Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Who Played Male Best?

Several actresses in Hollywood have made a big impact by playing men in film.  When handled carefully and executed well by a skilled actress, the roles that have required a woman to play a man have resulted in some pretty remarkable and acclaimed performances.  It’s an extreme acting challenge and it takes great talent to pull it off believably.  In the wrong hands, these roles can resemble caricatures or exaggerated portrayals where suspension of disbelief is a tall order because the woman pretending to be a man still looks and sounds like a woman.  The whole thing is made worse when the rest of the cast in the film pretends not to notice and renders the entire thing ineffective and unbelievable.  Here are a few notable females who’ve convincingly played men:

 Linda Hunt – The Year of Living Dangerously

Hunt won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of a Chinese-Australian male photographer who serves as the conscience of a glib, Australian wire-service reporter working in Indonesia. 

 Tilda Swinton – Orlando

Swinton was brilliant in her portrayal of the young androgynous nobleman named Orlando who is given land, a castle and a sizable monetary gift by Queen Elizabeth I and resides in splendid isolation writing poetry and creating art until he is nearly killed and wakes up one morning to find that he has been transformed into a woman.

Hilary Swank – Boys Don’t Cry

Swank delivered a truly harrowing performance as Brandon Teena, born Teena Brandon, a young woman who lives her life as a man, relocates to the small community of Falls City, is regarded as a man by most of the people in the town, falls in love with a girl named Lana and suffers tragic and violent consequences at the hands of some local men when his secret comes out.  

Cate Blanchett – I’m Not There

Blanchett’s embodiment of Bob Dylan is absolutely uncanny.  Her performance is a prime example of how important it is to cast the right actress with the right skills when gender role reversal is required.  Her likeness to Bob Dylan and the way she embodies his rebellious independence is so impressive it’s almost haunting.  The star of the show is definitely Blanchett who stands out against the cast of male actors who also portray Dylan at different stages in his life.

Glenn Close – Albert Nobbs

A woman spends some thirty years passing as a man to work as a butler and a waiter in a hotel in Dublin in the 19th century.  She passes as a man because she would not be hired for the job otherwise and desperately needs financial security.  Nobbs isn’t happy living as a man.  She lives in terror of being exposed, but her entire life is focused on economic survival.  The role is played bravely and so believably by Close and is reason in and of itself to see the film.

Which actress played male best?  Are there other notable performances by actresses who’ve played men?  Let us know in the comments section.


  1. I just did a set of posts on actors/actresses playing the other gender so this is fresh in my mind. I completely agree on Linda Hunt. One you left out that I would definitely recommend is Felicity Huffman in Transamerica. Another is Ines Efron, who plays an intersex person (someone who is both male and female) in XXY. I wrote about both of them here:

    1. You're right - shamefully I did leave off Felicity Huffman. Thanks for mentioning her performance in 'Transamerica.' She was superb in the film.

      I've never seen "XXY." I'll definitely check out your post. Thanks!

  2. I'm going to say Cate Blanchett in I'm Not There. She was a whole lot of fun as Jude Quinn.

    1. Hers is the version I remember most. Her likeness to a young Dylan was so uncanny!


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