14 Cisgender Actors in Transgender Roles

12:45 PM 5/5/2017

by THR staff

The casting of Elle Fanning in The Weinstein Company's '3 Generations' has been met with the same backlash other films received when casting cis actors in trans roles.

3 Generations, Danish Girl and Boys Don't Cry - Split - Photofest - H 2017
From left to right: Courtesy of The Weinstein Company, Focus Features and Photofest

In The Weinstein Company's latest film, 3 Generations, Elle Fanning takes on the role of transgender teen Ray, who is transitioning from female to male.

Fanning's casting in the film was met with controversy as trans activists spoke out about yet another cisgender actor playing the part of a transgender person. Similar backlash occurred with the casting of Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club, Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl and most recently, Matt Bomer in Anything.

"The decision to put yet another man in a dress to portray a transgender woman touches a nerve for transgender people, and rightfully so." Nick Adams wrote in an op-ed for The Hollywood Reporter in response to Bomer's casting in Anything. He is the director of GLAAD's Transgender Media Program. "It's yet another painful reminder that, in the eyes of so many people, transgender women are really just men. That message is toxic and dangerous."

These cisgender actors often win or are nominated for prestigious awards for their performances, performances that trans activists say would be better represented by transgender people themselves. This is only added to by the fact that transgender actors are underrepresented in Hollywood, aside from a few exceptions like Laverne Cox in Orange is the New Black.

Here's a look at other cis actors who have played trans roles.

  • Elle Fanning in '3 Generations'

    In 3 Generations, Elle Fanning plays Ray, a transgender teen transitioning from female to male. Following the backlash from the cisgender casting, writer and director Gaby Dellal spoke about why she went with Fanning.

    "I guess I was in a tricky situation because I needed to find an actor who was experienced enough to take on this role, who hadn't transitioned yet, who was a trans man or trans boy. That's quite a tall order. Unfortunately, I was unable to fill that role," said Dellal.

    She undersands the controversy and said, "When someone is struggling for a voice, they need everyone to support them. And the best thing we can do is do things like cast [trans actors] and give them a voice. Unfortunately, I was unable to do that."

  • Jeffrey Tambor in 'Transparent'

    Jeffrey Tambor has won multiple awards for his role of Maura Pfefferman in television series, Transparent.

    "To you people out there, you producers and network owners and agents and you creative sparks, please give transgender talent a chance," Tambor when he accepted an Emmy for best lead actor in a comedy. "Give them auditions. Give them their story. Do that. And also, one more thing: I would not be unhappy were I the last cisgender male to play a female transgender on television."

  • Eddie Redmayne in 'The Danish Girl'

    Eddie Redmayne won an Oscar for playing transgender icon Lile Elbe in The Danish Girl.

    "I hope there’s a day when there are more trans actors and trans actresses playing trans parts, but also cisgender parts," Redmayne said when asked about the backlash he received. "And I hope — as an actor one hopes — that one should be able to play any sort of part if one plays it with a sense of integrity and responsibility." He added that he hopes to remain an ally for the trans community, who face enormous amounts of discrimination on a daily basis.

  • Matt Bomer in 'Anything'

    Matt Bomer plays Freda Von Rhenburg in the yet-to-be-released film Anything, which received criticism for Bomer's casting.

    Executive producer Mark Ruffalo responded to the controversy on social media. "To the Trans community. I hear you. It's wrenching to you see you in this pain," he wrote. "I am glad we are having this conversation. It's time."

  • Hilary Swank in 'Boys Don't Cry'

    Hilary Swank received an Oscar for her performance depicting real-life transgender man Brandon Teena in 1999 film Boys Don't Cry. Teena was raped and murdered in 1993.

    "I think we’ve taken strides since that movie," Swank told Meredith Vieira when speaking about trans rights in 2015. "We have a long way to go."

  • Felicity Huffman in 'Transamerica'

    Felicity Huffman played a trans woman named Bree Osbourne in comedy-drama film Transamerica. She won an Independent Spirit Award and was nominated for an Oscar for the role.

    "I certainly understand the sentiment that a trans actor should play a trans role. And I support it," Huffman said in 2014 when asked about cis actors playing trans people. The actress added that trans people have been "marginalized for a long time and I think you see that in people who are not trans playing them."

  • Chloe Sevigny in 'Hit & Miss'

    Chloe Sevigny starred in a British mini-series called Hit & Miss where she plays a trans woman assassin who discovers she fathered a son. 

    Creator Paul Abbot was asked why he didn't hire a trans actor and he implied that Sky TV preferred a big name to be attached to the series. 

    "Chloë Sevigny is so enigmatically perfect for this," said Abbot. 

  • Rebecca Romijn in 'Ugly Betty'

    Rebecca Romijn played trans woman Alexis Meade in the television series Ugly Betty.

    "I've had a lot of people ask, 'How does it feel to be a man?' My response is, 'I'm not playing a man,'" she said in 2007, speaking about the misconceptions people have about the trans community. "I'm playing a woman, and Alexis loves being a woman. And so do I! And she's very girly. And so am I! But she's also really lonely. That's where we're different."

  • Michael Caine in 'Dressed to Kill'

    Thriller Dressed to Kill portrayed Michael Caine as a transgender person with deep psychological problems that involved so much self-loathing that Caine's character (referred to as both Elliott and Bobbi) became a killer.


  • Sofia Vergara in 'Grilled'

    Sofia Vergara played a trans woman named Loridonna in direct-to-DVD movie Grilled.

    Vergara was asked whether the role was tough to play, but she shrugged it off, saying she feels like she looks "like a transvestite."

    "I’m a woman, but I’m super-exaggerated with my boobs, my ass, my makeup and my accent," Vergara said in 2011. "When I get ready for an event, I always look at myself in the mirror and say, ‘I look like a transvestite!’ I love it."

  • Raquel Welch in 'Myra Breckenridge'

    Raquel Welch played Myra Breckenridge in the 1970s film of the same name adapted from Gore Vidal's 1968 novel. In a 2012 interview, Welch said she felt the film didn't live up to the book it was based on.

    "I didn’t think that the way [director and screenwriter Michael Sarne] told his story and the way he developed his premise was clever and witty and entertaining," said Welch. "I felt like the movie looked really interesting but never really lifted off."

  • John Cameron Mitchell in 'Hedwig and the Angry Inch'

    John Cameron Mitchell starred as the titular character in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, a musical-turned-feature-film about an East German trans rocker that Mitchell created along with Stephen Trask.

    "With Hedwig everybody was like, ‘This is career suicide. Drag? Low class. Punk rock? Never sell. And Stephen Trask and I thought, ‘F--- it, we gotta do something that we love," said Mitchell.

    The recent Broadway revival has starred a host of cisgender men including Neil Patrick Harris, Michael C. Hall, Darren Criss and Taye Diggs.


  • Jared Leto in 'Dallas Buyers Club'

    Jared Leto is another cisgender actor who received criticism for being cast in the transgender role of Rayon in Dallas Buyers Club.

    Leto has said he spoke with "some transgender kids while on tour" and he said it made him want to make sure Rayon didn't come off as "campy."

    "I remember sending an e-mail making it very clear that I saw Rayon as someone who wanted to live life as a woman, not someone who was a glam-rocking drag queen," said Leto, who went on to win an Oscar for the supporting role.