Robin Williams as Mrs. Doubtfire
Nobody can play a woman like a woman, but sometimes male actors take that tough leap of trying to portray the opposite sex. Sometimes they’re playing roles where a man goes drag and sometimes they must truly inhabit the role of a woman. It’s not easy, but a handful have managed to pull off some surprisingly effective performances. Here are the actors that dared to take on the role of a woman and succeeded in their performance.
Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie (1982)
Perhaps the most famous cross-dressing performance of all-time, Dustin Hoffman puts on the big hair and big glasses to step into the high heels of working girl Tootsie. There’s so much detail in everything from the outfits Hoffman wears to the sweet and judgemental tone of a southern accent.
Divine in Hairspray (1988)
Divine was a staple of John Waters’ films, decked out in overly glamorized drag. But he’s perhaps the most convincing in the offbeat comedy Hairspray where he does away with most of the glitz and glam, still pulling off that female appearance as an overworked, overweight mother. Never hamming the role up too much, he melts into the role of Tracy’s concerned mother.
John Travolta in Hairspray (2007)
It’s hard to top a female impersonator as pitch-perfect as Divine but John Travolta still threw on the makeup and delivered it beautifully. In this modern musical remake of Waters’ film, Travolta’s take is a more bubbly and mousy version of Tracy’s mother but this shift works surprisingly well. It’s one thing to look the part of a woman but to sing and dance in drag is a whole other level of acting talent.
RuPaul in The Brady Bunch Movie (1995)
It should come as no surprise that one of the world’s top drag models could pull off the most convincing of females. His role in The Brady Bunch Movie may have been brief, but he sells that portrayal of a female guidance counselor so well with that hair and makeup. If you didn’t know who RuPaul was already, you’d swear he was a woman from that scene with the most convincing of staging while still giving a wink to the camera.
Robin Williams as Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)
Robin Williams tends to go off the rails with his impersonations into the land of cartoonish satire, but he’s surprisingly docile as the faux old nanny Mrs. Doubtfire. Caked on with makeup effects for that old-woman essence, there’s a believability to the gentleness in Williams’ voice where only a handful of scathing criticisms bleed through his sweet old lady facade.
Eddie Murphy in The Nutty Professor (1996)
Murphy is the master of imitation where he plays nearly every member of the Klump family, from the central hero of Sherman to the elderly Granny Ida. Playing both a mother and grandmother of the Klump clan, under pounds of makeup, it’s easy enough to lose sight of Murphy in the fast-paced dinner table discussions of mom making a big deal of her boy and granny making quiet commentary.
Matt Lucas in Little Britain (2003-2006)
There’s just something about Matt Lucas’ large figure and bubbly voice that makes his female roles on the sketch show Little Britain work so well. Easily his most effective role is that of the Fat Fighters counselor Marjorie Dawes, a jealous woman with jealousy seething behind her chipper smile. He’s so effective that in order to believe his transvestite character was ineffective could only be done by giving him a mustache.