that Hamlet was a guy, but you know, Hamlet COULD be a girl...."

...Coincidentally, I once stage managed a show that DID do that -- we had a woman playing Hamlet, but playing Hamlet AS a woman ("Hamlet, the PrincESS of Denmark"). We kept alot of the rest of the casting intact -- kept Ophelia as a woman, and Horatio as a man, for instance. It did all SORTS of interesting things to the play.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:20 AM on October 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

I read an interview about the development of Lara Croft once and I believe she was supposed to be an Indiana Jones knockoff at first, but it changed during the development.
posted by Sully at 8:23 AM on October 23, 2009

rokusan: The "Hey, Ripley, have you ever been mistaken for a man?" line in Aliens makes me smirk sometimes

It's actually 'Hey, Vasquez,' and isn't directed toward Ripley.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:38 AM on October 23, 2009 [4 favorites]

Servalan, Blake's 7. Originally intended to be male and appear only once, due to some generalised awesome ended up as a major recurring character.
posted by Coobeastie at 8:39 AM on October 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

If we're into the Battlestar Galactica examples. Boomer was also originally a man.

Although this isn't quite what you're asking, in Godel, Escher, Bach there are two characters, Achilles and the Tortoise, and in translation, Mr. Tortoise changed to Mme Tortue.

E.T.T.E. is probably E.T. with breasts.
posted by jeather at 8:45 AM on October 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Mm, good point about Mazeppa - I misread the article and thought they'd rewritten the part. The 1983 article I linked to is Humorously Satirical about precisely the sort of Hamlet rewrite you mention, incidentally:
Hamlet, which has often starred women, might appropriately have been conceived as Hamlette, the tragedy of a princess who could not make up her mind. Such decisions are history, however, and ought to lie beyond reversal. The sole purpose of changing Hamlet at this point would be to make the social statement that our hero would have been a nicer person as a female, that he never would have stooped to seek revenge by the sword but instead would have cleansed Denmark wholly by his demure and delightful example.
Back on the main question, apparently Existenz switched both main characters: "If Allegra were a man and Ted a woman, imagine the scene where he has to talk her into getting a Bioport fitted so he can plug into her. It's the guy fucking the girl, it would have been crude. But the punishment came when we tried to find a hot young actor to play a character like Ted, because they don't want to be subservient."
posted by severalbees at 8:46 AM on October 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Roger Avary and Christophe Gans took many liberties with the source material in making the movie Silent Hill, but one of the more controversial moves was replacing protagonist Harry Mason with the character Rose Da Silva.
posted by contrariwise at 8:46 AM on October 23, 2009

I thought I had read somewhere that Thomas Harris originally intended FBI agent Starling in Silence of the Lambs to be male, but I'm unable to find a cite (and may have just imagined the whole thing, I suppose).
posted by JaredSeth at 8:50 AM on October 23, 2009

The character of Rudy Huxtable on The Cosby Show was originally supposed to be a boy, but Keshia Knight-Pulliam gave such a strong audition that they made Rudy a girl instead.
posted by Oriole Adams at 9:00 AM on October 23, 2009

In the original British television drama, State of Play, the role of the newspaper's editor in chief, Cameron Foster, is played by Bill Nighy. In the American movie version, the character is named Cameron Lynne and is played by Helen Mirren.
posted by spec80 at 9:01 AM on October 23, 2009

This is probably an urban legend, but I have heard people speculate that Julia Roberts' character in My Best Friend's Wedding was originally written as a gay male.
posted by hermitosis at 9:04 AM on October 23, 2009

In The Front Page, both the play and the film, Hildy Johnson is a man. When it was remade as His Girl Friday, Hildy is a woman.
posted by JanetLand at 9:27 AM on October 23, 2009

This may be too broad, but in the book Children of Men, the men are infertile whereas in the film based on the novel, it was switched to the women being infertile.
posted by juliplease at 9:28 AM on October 23, 2009

The Whoopie Goldberg movie was Burglar. Her role was supposed to go to a man originally (Bruce Willis was going to be cast).
posted by agatha_magatha at 9:29 AM on October 23, 2009

In the manga Marmalade Boy the genders of the lead characters were all switched from the original plan.
posted by DarkForest at 9:29 AM on October 23, 2009

Ten years ago our university Computing department staff were moving out of the Babbage building into a new one. The head of department asked a group of us who the new building should be named after. We all said "Holly" and she had to ask who we meant. We explained his part in Red Dwarf but she said she was looking for a woman. We said "That's OK, he used to be a woman". L-o-o-o-o-n-g silence.
posted by Idcoytco at 9:42 AM on October 23, 2009

Best answer: The good people at TV Tropes have compiled a partial list. (Warning: will lead to clicking on links and wasting your whole day.)

One of Whoopi Goldberg's film roles was originally written for a man

Whoopi Goldberg is pretty well known for auditioning for roles written as male, to bring attention to the relative paucity of good roles for women.

I have no idea what E.T.T.E. is meant to stand for

It's a weak play on the way certain French adjectives have been adopted into English, e.g. brunet (male) vs. brunette (female).
posted by kittyprecious at 9:49 AM on October 23, 2009

Seriously, guys, no one's mentioned Delenn from Babylon 5 yet?! Gender change was originally built in to the storyline--she was to start out as male and transform to female--but the producers didn't think the masculine voice was convincing, so she's female in everything but the pilot.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:56 AM on October 23, 2009

The Avengers TV series. During the first season, the two main characters were male. One of the actors quit before the second season, and a woman was cast for the new character.

Gale [female] was unlike any female character ever seen before on British TV and became a household name. Reportedly, part of her charm came from the fact that her earliest appearances were episodes in which dialogue written for Keel [male] was simply transferred to her.

posted by paulg at 12:29 PM on October 23, 2009

The character of Penelope Garcia on Criminal Minds was originally supposed to be a Latino guy.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:19 PM on October 23, 2009

Dr. Julia Hoffman on Dark Shadows was originally intended to be "Dr. Julian Hoffman". I read that a typo on one script changed the name and the writers decided to take the story in that direction.
posted by cadge at 2:25 PM on October 23, 2009

Response by poster: Ooh, this is excellent, and will keep me busy for a good while. Thank you!

Are you also interested in new versions of stories where characters have changed from one to another (Starbuck in Battlestar Galactica as mentioned above, seventy-eight gazillion rewritten versions of Shakespeare plays, etc), or just work where the switch was made pre-publication/release/whatever?

I'm definitely interested in new versions of pre-existing stories, too. (But yes, as EmpressCallipygos said, only if the character's gender is different, not just the performer's.)

Hmm, examples from literature have been scarce so far! I assume because the process before publication is much less public and less well known than, obviously, theater or film. Still, I'd be very interested to hear if anyone knows of cases when, say, in some author's first draft, the main character was male but was subsequently rewritten as female (or vice versa).
posted by sively at 2:54 PM on October 23, 2009

Not sure if this is exactly what you're looking for, but Ursula Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness is about a race of alien hermaphrodites. The book uses male pronouns and words like son etc for them, but in a short story based on the book the pronouns were changed to female. There are some links on the Wikipedia page to discussions about this.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 3:25 PM on October 23, 2009

I know it's not what you asked, but I always get a chuckle out of Morgan Freeman as "Red" in The Shawshank Redemption -- they even kept the line "maybe it's 'cause I'm Irish."
posted by secretseasons at 7:44 PM on October 23, 2009

The TV adaptation of the stage play "E/R" (no, not that "er" -- but George Clooney was in both) changed a crotchety older male doctor into a younger woman doctor (Mary McDonnell) to add sex appeal. The younger male doctor character became Elliott Gould.
posted by dhartung at 10:43 PM on October 23, 2009

Corky in Bound was originally written for a man.
posted by brujita at 1:18 AM on October 24, 2009

It's actually 'Hey, Vasquez,' and isn't directed toward Ripley.

I stand in red-faced correctedness. Clearly my fantasy version of Aliens is better than the filmed one. And not just for the shower scene!
posted by rokusan at 3:58 AM on October 25, 2009

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