11/30/2011 01:57 pm ET Updated Dec 01, 2011

Actors Who've Played Women And Actresses Who've Played Men (SLIDESHOW)

The news that both Lady Macbeth and the divine Ms. H are to be played onstage by men in the wake of Adam Sandler playing a woman to literally no acclaim, got us thinking: just how common is it for an actor or actress to switch genders for a role? We did a little sleuthing, and the answer, we can report, is very common! If you're a male actor, that is.

Since the days of Shakespeare and Chaplin, actors have played women either out of necessity or to see if they can, as Sir Alec Guiness once did in "Kind Hearts and Coronets," and Alan Cumming soon will as every character in "Macbeth." But from then till now, the gender-bending roles for woman have been limited, and qualified. As in the odd-looking Glenn Close movie that's coming next year, these roles reliably involve a woman playing a man who's actually a woman in disguise. It's a tale as old as Yentl, Mulan and that one movie starring Amanda Bynes: until and unless a girl shoves her hair in a newsboy hat atop her makeupless face, she can't study the Torah, go to war, or play soccer with the boys. But for the broad- and alien-faced (Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton), female actresses rarely face the challenge of playing a bonafide man. Perhaps, in a case of life imitating art, they should simply dress as boys and trick their way into male parts.

Of course, when something is rare, it's usually also carefully-handled. Nearly every instance we could find of a woman becoming a man was an acclaimed event, while the male switches included the unremarkable and the slapstick (try Eddie Murphy's entire career). Below, you can click through a video timeline of this uneven history. As always, let us know what we missed in the comments...bonus points for the FTMs.


CORRECTION: A previous version of this slideshow used the example of Julie Andrews's character in "Victor/Victoria," stating incorrectly that she played "a man playing a woman playing a man," when in fact she played a woman playing a man playing a woman. After scratching our heads for a bit, we took it out.