Meet the new action heroines

Angelina Jolie is the latest Hollywood actress to take on a role originally written for a man – a trend that is growing fast

Hollywood may be a man's world but there are some films that would be nothing – or at least a lot less – without a woman in the lead role. Producers of a spate of new films and television series are ditching male actors and casting women for roles originally written for men.

Angelina Jolie's latest film, Salt, will be released in the UK in August. Her character, Evelyn Salt, has to kick ass, shoot straight and ride fast motorbikes while trying to prove she's not a Russian sleeper agent. It's the kind of film you'd expect Tom Cruise to star in – and he was originally supposed to. When he dropped out, the character's name was changed from Edwin to Evelyn after Jolie expressed an interest.

Prime Suspect star and Oscar-winning actress Helen Mirren has just signed up to star opposite Russell Brand in the remake of the 1981 comedy classic Arthur. In the original, Dudley Moore played a drunken playboy, and Sir John Gielgud won an Oscar for his part as Arthur's valet. That valet role has been rewritten as a nanny to accommodate Mirren.

On television, sci-fi fans can see the Emmy award-winning "reimagining" of Battlestar Galactica. Except the part of cigar-smoking, heavy-drinking ace pilot Lieutenant Starbuck – played by Dirk Benedict in the 1978 original – is filled by Katee Sackhoff.

Also on TV, both leading American networks, CBS and NBC, have cast Oscar-winning actresses – Kathy Bates and Sissy Spacek – in parts originally written for men in two new dramas.

Stella Bruzzi, a professor of film studies at Warwick University, said that the "androgynous woman" allowed Hollywood to address issues of sexism without actually changing its output. "There's a view that only boys and men watch films like Die Hard," she said. "It's not true, but casting a woman is intended to broaden the appeal to women and girls.

"And ever since Terminator 2, Hollywood has been attracted to the androgynous woman, which allows producers to expand female roles without actually addressing the issues that lead to accusations of sexism – that there are few decent roles for older women."

Helen Mirren

Arthur

Who better to play a drunken playboy than Russell Brand in a remake of the 1981 comedy classic? And who better to keep him in line than The Queen star Helen Mirren? Dame Helen will play a nanny, taking over Sir John Gielgud's original role?

Angelina Jolie

Salt

The Tomb Raider star gets to leap off tall buildings in this spy thriller originally intended for Tom Cruise. When Cruise dropped out, interest from Jolie – who along with Brad Pitt makes up the world's most powerful Hollywood couple – prompted a rewrite and name change for the lead character from Edwin to Evelyn.

Kathy Bates

Kindreds

David Kelley, the TV mastermind behind LA Law, wanted Bates so much for his new NBC show that he changed the script. Oscar-winner Bates, best known for smashing James Caan's ankles in 1990's Misery, plays a curmudgeonly former patents lawyer, originally intended to be a man, in this year's pilot episode.

Sigourney Weaver

Alien series

You wouldn't want to bump into an angry Ellen Ripley down a dark spaceship corridor. The then little-known Weaver says she was attracted to the role in 1979 because it was written for a man and wasn't changed.

Sissy Spacek

Untitled Medical Drama

CBS has hired its own Oscar-winning actress for its new drama in which "a mobile team of volunteer doctors led by a driven visionary travel the world helping those in need". Spacek's character is now called Adrianne instead of Adrian.

Jodie Foster

Flightplan

Foster played a widow who runs around a plane looking for her missing daughter in this 2005 thriller. Director Robert Schwentke said he filmed one shot with an actor in the leading role and realised "this is maybe [the wrong story] to do with a man – maybe we need to do this with a mother".

Lucy Liu

Ballistic: Ecks vs Sever

A revenge action flick written for two men who would spend the entire film trying to kill each other. Director Wych Kaosayananda convinced the studio it would make a better dynamic if one of the adversaries was a woman, so Liu was cast opposite Antonio Banderas in the 2002 film.

Katee Sackhoff

Battlestar Galactica

The award-winning "reimagining", now on Sky, cast a woman in Dirk Benedict's original role, retaining the hard-drinking tough-guy character but wiping out its clichés in one masterstroke.

Zhang Ziyi

Rush Hour 2

The East-meets-West cop action film series starring Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker was designed to clean up at the box office in 2001. Zhang Ziyi was cast as the beautiful but deadly assassin Hu Li after director Brett Ratner saw her in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and had her role rewritten and expanded.

Eva Mendes

Live

The world's one-time sexiest woman, according to Esquire magazine, produced this 2007 satire on reality television and cast herself as the creator of a Russian roulette game show. "[The part] was originally written for a man, and I changed it to a woman and got it made," she said earlier this month, commenting on the dearth of good Hollywood roles for women.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
    Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
    Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

    Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

    Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
    Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

    Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

    The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
    Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

    Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

    His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

    Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future