"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, naïve, trusting childlike way? You thought: 'THAT'S not a little boy. That's obviously middle-aged actress Mary Martin making a fool of herself.'"—Dave Barry Turns 40
This is a role that, for whatever reason, is played by an actor of the opposite gender. Common reasons for this include:
- Theater troupes may be all male, usually because the Moral Guardians have decreed it to be so; such troupes will use this trope by necessity.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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 admittedly not the only one. Similarly, sketch comedy groups are frequently all male, so female roles are often handed to men; it helps that many cultures find men dressed as women inherently funny.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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 which is intended to be played by a female performer is commonly referred to as a "breeches role" or "trouser role".
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.
- 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 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 CJ7 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.
- Eli in Let the Right One In is played by Lina Leandersson. Eli is actually a castrated boy. 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.
- In Norbit, Eddie Murphy, again, plays the title character, his guardian Mr. Wong, and Rasputia... at least as adults, anyway.
- 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 dwarven opera at her school. This is somewhat of a double example, as a) it was an all girls school, and b) dwarves 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.
- 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: The Original Series 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):
Bob: I was in Romeo and Juliet in high school.
Alice: You played Romeo, of course.
Bob: No, Juliet. It was an all-boys school.
- Full House inverted that, with Rebecca having played Romeo at an all-girls school.
- Home Improvement played with this in that it wasn't the joke itself, but rather just an excuse for Jill and Wilson (who both had experience playing Juliet) to fight over who would help Randy practice the "Romeo" role.
- Also played with on the 30 Rock episode "Secret Santa":
Liz Lemon: Yeah, I did plays in high school too. I was John Proctor in The Crucible.
Nancy: You went to an all-girls school?
- Home and Away took it all the way, with Annie playing Romeo and then-boyfriend Romeo as Juliet. The director was trying to make a statement of some sort.
- 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.
- 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.
- Like the Draco Malfoy example above, Rachel Dratch played Harry Potter on Saturday Night Live.
- 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 Mystery Science Theater 3000 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 Little 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.
- 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.)
- 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 woman (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.
- In Cirque Du Soleil's KA, the twin protagonists are opposite-sex fraternal twins, but identical female twins are cast in the roles.
- Draco Malfoy in A Very Potter Musical.
- Dolores Umbridge in the sequel, as is Dean, who is played by the person who played Bellatrix.
- Crabbe in both musicals—which gets lampshaded.
Goyle: We hate nerds!
Crabbe: And girls!
- 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.
- 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 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."
- 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.
- And Sokka sneaks backstage to offer tips and jokes to the actor who's portraying him.
- Women, more often than not, have to provide the voices of pre-pubescent boys as the labor laws are less stringent and their voices do not get deeper while new animation is being produced.
- Ed Asner voices Granny Goodness, one of the Darkseid's henchwomen in Superman: The Animated Series, Justice League Unlimited and Superman/Batman: Apocalypse
- King of the Hill:
- Joseph was originally voiced by Brittany Murphy. When she left the show for a while, her main character (Luann) was written out, but they simply had Joseph go through puberty and handed his voice acting off to a male.
- In one episode, 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.
- Bob's Burgers reverses the women-as-boys trend, with both wife Linda and pubescent daughter Tina being played by men.
- 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.
- Especially the British