Star Wars: The Force Awakens screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan has revealed a surprising secret about the new villain Captain Phasma: the character, played by Gwendoline Christie, was originally written as a man.
Vulture broke the news in an interview with Christie, who never knew that the First Order stormtrooper captain had been gender-flipped at the last moment. She was one of the last actors to be announced, weeks after the main cast had been photographed at the film’s first table read in London. Kasdan actually pinpointed that read-through as a turning point for their depiction of Captain Phasma.
At the time, the excitement over the new Star Wars cast was bittersweet. It was awesome to see actors like Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac join the franchise, but only one of the seven new characters was a woman. As we put it, the new cast was a total sausagefest.
Apparently Kasdan and co-writer and director J.J. Abrams were aware of the outcry for more female characters, because they decided that Captain Phasma would be an interesting choice to rewrite as a woman. “Everything was happening simultaneously,” Kasdan told Vulture. “When the idea came up to make Phasma female, it was instantaneous: Everyone just said, ‘Yes. That’s great.’”
The result is a character who has already intrigued audiences by defying gender stereotypes, an intimidating warrior villain played by one of the breakout stars of Game of Thrones. If the character had remained male, the ubiquitous Benedict Cumberbatch might have been cast instead.
Phasma’s origin story adds an interesting twist to one of The Force Awakens‘ most progressive character choices. While it’s heartening to know that Abrams and Kasdan were willing to listen to criticism, Phasma has now joined a revealing list of female characters who were originally conceived as male.
Ripley from the Alien franchise is the most famous example, followed by Angelina Jolie in Salt, Starbuck in the Battlestar Galactica reboot, and Emily Blunt‘s role as an FBI agent in Sicario. This suggests that sexist gender roles are so ingrained that it’s often easier to recast a male action role than to start from scratch with a female-led screenplay.
This trend hasn’t escaped the notice of Hollywood actresses, with Sandra Bullock admitting she actively pursued male roles because they were more substantial than the scripts typically offered to women. Gender-flipping a male role may be a smart shortcut to creating a complex female character, but it suggests that the film industry has a lot of work to do before it solves its sexism problem.
Photo via Star Wars