6 Actresses who Redefined Male Roles in Hollywood

Tilda Swinton: The Ancient One in Doctor Strange

BBC announced the 13th incarnation of Doctor Who would finally be a woman. This decision is a big shift in the character, but it’s not some huge rattling of the casting cage in general. There has been plenty of casting over the course of television and film where women have taken over roles once occupied by men. Here are six women that stepped into the roles of male characters and redefined them.

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Sigourney Weaver (Ripley in Alien)
The original script for Alien was written to be unisex with its characters, allowing for a man or woman to play almost any role. And though Ripley may have initially been considered to be cast as a male, Ridley Scott cast Sigourney Weaver as the lead and she’s been the action icon of the franchise ever since. When it comes to female action stars, Weaver is usually the first to come to mind as the gun-toting space trucker that slaughtered aliens with guns and robots.

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Tilda Swinton (The Ancient One in Doctor Strange)
There’s no right way to write the character of The Ancient One, the Asian stereotype that bestowed Doctor Strange with the powers of a sorcerer. Rather than try their best to cast an Asian that wasn’t given an offensive portrayal, Marvel decided to shift the role to that of an English woman. It was a risky move given the outcry of those who wanted to see an Asian actor in the role, but Tilda Swinton did a sufficient job as Strange’s mentor and tutor that is wise with magical knowledge and quick with charming jabs.

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Katee Sackhoff (Starbuck on Battlestar Galactica (2004))
For the television remake of Battlestar Galactica, the iconic role of the hotshot pilot Starbuck, played previously by Dirk Benedict in the 1978 original series, was rewritten to be played by Katee Sackhoff. It was a decision that was initially met with backlash, including disapproval from Benedict and death threats from fans, but she would eventually become one of the most popular and central characters of the ensemble cast on the titular starship.

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Grace Jones (Zula in Conan the Destroyer)
In the Conan comic books, Zula was a male warrior and the last of his Darfurian tribe, but was rewritten for the tall and dark singer Grace Jones. She joins up with the titular hero (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and is off on an adventure where the strong woman struts her combat skills and ripped muscles. Grace had such a presence in Conan the Destroyer (1984) that she was quickly hired on as the iconic henchwoman May Day in the James Bond film A View to Kill (1985).

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Jane Lynch (Paula in The 40-Year-Old Virgin)
The role of the store manager in the comedy The 40-Year-Old Virgin was originally written for a man until Steve Carell’s wife suggested Jane Lynch as an added female presence for the mostly guy-oriented script. With her pitch-perfect ad-libbing and exceptional delivery, Lynch has proven to be an unconventional female actor for her smug and intimidating skill to be just as hilarious as any man she plays against.

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Rosalind Russell (Hildy in His Girl Friday)
The original plan for the film adaptation of The Front Page was to play it straight with two male leads, until Howard Hawks' secretary read for the part and changed the course of the script. Hawks dug her reading and subsequently rewrote the picture as His Girl Friday, changing the character of Hildegard to Hildy, with Rosalind Russell as the lead. Her presence greatly influenced the picture with more lines and ad-libbing to make her character shine brighter in a picture where she could have easily been overshadowed by Cary Grant.

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