Michael Dorsey is a respected actor, but nobody in New York wants to hire him because he is a perfectionist and difficult to work with. After many months without a job, Michael hears of an opening on the popular daytime soap opera Southwest General from his friend and acting student Sandy Lester, who tries out for the role of hospital administrator Emily Kimberly. In desperation, he impersonates a woman, auditioning as "Dorothy Michaels", and gets the part. Michael takes the job as a way to raise $8,000 to produce a play, written by his roommate Jeff Slater, which will star himself and Sandy. Michael plays his character as a feisty feminist, which surprises the other actors and the crew, who expected Emily to be (as written) another swooning female. His character quickly becomes a national sensation.