In Japan, men (onnagata) took over the female roles in kabuki theatre when women were banned from performing on stage during the Edo period. This convention has continued to the present. However, some forms of Chinese drama have women playing all the roles.
Occasionally, the issue is further complicated, for example, by a woman playing a woman acting as a man pretending to be a woman, like Julie Andrews in Victor/Victoria, or Gwyneth Paltrow in Shakespeare in Love. In It's Pat: The Movie, film watchers never learn the gender of the androgynous main characters Pat and Chris (played by Julia Sweeney and Dave Foley).A few roles in modern films, plays and musicals are played by a member of the opposite sex(rather than a character cross-dressing), such as the character Edna Turnblad in Hairspray—played by Divine in the original film, Harvey Fierstein in the Broadway musical, and John Travolta in the 2007 movie musical. Linda Hunt won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for playing Billy Kwan in The Year of Living Dangerously. Felicity Huffman was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for playing Bree Osbourne (amale-to-female transsexual) in Transamerica.
In the past, only men could become actors in some societies. In the ancient Greece and Rome and the medieval world, it was considered disgraceful for a woman to go on the stage,and this belief persisted until the 17th century, when in Venice it was broken. In the time of William Shakespeare, women's roles were generally played by men or boys.When an eighteen-year Puritan prohibition of drama was lifted after the English Restoration of 1660, women began to appear on stage in England. Margaret Hughes is credited by some as the first professional actress on the English stage. This prohibition ended during the reign of Charles II in part due to the fact that he enjoyed watching actresses on stage. The first occurrence of the term actress was in 1700 according to the OED and is ascribed to Dryden.
In modern times, women sometimes play the roles of prepubescent boys. The stage role of Peter Pan, for example, is traditionally played by a woman, as are most principal boys in Britishpantomime. Opera has several "breeches roles" traditionally sung by women, usually mezzo-sopranos. Examples are Hansel in Hänsel und Gretel, Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro and Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier.Women in male roles are uncommon in film with the notable exceptions of the films The Year of Living Dangerously and I'm Not There. In the former film Linda Hunt played the pivotal role of Billy Kwan, for which she received the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. In the latter film Cate Blanchett portrayed Jude Quinn, a representation of Bob Dylan in the sixties,for which she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Women playing men in live theatre is particularly common in presentations of older plays, such as those of Shakespeare, that have large numbers of male characters in roles where the gender no longer matters in modern times.Having an actor dress as the opposite sex for comic effect is also a long-standing tradition in comic theatre and film. Most of Shakespeare's comedies include instances of overt cross-dressing, such as Francis Flute in A Midsummer Night's Dream. The movie A Funny Thing 7 Happened on the Way to the Forum stars Jack Gilford dressing as a young bride. Tony Curtisand Jack Lemmon famously posed as women to escape gangsters in the Billy Wilder film Some Like It Hot. Cross-dressing for comic effect was a frequently used device in most of the thirty Carry On films. Dustin Hoffman and Robin Williams have each appeared in a hit comedy film (Tootsie and Mrs. Doubtfire, respectively) in which they played most scenes dres sed as a woman.