From The Night Manager to Star Trek — The Best Gender-Swapped Characters in TV History
The Night Manager's decision to make Leonard Burr into Angela Burr has us thinking about some of our fave gender-swapped characters.
British-America spy drama The Night Managerpremieres this week on AMC. Amongst its immensely talented cast, Olivia Colman (Broadchurch, Hot Fuzz) plays Angela Burr, a weary, yet still righteous enforcement agent trying to take down Hugh Laurie’s international arms dealer Richard Roper with the help of Tom Hiddleston’s Jonathan Pine.
Colman’s character was originally male in the Le Carré book of the same name on which The Night Manageris based, but was changed for the miniseries. Angela Burr is one of the best parts of this six-part series, and one of the all-too-few examples of originally male characters who are gender-swapped in a film or TV adaptation. In an age of remakes and reboots, this seems like a habit Hollywood needs to get into if it hopes to improve on its gender diversity.
Here are 11 examples of great gender-swapped TV characters through the ages…
Angela Burr, The Night Manager
Let’s take some more time to chat about The Night Manager,shall we? Because Angela Burr’s character in this TV adaptation is revolutionary in a couple of ways. First of all, the adaptation doesn’t make a big deal out of the fact that she’s a woman. The character is the same overworked, sweater-wearing enforcement agent she would be if she were a man. Except for the fact, of course, that Burr happens to be super pregnant…
Burr’s pregnancy was originally not written into the script (and is only occasionally mentioned), but was included when Colman herself became pregnant. It’s pretty refreshing to see a pregnant character on TV whose pregnancy is not one of her defining characteristics. The fact that Burr is having a baby is not played as a source of suspense or drama. It is not given as a reason why she shouldn’t be doing her job. This, more than anything, makes The Night Managergender-swap of this character one of my favorite things about this show.
Spock, Star Trek
Though gender-swap tends to go the other way (because more TV characters are men than women), sometimes, a character will be swapped in the opposite direction: from a female character to a male character. Including Spock on this list is kind of cheating because the decision to gender-swap his character came before the show began, but he’s such an iconic part of TV history, it’s hard not to mention.
As Star Trekwas originally conceived, the Enterprise’s first officer was actually a character called Number One (a designation used later in The Next Generation,of course). Similarly to Spock, Number One was a stoic second-in-command character, but was to be played by Majel Barrett (who would go onto play Nurse Chapel, and later marry Gene Roddenberry).
NBC executives were worried about giving a woman (not to mention a woman who was Roddenberry’s mistress) such a prominent role in the show, and asked Roddenberry to cut the character from the original Star Trek pilot. Much of Number One’s personality would go into the Spock character, to be played by the talented Leonard Nimoy, giving us one of the best characters in TV history.
Starbuck, Battlestar Galactica
Speaking of the best characters in TV history, let’s talk about Battlestar Galactica‘s Starbuck. Originally a swashbuckling dude in the original 1980s show, Starbuck was turned into a swashbuckling lady for the naughts-era reboot. Played with raw, forceful joie de vivre by Katee Sackhoff, Kara “Starbuck” Thrace was one of the best things about this show composed almost entirely of great things. This is particularly ironic given that, when Sackhoff’s casting was announced, the reaction was not entirely kind.
Kara Thrace would go onto be one of the most popular aspects of Battlestar Galactica, even if her character’s wrap-up was one of the least satisfying parts of the show’s ending. She was a female character who was allowed to be loud, opinionated, vulgar, and deeply flawed. It’s hard to describe what Kara Thrace meant to the TV landscape of the early-naughts, when TV women had only recently come out of the powerhouse ladies in pant suits trope of the 1990s. Female characters should not have to display masculine characteristics to be considered strong, but I’m all for cigar-smoking, man-izing fighter pilot women, too.
Jeri Hogarth, Jessica Jones
Carrie-Ann Moss is no stranger to badass female characters. She is the actress behind The Matrix’s Trinity. She also happens to play Marvel TV’s first lesbian character: Jessica Jones‘ Jeri Hogarth. Even better? Her characer also happens to be gender-swapped. Jeri is based on a male character, Jeryn Hogarth, from the Marvel comics. Both are no-nonsense lawyers who occasionally hang with superheroes.
On Jessica Jones,Jeri’s character is following a familiar stereotype: the workaholic lawyer who leaves their wife for a younger woman. Except for, in the case of this show, that workaholic lawyer is a woman. I don’t think that’s something we’ve ever seen on TV before, which is ridiculous given the prominence of this trope. Luckily, like its main character, Jessica Jonesisn’t afraid to push the boundaries.
Emily Thorne, Revenge
Revengemay have gotten many of its cues from the rich history of soap operas (both primetime and daytime), but it was also a modern-day adaptation of the classic French adventure novel The Count of Monte Cristo— with a gender-swapped protagonist in the form of vengeful, rich, and exceedingly competent Emily Thorne (played by Emily Van Camp).
Like The Count of Monte Cristo‘s Edmond Dantes, Amanda Clarke (who later goes by the name Emily Thorne) is a woman who loses everything — the person she loves most in the world (aka her father) and her personal freedom (when she is forced into juvenile detention) — who enacts a meticulous, ruthless plan to take down the people who have wronged her. It is one of the most riveting adventure tales in modern literature, and works just as well in this feminist, soapy retelling. Emily’s femininity is just another tool in her epic plan of vengeance, the perfect Monte Cristoupdate for the contemporary TV era.
Kono, Hawaii Five-0
Kudos to Grace Park for making this list not once, but twice. In our first example, we have Grace Park in her Hawaii Five-0role as Kono, a character who was male in the original TV version. For the CBS reboot, Kono was cast as a woman to avoid having a police force composed entirely of men.
The show is in its sixth season on CBS and, though it might not have an immense fandom following, regularly pulls in 8 million viewers. Diversity matters on CBS, too, you know. Speaking of which…
Joan Watson, Elementary
Speaking of CBS, we should really give credit where credit’s due. Though Elementary may be one of the least-watched dramas on the procedural-heavy network (albeit the most-watched network on TV), it is one of our favorites and represents a pretty great retelling of the Sherlock Holmes canon. In this version, John Watson is actually Joan Watson, and is played with quiet intensity by Lucy Liu.
This isn’t the first time in Sherlock Holmes’ long history that Watson has been gender-swapped, but it is certainly the longest. Elementaryis currently in its fourth season and Joan is one of its best elements. By nature of the character, Sherlock can only change so much (though change he does), which gives Joan the more compelling character arc as she struggles to be there for Holmes, without sacrificing her own identity. And she does an admirable job, forcing Holmes to recognize and respect her boundaries.
It is a tough balance to strike in any Sherlock retelling, and one that most adaptations can’t quite get right. Elementary — and Joan Watson — are the rare exception.
Jeremy Gilbert, The Vampire Diaries
Jeremy, The Vampire Diaries
In the L.J. Smith The Vampire Diariesnovels on which the CW series is loosely adapted from, protagonist Elena Gilbert has a much younger sister rather than a slightly younger brother. Personally, I’m so glad Julie Plec and Kevin Williamson decided to make the change, casting Steven R. McQueen in the role of Elena’s emo teen brother Jeremy.
For most of this show’s run (both characters have since left the show), the relationship between Elena and Jeremy is one of the most interesting, consistently characterized dynamics on the show. Not only does it keep Elena from being a protagonist who only cares about her love life, but it is one of the few big sister to younger brother relationships on TV. They are kind of rare, and Elena’s dedication to her younger brother is one of the things that kept this show from becoming what many non-viewers actually think it is soley about: a supernatural love triangle.
Freddie Lounds, Hannibal
Freddie Lounds was never around quite as much as I would have liked her to be on Hannibal— especially after season 1 — but that doesn’t keep her from being one of the best gender-swapped TV characters in recent history. Originally a man in the Thomas Harris novels, Hannibal’sFreddie was no less ruthless of a reporter than her male counterpart (Freddy), willing to anything for a story.
Lara Jean Chorostecki played this high-fashion, meticulously-groomed version of Freddie Lounds with gleeful bitterness. Though she may not have had as much to do in later seasons, she remains a rich character with one of the series’ best moments: calling Hannibal and Will “murder husbands.” #NeverForget
Djaq, Robin Hood
BBC’s Robin Hoodwas a fun, adventure-heavy retelling of the classic tale that wasn’t afraid to update aspects of the story for modern audiences. Along with its MTV-like fast-paced editing, Robin Hoodalso gender-swapped one of its classic characters. Though Djaq (played by British actress Anjali Jay) is not a character in the oldest Robin Hood canon, she does represent the previously always-male “Saracen” character often included in retellings.
The merry men first encounter Djaq when she is being transported as a slave, rescuing and inviting her to join their gang even when after it is revealed that she is actually a woman (she had previously been pretending to be her dead twin). As a doctor and skilled fighter, Djaq is invaluable to the team and eventually falls in love with one of other merry men. Djaq waan’t always given the best storylines, but it was still pretty cool to see a woman as part of this iconic group of characters.
Boomer, Battlestar Galactica
And now for our second Grace Park character of the list! Like Starbuck, the character of Boomer was a man in the original Battlestar Galactica.However, in the reboot, Boomer is a woman (/Cylon) by the name of Sharon Valerii. Sharon is a very important character in the story, starting out as our first example of a “sleeper” Cylon agent and acting as an empathetic example of the Cylon side of the story.
Moving forward, Boomer’s arc would be one of the most depressing on a show filled with depressing arcs. After shooting Adama as part of her programming in the season 1 finale, Boomer never really finds a home — or love like she had with Tyrol — again, continuing to vaciliate between allegiances. Still, her arc is one of the most ambiguous on a show that prides itself on ambiguity and the exploration of how much control we really have over our own fates.
Who are you favorite gender-swapped characters in TV history? Sound off in the comments below.