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Jodie Foster in 'Elysium'& More Actresses in Roles Written for Men


It’s a long-held gripe in Hollywood that there’s a dearth of great roles for women. A handful of actresses have devised a clever cure for the problem: steal the guys’ parts.

That’s what Jodie Foster is doing. Her character Secretary Delacourt in Elysium, Neill Blomkamp’s dystopian action blockbuster that hits theaters this weekend, was originally Secretary Rhodes… and originally male. Foster’s not the first actress to inspire a gender change in the script. From Glenn Close to Angelina Jolie, here’s a history of actresses playing parts originally written for men.

Jodie Foster in ‘Elysium’

Jodie Foster was such a fan of director Neill Blomkamp’s film District 9 that she told Entertainment Weekly,“I was just like, ‘Whatever Neill does next, I’ll do.” The one catch: initially, there wasn’t a strong female role in Elysium, Blomkamp’s District 9 follow-up. A middle-of-the-night epiphany, however, led Blomkamp to realize that the fictional Elysium’s ruthless defense secretary could be—and perhaps might be more interesting—played by a woman. When producers approached first-choice Foster to take over the part, they were shocked to find her immediately nodding her head yes.

Angelina Jolie in ‘Salt’

When one A-list star exits a major movie, it’s fairly routine for another actor of similar looks and fame to step right in and takeover: Jamie Foxx for Will Smith (Django Unchained), Scarlett Johansson for Emily Blunt ( Iron Man 2), Katherine Heigl for Anne Hathaway (Knocked Up). But Angelina Jolie for Tom Cruise? Cruise was originally attached to star in Salt, but left the project before production started. That’s when Jolie got her hands on the on the script, convinced writer Kurt Wimmer to change the character of Edwin to Evelyn, and when the film was finally released in 2010, Jolie cemented her status as Hollywood’s go-to female action star.

Sigourney Weaver in ‘Alien’

Ellen Ripley was a man. No, that’s not some sci-fi twist you forgot about from one of the Alien films. The character, indelibly played by Sigourney Weaver and routinely held up as the iconic female movie character, was originally written as a man. It’s hard to imagine, as Ripley now tops lists of film’s greatest female characters, but originally all the characters in Alien were written as men, with the caveat that the crew’s genders could be interchangeable. When Sigourney Weaver auditioned, she was so strong that the movie’s team decided to gamble and make her not just a crew member, but the lead—a move director Ridley Scott later called “a masterstroke.”

Jodie Foster in ‘Flightplan’

In Flightplan, Jodie Foster plays a mom frantically looking for her missing daughter on transatlantic flight. Initially, however, the film was supposed to be about a father looking for his missing daughter on the flight. Sean Penn was even attached to star. After he dropped out, Foster stepped into the role. So, Elysium isn’t the first time Foster’s played a part conceived for a man. Entertainment Weekly even says that she used to have her agents specifically seek out scripts for leading men that could be tweaked to star a woman instead.

Glenn Close in ‘The Paper’

Screenwriters David and Stephen Koepp originally wrote a script about a newspaper editor facing the pressures of putting out a bold, truthful publication while facing financial pressures and still trying to tidy up a messy personal life. Ron Howard signed on to direct and made several visits to The New York Post and the Daily News to prepare for the film. In the newsrooms, however, he found himself more often drawn to the stories of the female journalists, and thus decided to swap the gender of the film’s lead. All the dialogue remained the same—it would just be the gender that changed. Glenn Close eventually was cast in the role.

Kathy Bates in ‘Harry’s Law’

When Oscar-winner Kathy Bates made the decision to star in her first regular TV series, the now-defunct legal drama Harry’s Law, she told the Today show that she waited so long to transition to the small screen because she “had to wait for the right part.” The part she finally found, however, had been written for a man. When she signed on for the series, its writers began changing the character’s name in scripts to “Harriet,” which Bates immediately put an end to: “I said, ‘No, no, no, it’s gotta be ‘Harry.” That’s who I fell in love with.”

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