With all the hubbub over the apparent gender swapping of Superman’s pal Jimmy Olsen into Jenny Olsen in the upcoming MAN OF STEEL movie (and man are the more emotional geeks having major fits), it got me to thinking about other examples of gender swapping in TV and film that I really enjoyed. Aside from the realization that BATTLESTAR GALACTICA did gender swapping better than any other property, it also became apparent that no one ever gender swaps a female into a male in anything. What’s up with dat?!?!?
So with that being said click away to see my list of favorite gender swapped characters.
5. Admiral Helena Cain (Michelle Forbes)
In the original BATTLESTAR GALACTICA series, Commander Cain (played by Lloyd Bridges) was the commander of the Battlestar Pegasus. He was a great strategist but also a bit of a maverick who inspired great devotion from his crew and was really into attacking the Cyclons head on even if the odds were against him and the mission was certain suicide.
In the rebooted version of BSG, Cain got a bump up in rank and a gender swap. This Cain was also a great strategist who had the devotion of her crew but she was also far more dark and complicated than the original. Adm. Cain became a cold and steely leader who saw nothing wrong with torture and would put a bullet in a subordinates head if he or she dared to disobey an order. And played by Forbes you were always aware that as merciless as Cain’s actions seemed to the outside world, the lady was very tortured by the steps she felt she had been forced into taking as a result of the war she was waging.
4. Sharon “Boomer” Valerii (Grace Park)
Honestly I can’t remember a damn thing about the original Boomer that stood out aside form him being the only black guy who was allowed to speak in the future. I am sure Herbert Jefferson, Jr. was a nice guy but his Boomer was such a non-entity.
That all changed with the BSG reboot where Boomer was re-imagined as a Cyclon sleeper agent and there were multiple copies of her series of Cyclon. This gave actress Grace Park tons of wiggle room to give Boomer all sorts of different personality traits depending on which Boomer she was portraying. Her Athena version of Boomer was an entirely different character than any of the other copies that showed up on BSG.
3. Jane Watson/ELEMENTARY (Lucy Liu)
Dr. John Watson is the sidekick to the legendary detective Sherlock Holmes and from the first moment he was introduced in the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle book “A Study in Scarlet” and all the way through to most modern interpretations of the character (played famously by Nigel Bruce in the early SHERLOCK HOLMES films and most recently by Jude Law in movies and Martin Freeman on the BBC series), he has been a man. And he has also been portrayed as a bit persnickety when dealing with Holmes’ eccentricities but also an intelligent and capable player in his own right.
In the CBS series ELEMENTARY the decision was made to change John to Jane and cast the part with Lucy Liu. The idea of a female Watson was met with some outrage (actually the entire idea of a US version of a Sherlock Holmes series at the same time that the critically beloved British series was airing cause most of the consternation) from pretty much all corners. Surprisingly the show has been very good and Liu’s interpretation of Watson is very original and fits perfectly in the role of sidekick to The Great Detective. Another good thing about it is that Liu and Johnny Lee Miller (who plays Holmes) have great chemistry but it is strictly a platonic chemistry that never veers into the romantic. it is that ability to not descend into some crappy MOONLIGHTING “will they or won’t they” romantic claptrap that makes Liu’s Watson work so well for me.
2. M/JAMES BOND FILMS (Dame Judi Dench)
M has been played by several different actors but the definitive version has always been Bernard Lee’s. he was the first M to appear on film and he appeared in more Bond films than any other actor who came after him. Lee’s M was a stiff, crusty military man who was primarily used as a foil for Bond and spent most of his scenes being all grumpy about how Bond went about his secret agent duties.
With GOLDENEYE, the role was taken over by Dame Judi Dench and with that switch in gender the character became a lot more interesting. Dench’s M continued the prerequisite disapproval of Bond’s rulebreaking antics but she also brought a icy, no nonsense sensibility to the role opposite Pierce Brosnan’s Bond and then warmed up a little more to an almost maternal relationship with Daniel Craig’s Bond. And she got to get out from behind her desk and see some action too.
1. Kara “Starbuck” Thrace/BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (Katee Sackhoff)
In the original BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, Dirk Benedict gave us the hard drinking, cigar smoking Lt. Starbuck that was like a more shallow version of Han Solo crossed with the skirtchasing antics of Capt. Kirk. While that was an enjoyable character to watch on a cheesy sci-fi TV show, it also didn’t make the character all that special.
Fast forward to 2003 and Ronald Moore’s re-imagined BATTLESTAR GALACTICA and we were treated to the hard drinking, cigar smoking Lt. Kara “Starbuck” Thrace. She had all of the cocky, ballsy pilot personality traits of the original Starbuck but she was also a very tragic character with a plethora of emotional issues who tended to be very self-destructive. By making the new Starbuck more than just a Han Solo knock-off and instead into a fully formed, 3 dimensional person, it became easier to care about the character and want to see her triumph over her own personal demons just as much as you wanted her to beat down some Cyclons.