10 male actors playing female characters (other than Tyler Perry’s Madea)
In this image released by Lionsgate, Tyler Perry portrays Madea in a scene from, 'Tyler Perry's Boo! A Madea Halloween.' (Daniel McFadden/Lionsgate via AP)
Men playing women to comedic effect is as old as entertainment itself.
Cross-dressing has always been part of theatre — just ask Shakespeare — and passing oneself off as a member of the opposite sex is often played for laughs on the big and small screens.
In particular, there’s just something hilarious about a big, masculine guy putting on a dress and affecting a woman’s voice and mannerisms. Or so we’re told.
Would any column on cross-dressing be complete without an in-depth consideration of the Freudian implications?
Let’s hope so, because this is all about laughs — and Boo! A Madea Halloween, Tyler Perry’s ninth outing in a frock since he started back in 2005 with Diary of a Mad Black Woman.
This is not about serious transgender or orientation issues, in case that wasn’t clear.
In theatres now, Boo! has Madea fighting off the undead in her quest to control a pack of unruly teenagers; as always, you may laugh in spite of yourself.
Your favourite man-dressed-up-as a woman could be anyone from Barry Humphries as Dame Edna to Arnold Schwarzenegger in the movie Junior, but heaven knows there are plenty of choices.
In the spirit of Boo! A Medea Halloween, here’s a list of five great comedies in which a main character was a guy in drag.
And women dressed as men? There’s a list that stretches from 12th Night to Mulan to Albert Nobbs, but that’s for another day.
Billy Wilder’s classic comedy stars Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis as musicians who witness the St. Valentine’s Day massacre and go on the run from the mob. When the only gig they can get is with an all-girl band, they dress accordingly. Well, nobody's perfect. Brilliant laughs with Marilyn Monroe and Joe E. Brown.
It’s 1962 in Baltimore, and brave teen Tracy Turnblad is about to change everything about the all-white Corny Collins TV dance show. Tracy’s mom was played by a man (Divine) in the original version of this high camp John Waters’ adventure, and John Travolta gowns up for the role in this remake. Also with Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, Queen Latifah.
Dustin Hoffman stars here as an out-of-work actor who assumes a female persona to get a job on a TV soap. How hard can it be, right? He gets the job, gains insight into the world of women, and juggles all the usual gender-switch issues — hiding his attraction to women while fending off the guys who don’t realize he’s also male. NB: Bill Murray is in this.
After his wife wins custody of their children in a bitter divorce, an actor stays close to his kids by disguising himself as a woman and working as their nanny/housekeeper. Robin Williams managed to be both very funny and entirely dignified in this role, and it didn’t hurt to have the always-believable Sally Field as his ex-wife.
In this comedy, Eddie Murphy is a brilliant but plump scientist who tries his weight-loss invention on himself. He drops hundreds of pounds, but develops a vain, skirt-chasing alter ego at the same time. Or something. The plot is just an excuse for Murphy to play several characters, including Mama and Grandma Klump; you’ll laugh and laugh, provided you don’t notice what looks like Murphy’s general contempt for women.
WHITE CHICKS (2004)
Shawn and Marlon Wayans play disgraced FBI agents who disguise themselves as spoiled heiresses, Brittany and Tiffany Wilson, to foil a kidnapping case. Two black agents playing two silly white girls sounds like rich fodder for racism, but fear not — the Wayans manage to be politically incorrect in a way that offends just about everyone. And make you laugh while they do so.
See this just to observe the late, great Divine in action. A housewife (Divine, obviously) sees her world fall apart when her son is accused of being a local perv, her daughter gets pregnant and her her husband admits he’s sleeping with his secretary. Tab Hunter, Mink Stole and Edith Massey help give the middle finger to the middle class in this John Waters’ classic.
BOSOM BUDDIES (1980)
We’re just sneaking this TV show into the mix … Tom Hanks and Peter Scolari dress up as females to rent the only apartment they can afford, which is in a building for women only. Laughs follow. These days Hanks is a serious, Oscar-winning actor, so it's always a treat to see him in an early comedy role.
STAGE BEAUTY (2004)
This is a drama with laughs and not strictly a comedy, if we’re being honest. But it’s worthwhile to see Billy Crudup as an actor who gets all the women’s roles in 17th century London, where it’s illegal for a woman to be on the stage. Claire Danes is the dresser who wishes to challenge all that. Brilliant costume-y stuff with Rupert Everett and Tom Wilkinson.
ST. TRINIAN’S (2007)
Speaking of Rupert Everett, he’s quite wonderful as the headmistress in this carry-on type comedy about a beloved but bankrupt private school. The little hooligan students engage in larceny to save their establishment.
Noteworthy: everyone is in this, including Gemma Arterton, Lena Headey, Juno Temple, Lily Cole,Toby Jones, Colin Firth, Lucy Punch, Stephen Fry, Misha Barton and Russell Brand.