Michael Dorsey is a respected actor, but nobody in New York City wants to hire him because he is a perfectionist and difficult to work with. He makes ends meet by working as a server in a restaurant and teaching acting classes. After many months without an acting 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 by his roommate Jeff Slater, which will star himself and Sandy. Michael plays Emily as a feisty feminist, which surprises the other actors and the crew, who expected her to be (as written) another swooning female. His character quickly becomes a national sensation.