"Remember when you were a kid, and you saw the legendary TV musical version of Peter Pan, and Peter was striding around the stage declaring, 'I WON'T grow up!'? Remember what you thought, in your innocent, naÔve, trusting childlike way? You thought: 'THAT'S not a little boy. That's obviously middle-aged actress Mary Martin making a fool of herself.'"
This is a role that, for whatever reason, is played by an actor of the opposite gender. Some common reasons for this involve a gender imbalance in the supply of actors:
- Theater troupes may be all male, usually because the Moral Guardians have decreed that women should not go on The Wicked Stage; such troupes will use this trope by necessity.
- Community and school theater companies frequently have more women than men. Many plays (especially older ones) have more male than female roles. Cross-casting is one possible solution, though Gender Flip or Acting for Two may also be used. Similarly, sketch comedy groups are frequently all male, so female roles are often handed to men; it helps that many culturesnote find men dressed as women inherently funny.
- Certain university drama groups only use male actors, a tradition that began as a necessity in the days when women could not be students. This tradition is rapidly declining.
- If the role is to be a sufficiently young child, the actor's gender matters much less. In particular, infants are frequently used in film and television without regard to gender. (The parents are responsible for having to explain to their son why he was on national television wearing a pink dress and bows in his hair as a baby).
Other common reasons are varied:
- In any kind of production with a lot of difficult singing, the roles of young boys are frequently played by women. Good boy sopranos can be tough to find, especially if you also need them to be able to act; they also have a very specific vocal timbre which may not be compatible with the production's overall aesthetic (e.g., in Opera). Not to mention if they are close enough to adolescence a boy's voice may change completely by surprise, overnight. Compare the high proportion of young boy characters in animation played by adult women.
- Early opera also has a number of roles written for castrati— men who underwent castration (usually involuntarily) to prevent their voices from changing. Since this isn't done anymore, modern productions of such roles fall under this trope by necessity.
- The director is making a political statement, e.g. about gender.
- Transsexual and other gender variant characters are commonly played by actors who have the right body shape rather than the right gender, as there often isn't a more suitable actor available.
- The role calls for a young-looking/undersized person, but due to Dawson Casting the body size might not be right. The inverse is sometimes true.
In Western theatre and opera, a male character intended to be played by a female performer is commonly referred to as a "breeches role" or "trouser role."
Love scenes involving these characters are a notorious source of Ho Yay
Compare Cross-Dressing Voices
, which is the voice acting equivalent. In a common Casting Gag
, you can often expect crosscast roles to cause Recursive Crossdressing
. Contrast with Gender Flip
, in which a character is reimagined or rewritten to be the opposite sex, but the actor plays a character of their own sex.
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Anime & Manga
- Several of the productions from Kaleido Star feature females in male roles. Ana especially tends to play male characters.
- In Ranma ½, Akane has been stuck playing Romeo in school plays because she was the only one athletic enough for the role. Finally, she gets a chance to play Juliet, but there's still a problem casting her love interest....
- The Live-Action Adaptation of Mahou Sensei Negima! infamously cast a ten-year-old girl as Negi. Of course, this was the least of its problems.
- An in-universe example in K-On!, when the main characters' class puts on a production of Romeo and Juliet for their school festival. As it's an all-girls school, the male parts are played by girls.
- In Wandering Son, the school holds a play where all the girls play the male parts and the guys play the female parts.
- In the anime adaptation of D.N.Angel the school play is done with entirely male actors and an all-female production team. The excuse the ladies give for this decision is to respect Shakespeare and his all-male acting troupe; the real reason is that they want to see the male lead and his Ambiguously Gay rival, cast as the female and male leads respectively, share romantic scenes together.
- In the Cardcaptor Sakura anime, there's an In-Universe example when the main character's class held a production of "Sleeping Beauty". Because the roles were hidden by a cover and required each member of the class to write their name in the blank slots, when the teacher removed the cover they discovered that - basically - Sakura had cast herself as the Prince, Syaoran as the Princess, and Takashi as the Queen - making for a slightly awkward production, especially for Sakura's brother Touya (who of course noticed this well enough). In a halfway example, Tomoyo was cast as the narrator, which is traditionally given to a male actor (but not strictly).
- Also happens to Touya's class production of "Cinderella" in which he plays the title character and a girl in his class (who has a crush on him) plays the prince.
- In this Glee fanfic Kurt plays Elphaba in a community theater production of Wicked.
- In Outrageous Fortune, Shelley Long's ambition was to play Hamlet. (Sarah Bernhardt was the first, or at least most famous early, example of a woman playing Hamlet actually happening.)
- In The Year of Living Dangerously, actress Linda Hunt plays a male photographer named Billy Kwan. She won an Oscar for it.
- I'm Not There is about six different versions of Bob Dylan. One of them is played by Cate Blanchett.
- Stephen Chow's CJ 7 features a girl in the role of his son.
- All versions of Hairspray feature a man as Edna Turnblad (the most recent one is John Travolta).
- In Back to the Future Part II, Michael J. Fox plays most of the members of Marty's future family, including his daughter.
- In Eddie Murphy's The Nutty Professor, Murphy plays most of his family, including the main character's mother and grandmother.
- In The Gamers: Dorkness Rising, Gary's actor plays his character, the sorceress Luster as well, though there is also a female Luster who swaps in for the "oh yeah, my character is supposed to be a woman, isn't she" moments.
- The castrated boy Eli in Let the Right One In is played by Lina Leandersson. The audition for the role was open both to girls and boys.
- A strange In-Universe example in Farewell My Concubine, in which the actor who plays the concubine in the titular Show Within a Show is a very effeminate gay man.
- The Lord of the Rings required large numbers of competent equestrians as extras to play the Rohirrim and other mounted soldiers. The riding clubs of New Zealand and Australia were able to provide sufficient numbers of horses and riders... but a large number of these riders are women. Thus, many "men of the West" are actually women wearing fake beards.
- In Jack and Jill, Adam Sandler plays both the main character and the character's sister.
- Hong Kong actress Brigitte Lin played a male sorcerer who castrated himself for power and so is now turning into a woman in the movies Swordsman II and Swordsman III.
- Eddie Murphy did it again when he played Rasputia in Norbit.
- In The Golden Child, Jasmine (credited as J.L.) Reate plays the title character.
- In the Harry Potter films, Hedwig was always played by a male owl. This is due to the fact that J. K. Rowling didn't realize that only male snowy owls are pure white.
- In Pirates of the Caribbean, Jack the Monkey was played by a female monkey named Crystal.
- In the Cult Classic film Trouble in Mind, (male) baby Spike was played by (female) Caitlin Ferguson.
- In the Swedish comedy film The Adventures Of Picasso, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas are played by the British comedians Bernard Cribbins and Wilfrid Brambell, respectively.
- In Wild Child, Freddie tells Poppy that he was Alice in the school play. "All boys, before you look at me weirdly!"
- Gwendoline, the transsexual in Crocodile Dundee, was played by actress Anne Carlisle.
- Quite a few actors and actress do this in Cloud Atlas. For example, Hugo Weaving plays a fat, haughty nurse who looks like this◊.
- Alistair Sim as Miss Millicent Fritton in the original St. Trinian's series. Rupert Everett as Miss Camilla Fritton in the remake.
- In Dark City, Mr. Sleep is a child with the male honorific "Mr.", however he is played in closeups by a girl, and in the long shots by her fraternal twin brother. Of course, the character doesn't have to be male - the strangers may not have paid any attention to gender.
- Lieutenant Blouse in Monstrous Regiment mentions he "got a huge round of applause as the Widow Trembler in 'Tis Pity She's A Tree", at his all-boys school.
- Similarly, Lady Sibyl mentions in The Fifth Elephant that she won much acclaim playing the romantic lead in a dwarfish opera at her school. This is somewhat of a double example, as a) it was an all girls school, and b) dwarfish are remarkably ambiguous about their biological sex.
- Jack Aubrey of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series proudly mentions having played Ophelia—or, at least, one-third of Ophelia—as a midshipman. It was a shipboard production so they naturally didn't have any women; of the midshipmen, one was considered pretty enough to be Ophelia, another had an appropriately-pitched speaking voice, and Jack could carry a tune.
Live Action TV
- Sophie of Leverage plays Willie Loman in Death of a Salesman; she's so Giftedly Bad that Nate doesn't realize that she's playing him as a man, leading to a particularly cringeworthy Compliment Backfire.
- Lassie was usually played by a male dog, as the males of "her" breed have a longer, more luxurious "summer coat" than the females.
- The aliens in the first Star Trek pilot were played by women, but had male voices. This has been repeated in a few of the spin-offs as well.
- Several Sit Coms have the following exchange (more or less):
Alice: You played Romeo, of course.
Bob: No, Juliet. It was an all-boys school.
- Happens all the time in Monty Python's Flying Circus, because the troupe is all male, but also played for comedy. They do have access to real actresses, such as Carol Cleveland, when they need to have an actual woman.
- Kids in the Hall, another all-male troupe, does this also. However, it should be noted that they do not play the crossdressing for comedy. They state that they try to play the women as real as possible and let the humor come from the writing.
- And The League of Gentlemen also does this, for the same reasons as Kids in the Hall, although men-playing-women was never part of the joke. (Except with Barbara, of course.)
- As does A Bit of Fry and Laurie, on occasion.
- In one flashback on Highlander, it's shown that in 1663, Duncan played Kate a production of The Taming Of The Shrew.
- Whose Line Is It Anyway? has the disadvantage of not even being able to rely on costumes. Colin usually gets stuck playing the woman.
- Super Sentai and Power Rangers series often have male stunt actors portraying the female heroes while in costume, even without taking into account the times when She's a Man in Japan. Motokuni Nakagawa has even earned the nickname of "Mr. Pink" for being in the costume for Pink Racer, Ginga Pink, Go Pink, Time Pink, and Bouken Pink. Easily the longest-running of these is Yuuichi Hachisuka, who's played three male rangers as well as females from Change Phoenix to Yellow Buster!
- Also, many a woman in Little Britain is portrayed by the main characters. Since most of them are supposed to be rather... unique in appearance it's not much of a stretch.
- A recent Taiwanese game show modelled after Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader gets slightly derailed when one of the schoolboys goes into an extended rant about being cast as Cinderella for a school play. It made it into broadcast.
- Saturday Night Live, of course, is a comedy troupe with both men and women. There have been both male cast members playing female characters (such as Dana Carvey's "Church Lady" character) and female cast members playing male characters (such as Rachel Dratch playing Harry Potter and Amy Poehler playing Kim Jong Il).
- Arrested Development has a convoluted example when George Michael tries out for Much Ado About Nothing to get closer to Maeby; she ends up playing Beatrice, and he ends up understudy to STEVE HOLT's Benedick. Then Tobias ends up directing the play, and when Maeby quits, Tobias suggests that he will play Beatrice. By the end of the episode, Maeby and STEVE HOLT are still playing Benedick and Beatrice, only each one is playing the other gender.
- The Ambiguously Gay title character of the MST3K short Mr. B Natural was clearly played by a woman, leading Tom and Crow to debate the character's actual gender.
- Butch Lesbian "Walter" from German series Hinter Gittern - der Frauenknast (Behind bars - the women's prison) has a twin brother Andreas, played by the same actress, who's apparently indistinguishable from her without his beard. Which they used in one episode to change roles, allowing her to escape and him to get closer to several female prisoners.
- The classic Israeli children television show ''At Fistukís House featured a puppet named RegaĎ that turned into a boy... played by an adult woman. Itís as jarring as it sounds, even for preschoolers.
- Sesame Street examples:
- Bert once had to fill the role of a princess in the production of a story called "The Magic Apple". And the groom was Ernie. Bert is extremely reluctant to play this part in the sketch.
- Bert is again dragooned into playing a woman in A Muppet Family Christmas, when the Sesame gang performs an enactment of Twas The Night Before Christmas. Bert plays "Mamma in her kerchief" while Ernie is "I in my cap".
- French and Saunders has a genderflipped example of the all-male comedy troupes; they do have two male comics on hand if required, but obviously the title duo has to play the main characters, even if they're doing a parody of The Phantom Menace.
- Friends had Chandler's father (who is either a transvestite or transexual; the show was never clear) played by Kathleen Turner (voice of Jessica Rabbit).
- Married... with Children: Griff once played Dorothy at a school play version of The Wizard of Oz.
- In an entirely vocal sense, Steeleye Span, a popular medieval folk-rock band, has one very good female vocalist. Yet most of the traditional songs are written from a male's perspective, leaving Maddy Prior to sing about robbing girls of their maidenheads. With a select few of their songs this is reversed, as they also have one or two songs sung as female characters but traditionally sung by males, sung by Maddy.
- This is fairly traditional in English and Celtic folk music. Kate Rusby does it quite a lot too.
Opera & Theatrical Productions
- Ancient Greek plays were performed entirely by men. Indeed, whether women were allowed to even watch plays is a matter of debate.
- All traditional kabuki theatre, due to a 1629 ban on female actors. This effectively created an entire industry of Attractive Bent-Gender "actresses" (see The Other Wiki on onnagatta). Note that when Kabuki first appeared in the early 1600s it was female only, and had females playing male roles. Either way, it's an example.
- Noh theater used male actors in all roles from the beginning. A few females have begun to act in Noh in recent years, but even today it's most common to find an all-male cast.
- William Shakespeare wrote all of his plays for all-male companies; thus all of his female roles are intended to follow this trope. Most modern productions ignore this entirely. This is presumably why there are so many plays in which a female character has to pass as male to get something done or to make a particular point. Some modern companies, for example the Los Angeles Women's Shakespeare Company, perform with entirely female casts to balance the scales of karma. Edward Hall's Propeller company, however, still goes the all-male route.
- Subverted by Shakespeare's contemporary Ben Jonson's play Epicoene. The title character is played by a boy, but presented as a woman for the whole play- until the characters learn otherwise. That is, Epicoene in the world of the play really is a boy, but only the protagonist knows this until the end. Awkwardness ensues.
- Similarly, Noh theater companies are all male.
- Greater Tuna has usually two males play all the roles.
- Numerous ballet productions in 19th-century Europe had the male roles be played by crossdressing women, for two reasons: firstly, due to changing ideas about gender, ballet was viewed as being too feminine for men to participate in, leading to a shortage of male dancers, and secondly, the male audience-members of the time really dug the Les Yay. Contrariwise, Mother Ginger in The Nutcracker and Widow Simone in La Fille Mal Gardee are traditionally danced by men.
- Cherubino in Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro.
- And a great deal of other pages and young boys: Tebaldo in Don Carlo, Oscar in Un ballo in maschera, Smeton in Donizetti's Anna Bolena, Siebel in Faust, Stefano in Romeo et Juliette, Urbain in Meyerbeer's Les Huguenots, etc.
- Octavian of Richard Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier is a young man, who at one point disguises himself as a woman; his part is played by female singers.
- The Phantom of the Opera has an In-Universe example; Christine gets relegated to the role of the Page Boy rather than the lead as the Phantom insists.
- Peter Pan:
- The title role is traditionally played by a woman onstage. The only male actor to have played Peter Pan on Broadway is Jack Noseworthy, who understudied the role as part of Jerome Robbins' Broadway. (Peter Pan was played by a boy actor in the 2003 film.)
- Curiously enough, J. M. Barrie himself wanted the role of Captain Hook to be played by the same actor as Mrs. Darling, rather than Mr. Darling.
- The Disney adaptation was the first to have the titular character be portrayed by a male.
- In Hairspray, Edna is always played by a man, the part having been originated by the 300-pound drag queen Divine. The Musical helps enforce this by writing Edna's song parts in the baritone range.
- In stage versions of Chicago, the character of Mary Sunshine is usually played by a man in drag, whose gender is revealed as a plot surprise. The movie cast a woman in the part, probably because there was no way to keep the twist from being obvious.
- In Avenue Q, Gary Coleman is usually played by a woman because it is difficult to find a small enough man with a high enough voice.
- In American Idiot, one of the people that temporarily played St. Jimmy while Billie Joe Armstrong was away was Melissa Etheridge, whose performance was noted for being seductive and highlighting the androgynous nature of the character. Casting a woman as this role, which had previously been played by two men, also made since given the fact that St. Jimmy is actually an illusion of Johnny's psyche, and therefore doesn't technically have an actual gender.
- The Japanese musical theatre troupe Takarazuka is an all-female troupe, and inevitably they play a lot of male characters. It's usual particular cast members who get the male roles, and they tend to get a large fan following usually mostly consisting of straight women.
- In pantomime any middle-aged or older woman (the "pantomime dame") will be played by a man in drag. In addition the young male hero (the "principal boy") is traditionally played by a woman although it's not that uncommon for them to be played by a male instead.
- Caryl Churchill's play Cloud 9 has lots of cross-gender (and cross-ethnic) casting in the first act, to emphasize the disconnect between the character's feelings and their outer show. And some in Act II for Rule of Funny.
- Having Cathy (a small girl) played by a grown man in the second act also serves as a metaphor for colonialism, which is a major theme of the show: Cathy is immature and out of control, and because she is actually a full-grown man, her misbehaviour is more of a threat than her identity suggests. It's funny, but it's not quite Rule of Funny.
- There's also Betty, a high-strung, cuckolded, lady of the house, who's deliberately played like an over-the-top man in drag a la Monty Python to show the absurdity of Victorian gender roles. In the second act she's played straight by a woman and pretty much realized she'd been forced to play a caricature most of her life.
- In some Chinese traditional opera troupes, there are no actresses, so all of the female roles are played by men. (Farewell My Concubine is the story of such a cross-dressing actor.)
- M. Butterfly has this as a plot point: a foreigner mistakes performer Song for a woman, which he uses to his advantage. The playbills of most productions try to hide the fact that the character is played by a male actor, so the reveal is shocking.
- Kim's son Tam in Miss Saigon has been played by both boys and girls, as the primary requirements for the role are 1) look Asian, 2) be short enough to pass for two years old, and 3) do what the director tells you to.
- The Sera Myu has many male characters played by women (Prince Demand, Blue Saphir, Hawk's Eye, Fisheye, Jedite, Kunzite) and one that goes the other way (Petz). The fact that Sailor Moon creator Naoko Takeuchi was a fan of Takarazuka Revue (and used it for inspiration for Sailors Uranus and Neptune) and many actress came from or went to the Revue probably helped as well.
- The 2013 Sera Myu revival La Reconquista is now an all-female cast, with a former Takarazuka Revue actress playing Tuxedo Mask, the male lead.
- Cirque du Soleil examples:
- In KA, the twin protagonists are opposite-sex fraternal twins, but identical female twins are cast in the roles.
- The Beatles LOVE casts a man as Her Majesty to give her a caricatured appearance.
- Draco Malfoy in A Very Potter Musical, played by Lauren Lopez.
- Dolores Umbridge in the sequel, is played by a male. Dean is another crosscast role, played by the person who played Bellatrix in the first musical.
- Crabbe in both musicals—which gets lampshaded.
Goyle: We hate nerds!
Crabbe: And girls!
- Holy Musical Batman has Lauren Lopez playing one of these roles again, this time as Commissioner Gordon and minor villains Calendar Man and Evil King Arthur. Meredith Stepien also plays the Riddler. Numerous roles are also crosscast in the last scene when the whole Justice League joins in with the last musical number.
- The Witch in Hansel and Gretel (the Humperdinck opera) is often played by a tenor in drag, mainly for the laughs. It was originally a mezzo-soprano role. Hansel is a typical trouser role.
- It is very common for the title character in The Nutcracker to be played by a woman. Because, ya know, the nutcracker jokes weren't easy enough already.
- In the televised C Beebies 2010 panto, the old woman Twanky is played by a male and the young boy Aladdin by a female. Both fairly traditional, but it does mean that the grownups get to watch the Les Yay between Aladdin and Jasmine.
- In many productions of A Christmas Carol, Tiny Tim is cast as a trouser role. The Spirit of Christmas Past was originally depicted as Ambiguous Gender, but is often portrayed as or at least played by a woman. Occasionally, even Christmas Present gets cross-cast or gender-flipped.
- In Die Fledermaus, the part of Prince Orlofsky is almost always played by a woman.
- In Twilight: Los Angeles, all of the roles are played by Anna Deveare Smith.
- Romeo in Bellini's I Capuleti e i Montecchi.
- Isolier in Le Comte Ory. Isolier is the Count's romantic rival, and is played by a mezzo.
- 90% of Rossini's heroic leads are trouser roles for contralto or mezzo-soprano: Tancredi in Tancredi, Falliero in Bianca e Falliero, Malcolm in La donna del lago, Arsace in Semiramide. Even his Othello was at one point sung by Maria Malibran.
- Some Russian composers were fond of this as well: Vanya and Ratmir in Glinka's A Life for the Tsar and Ruslan and Lyudmila; the shepherd Lel in Rimsky-Korsakov's The Snow Maiden, the minstrel Nezhata in Sadko, the Page in The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh.
- Charlotte Cushman became known for playing Romeo, with the role of Juliet in at least one production being played by her sister.
- Traditionally, Mrs. Luce in Little Shop of Horrors is played by the actor who played Orin, who also plays many other minor roles.
- The Duchess in the Royal Ballet's 2011 Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is played by a man.
- The role of Edwin Drood in the musical version of The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Announced by the Chairman as being played by the "famous male impersonator, Miss Alice Nutting."
- Several recent productions of King Lear have had the Fool played by an actress, sometimes using a puppet.
- Cross-casting is a contractual obligation in The Mystery of Irma Vep. There are four male characters, four female characters, and two actors who each portray two female characters and two male characters. The licensing contract requires two male actors or two female actors.
- Intiman Theatre's 2012 Setting Update of Romeo and Juliet had three of the male roles played by women, notably Sampson (Tsige "Ziggy" Tafesse), the Prince (Hannah V. Franklin), and the apothecary merchant (also Tsige Tafesse).
- In Avatar: The Last Airbender's last episode before the Grand Finale, the Gaang go and see a play based on the entire series up to that point.
- In a reference to Peter Pan, they find Aang (the lightly-build, hyperactive twelve-year-old), is played by a petite woman. While Aang (and the rest of the group) is disappointed with the entire portrayal of him, the casting choice is what confuses him the most.
- On the other hand, Toph (a little blind girl, but Boisterous Bruiser and Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy nonetheless) absolutely loves the fact that her part was played by a giant, muscly man.
- In one episode of King of the Hill, Peggy mentions that she played Danny Zuko in the high school production of Grease.
- In the Mickey Mouse short "Mickey's Mellerdrammer" (which is about Mickey and the game performing in a play based on Uncle Tom's Cabin), Mickey himself not only plays the title role of Uncle Tom, but he also plays Topsy.
- In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode where the protagonists put on a pageant for Hearth's Warming Eve, all the historical figures are portrayed by the (all-female) main cast. At least one role, Commander Hurricane, is heavily implied to have actually been a colt, not a mare.
And any of the others could have been, even Prince/ess Platinum. This being a very old pageant and one that's performed all over at this time, there were probably male ponies somewhere playing all of the historically female roles as well.
- In one episode of The Simpsons Marge is auditioning in a play based on A Streetcar Named Desire for the role of Blanche DuBois, and at the auditions learns that Ned Flanders is there as well. Flanders reveals that he's actually been in a play of Streetcar before, and the role he played was Blanche DuBois, adding "One of the benefits of going to an all-male acting school."
- Madame Gasket in Robots:
Madame Gasket (voice of Jim Broadbent): I'm a woman.
Crank (voice of Drew Carey): Ouch.
- In the cartoon adaption U.S. Acres, Wade's usually a victim of this in the fairy tale-themed episodes. This may be because, there's no one else around to fit this role to play The Ingenue and the only main female character, Lanolin, is more suited for characters like Mulan. Wade's most known example of this trope is in "Snow Wade and the 77 Dwarves."
- VeggieTales: Lyle the Kindly Viking has Mr. Lunt as Ophelia when the veggies put on "Omlette."
Mr. Lunt (offstage): No! I don't want to [go out in a dress]! It's embarrassing!
Archibald (offstage): No, it's tradition! In Shakespeare's time all the roles were played by men! *shoves Mr. Lunt—clad in a pink dress and medieval headdress—onstage*
Jimmy: Wha ... what news, f-fair Ophelia? I b-beseech thee ... milady ...