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FEMALE CHARACTERS who were originally meant to be male

Here are a few actresses who portrayed characters originally written for men.

Mary Kosiarz

16 April 2024

During last year’s film awards season, Oscar-nominated actresses Cate Blanchett and Michelle Yeoh (the eventual winner) revealed in interviews that their characters were originally meant to be… male. Situations where writers change the gender of the main characters for a film are rare but necessary if it can bring new colors and a more interesting, in this case, female perspective to the production. Here are a few actresses who portrayed characters originally written as male:

Evelyn – “Everything Everywhere All at Once” (2022)

michelle yeoh

Michelle Yeoh delivered an unforgettable portrayal of a middle-aged woman weary of life in the best film of 2022 according to the Academy Awards. She discovers one day that she can travel through the multiverse and meet versions of herself in different worlds, ultimately finding happiness. The role, which earned her the long-desired Oscar last year, could have gone to someone else. Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, also Oscar winners for “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” initially planned to cast Jackie Chan as the main protagonist as a nod to action cinema classics. Yeoh was considered for the role of the protagonist’s wife. The directors stumbled upon a switch that put Evelyn under the spotlight and made them think about the project from a completely different perspective. “Why didn’t we think of this earlier?” they confided to “The Hollywood Reporter.” No one else could have played this role. If (Michelle) had declined, the film probably would have died. Interestingly, not only Evelyn’s character was a puzzle for the creators regarding suitable casting. Instead of Stephanie Hsu (who excelled in the role of Joy), Awkwafina was considered, but due to her busy schedule, the idea was abandoned.

Lydia Tár – “Tár” (2022)


Considering the overwhelming male majority among music conductors, it’s not hard to deduce that Todd Field, preparing for “Tár,” initially envisioned a male character. Cate Blanchett revealed this in an interview with “Variety,” promoting Field’s work during last year’s award season. For those who have seen the film, it’s clear that Lydia ultimately embodies many reasons that make her an unsympathetic, narcissistic character devoid of typical feminine traits (she knowingly mocks femininity, condescendingly treats other women in the industry, prefers to be called ‘father’ rather than ‘mother’). Blanchett delivered one of the most complex and nuanced performances of her career, drawing attention to the issue of cancel culture, so easy to initiate and popular nowadays.

Dory – “Finding Nemo” (2003)


The duo of Dory and Marlin searching for the rebellious clownfish Nemo is undeniably iconic, and perhaps no Pixar animation fan can imagine Dory as a man. Her absent-mindedness, evident trouble sitting still, and short-term memory loss endear us to her from her first lines. Director Andrew Stanton wasn’t sure initially whether Marlin should travel with a friend or a female friend. Everything became clear one evening when he sat in front of the television with his wife and tuned into one of the most popular American talk shows, The Ellen DeGeneres Show. A crazy idea instinctively appeared in his mind—what if Dory spoke with Ellen’s voice? To his surprise, the star accepted the dubbing offer, and I think we can all agree that Dory’s character was best portrayed this way.

Murph – “Interstellar” (2014)


Murph is a character of extraordinary strength. As a little girl, she has to come to terms with the fact that her father leaves her alone, not providing an exact return date from his space mission to save humanity. Over the next decades, she dedicates herself entirely to scientific work that may help find a way to save Earth. Christopher Nolan initially assumed that Cooper, played by Matthew McConaughey, would have only sons, and the entire film, instead of a father-daughter relationship, would revolve around a father-son love theme. However, this motif, heavily exploited in popular culture, seemed too commonplace to him. The biggest inspiration for creating the character of Murph was Nolan’s oldest daughter, Flora. Their shared experiences helped outline the parental theme, which ultimately became one of the most heart-wrenching in the director’s entire filmography.

Ellen – “Alien” (1979)


Ellen Ripley paved the way for many future female heroines. Ridley Scott described her in an interview as “one of the first female characters not defined by the men around her,” attributing her strength and endurance solely to herself. He admitted that at that time, few expected that the most heroic and enduring character in science fiction cinema could be played by a beautiful woman. Sigourney Weaver made history with her performance, proving that in a genre dominated by men (originally, the cast of “Alien” was supposed to be all male), filmmakers should trust female characters more.

Kyle Pratt – “Flightplan” (2005)

jodie foster

Jodie Foster faced a considerable challenge in “Flightplan.” During a several-hour flight on a plane she helped design, her daughter disappears, but fellow passengers and flight staff insist the girl never boarded, attributing the woman’s delusions to grief over her husband’s loss. These are exceptionally extreme emotions for a mother who has already been through so much. Due to the extraordinary bond portrayed on screen between mother and daughter, film director Robert Schwentke decided that Kyle Pratt, initially intended to be male, would ultimately be played by Jodie Foster. Thinking about how to create the most emotional film possible, they started thinking about Jodie, and thankfully, she was interested—Schwentke recalled. He also added that casting a male actor in the lead role (the creators initially hoped for Sean Penn) would have been too obvious, and the title would have lost some of the mystery associated with Kyle Pratt’s motivations.

Evelyn Salt – “Salt” (2010)

angelina jolie

CIA agent Evelyn Salt, accused of spying for Russia, was originally conceived as Edwin Salt, who, unsurprisingly, was intended for Tom Cruise, a seasoned actor for special tasks. When he declined, the creators turned to Angelina Jolie. The original idea was for Edwin Salt to protect his wife and children while evading justice, but the creators decided to remove this sentimental element from Jolie’s role and create a flawless perpetrator focused more on the mission than longing for loved ones. The modification of the character turned out brilliantly for both the creators and ultimately Jolie, although it remains one of the few elements that actually succeeded in the action film directed by Phillip Noyce.

Captain Phasma – “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (2015)

star wars

Star Wars never suffered from an excess of female roles. The problem of inadequate representation arose again during the making of “The Force Awakens.” As co-screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan admitted, completing the script took much longer than expected. Time was running out, and the most distinctive female character, following a long silence, was undoubtedly Rey, played by Daisy Ridley. Captain Phasma, initially presumed to be male (like most soldiers in the universe), was assigned to Gwendoline Christie due to the lack of a female element in the film. The actress herself only found out during an interview that her character was originally written with a man in mind and considered it a “great testament to the creators that they even discussed it and brought some evolution to the universe.”

Jessica Delacourt – “Elysium” (2013)

jodie foster

Once again, Jodie Foster, a few years after “Flightplan,” took on a role originally intended for a man. Specifically, the ruthless Secretary Delacourt, who progressively increases the division between the inhabitants of a ruined Earth and the wealthy living on a luxury orbital station in the film “Elysium.” Director and screenwriter Neill Blomkamp initially imagined a man in such a decisive role until the concept of involving an experienced, versatile actress crossed his mind. Foster was among the most suitable artists for Delacourt, but Blomkamp doubted that she would accept his offer. However, after arranging a meeting and presenting Foster with his plan to bring Secretary Delacourt to life, she gladly joined the cast.

Mary Kosiarz

Mary Kosiarz

Far from keeping her feet firmly on the ground, she has sold her artistic soul to books and cinematography. Fascinated by Meryl Streep and an avid fan of unconventional film endings. In her free time, she educates about mental health and recommends her favorite books and screens.

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