Ten Great Cross-Dressing Performances
Actors spend their working lives dressing up and pretending to be other people, so it should come as no surprise that they are adept at switching genders when a role dictates; men transforming into women and women into men. The switch might be a little bewildering for the audience, but its all part of the grand illusion – becoming the character on screen.
Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in Some Like It Hot
One of the all time classic comedies, Billy Wilder’s daring 1959 masterpiece Some Like It Hot had Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis play two musicians who witness a mob hit and go into hiding by dressing as women and joining an all-girl band. An almost perfect script benefits from two equally pristine performances, with both men giddily revelling in the freedom that donning a frock allows.
Katherine Hepburn in Sylvia Scarlett
Movie cross-dressing is not just men dressing up as women. In 1935, Katherine Hepburn played a young woman who masquerades as a man named Sylvester in order to escape the police with her con-man father. Not always a feasible ruse, and a box-office flop at the time, Sylvia Scarlett was nevertheless Hepburn’s first film with co-star Cary Grant, with the two going on to enjoy tremendous success with Bringing Up Baby and The Philadelphia Story.
Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie
When unemployed actor Michael Dorsey (Dustin Hoffman) is rejected at yet another audition, he decides to take drastic action. Dressing up as a woman, and calling himself Dorothy Michaels, he is immediately cast as a recurring character in a popular soap opera. Fame and fortune beckon, but Michael/Dorothy finds that living a lie in public is the toughest role of his career. Sydney Pollack’s 1982 comedy about actors and acting was a worldwide smash hit, with Hoffman’s Best Actor nod among the ten Academy Award nominations it received.
Cillian Murphy in Breakfast on Pluto
As Patrick “Kitten” Brady in Neil Jordan’s picaresque 2006 drama Breakfast on Pluto Cillian Murphy donned frocks and glamorous make-up to play a young Irish transvestite who flees to 1970s London on a quest to find his birth mother. To prepare for the role, Murphy went clubbing for a couple of weekends with a drag queen, who gave him tips on achieving his glamorous look and on how to move like a woman. Murphy’s superb performance was rewarded with an IFTA for Best Actor in 2007 along with a Golden Globe nomination and a Special Recognition award from the American National Board of Review.
Tim Curry in The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Jim Sharman’s 1975 cult sensation has Tim Curry reprise the role he originiated on the London stage as Dr Frank N Furter, a seemingly unhinged scientist living in a remote mansion who dresses in lacy lingerie, a string of pearls and ruby red lipstick. The film was screened at the Classic cinema in Harold’s Cross, Dublin every Friday night for over 21 years, with many in the audience dressing up as their favourite characters and singing along to the soundtrack.
Julie Andrews in Victor Victoria
There must have been something in the water in Hollywood in 1982. As Hoffman was triumphing in Tootsie, Julie Andrews was playing both leads in her husband Blake Edwards’ cross-dressing comedy Victor Victoria, also picking up an Oscar nomination for her role as a female singer who pretends to be a man in drag in order to get a job in a nightclub. Edwards based his script on a now-forgotten 1930s German comedy before enlisting Andrews again for a blockbuster Broadway adaptation in the 1990s.
Robin Williams in Mrs Doubtfire
After a bitter divorce, a failed actor disguises himself as an elderly grandmother in order to spend time with his children in Chris Columbus’ 1994 family comedy, based on a novel by British writer Anne Fine. Williams – who improvised much of his dialogue - based his accent on Scottish director Bill Forsythe, with whom he had just made Being Human.
Alec Guinness in Kind Hearts & Coronets
In this 1949 black comedy from Ealing Studios, a penniless distant relative of the wealthy D’Ascoyne family hatches a plan to murder each of his eight in-laws, all of them, men, women, young and old, played by the 35 year old Alec Guinness. In addition to playing the eight parts, Guinness sat for the family portraits that can be seen lining the walls of the Duke’s castle. This was the actor’s first film for the famous comedy studio but he would go on to star in many Ealing classics, including The Ladykillers, The Lavender Hill Mob and The Man in the White Suit.
Johnny Depp in Ed Wood
Dubbed, perhaps unfairly, as the “worst director of all time”, Edward D. Wood Jnr was immortalised by Johnny Depp in Tim Burton’s lustrous black and white 1994 biopic, in which the only splash of colour is the pink angora women’s sweater the director like to wear while relaxing. Depp brings an elegant humanity to the irrepressible enthusiast Wood, who explored his own cross-dressing in his daft 1953 melodrama Glen or Glenda.
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
Writer and director Stephan Elliot’s kaleidoscopic 1994 comedy told the story of three drag queens travelling across Australia in a tour bus, meeting a rogue’s gallery of locals, blow-ins and die-hards. Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce and the veteran Terence Stamp play the cross-dressing heroines in the cult hit comedy, which won the Academy Award for Best Costume Design and screened in the Un Certain Regard section of the 1994 Cannes Film Festival.