Why Did Lifetime Recast Prince Harry & Meghan Markle Again?

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Photo credit: Lifetime
Photo credit: Lifetime

This Labor Day, Lifetime is set to debut its third installment in the Harry & Meghan movie franchise. This time, Sydney Morton and Jordan Dean will play Meghan Markle and Prince Harry. While Morton and Dean make the third set of actors to play the Sussexes, many of the people involved haven't changed since the first movie aired in 2018. Notably, Michele Weiss and Merideth Finn have served as co-executive producers for each of the movies. We caught up with Weiss and Finn to find out why they keep recasting, whether there will be another installment, and more. Below, read our entire Q&A with the movie's executive producers.

Why did you decide to recast Harry and Meghan for each of the three movies?

MW: Well, after the first film—we loved working with Parisa [Fitz-Henley] and with Murray [Fraser]—Parisa actually went off to do a bunch of feature films, so Parisa was just unavailable. So, after that first one we were just sort of put in a position of having to recast.

MF: We were like, “Nobody could ever do it!” We were so in love with Parisa and Murray, we were like, “It’s impossible! How will we ever do it?” But then it’s like you’re producers; you have to do it. You’ll figure it out. Then it was just so exciting to find a new duo who reinvented them in their own way. Then it was like, “Oh, this is fun.” We enjoy this part of it. And that couple and that bond they bring with them, that kind of magic that elevates the whole movie.

MW: We were joking that this was going to be like our James Bond. After we had to recast after the first one, we were like OK, well then that’s what we’re gonna do for each of these movies.

MF: Once we knew we wouldn’t have Parisa and Murray, we thought, “well, let’s keep as many of the other people as we can!” Because we had such a great experience. It was so satisfying to make that first film, and we really loved our team. The director, writer, production designers, and other department heads and supporting cast are all the same. Because we were able to bring back so much of our whole team from the first one, I think it sort of set up this cool thing that happens with these movies when you add that new couple and what they bring to it.

When casting parts that are based on real people, are you more focused on resemblance or acting chops?

MW: I would say it is a balance of those things. It’s not so much a lookalike, but they do have to remind me in some way of that person. Sometimes it’s their voice, sometimes it’s their manner. It’s that mixed with wanting to get people who are good actors. I think we lucked out because [Sydney Morton and Jordan Dean] are both such good actors—and happened to look like Harry and Meghan.

MF: There are more people than you’d think that look like any of us. When you actually go looking at actors, there are enough people that resemble other people. One might resemble them in one way and another might in another way. Like for example, Sydney’s voice is so much like Meghan Markle’s voice. I don’t think that was particularly true of the other actresses [who played Meghan]. Certainly, each of them did their work to prepare for that role and work their voices, but I think Sydney had that natural Meghan Markle voice. I think that goes a long way with her performance. She doesn’t have the stature, she’s a tinier person, but there are things she does with the performance that sell you on her version of the Meghan Markle character. I think each of the actresses act on different points of that character.

MW: I think we lucked out in that Sydney and Jordan are both Broadway actors. We didn’t find out this out until after we had cast them both, but they had worked together. They were friends and had worked together on American Psycho on Broadway in 2016.

MF: It wasn’t something we had planned, but it was like the happiest accident in the world that they already had that chemistry.

Photo credit: Lifetime/Getty
Photo credit: Lifetime/Getty

How do you create robust, relatable characters out of figures who have such monitored public personas?

MW: It’s true that what they say goes through a process. It’s not off the cuff, but they’ve spoken at events and charities and in circumstances that are important to them. I guess we’ve sort of felt like we’ve listened to what they’ve said. We’ve really tried to look at what have they chosen to do and say. And there have been a couple of times certainly where they’ve spoken, and it’s been clearly from the heart. And obviously recently with the Oprah interview and things outside of palace purview…

MF: One of the things we talk about with the screenwriter, Scarlett [Lacey], is that, obviously he’s Prince Harry, she’s Meghan Markle–they have big celebrity status. And they have unique characteristics that make their lives difficult and important. But they’re still regular people. They’re still people that fall in love and have tensions with their in-laws and tensions with their own families. They’ve gone through human circumstances that are unusual in some ways because of who they are but, they’re also relatable as conflicts. We also keep a Google document about them. Everything that we read or feel like might be useful, we keep tabs on that with a link, so we end up with this massive document of where they’ve been, what they’ve done, what they’ve said. And it’s turned out to be very helpful when constructing the outline for the movie because we have our own kind of timeline. We have all this research that we’re always doing.

People have such strong opinions about the real Harry and Meghan. Are the reactions to these films equally strong? What are you expecting the viewer response to be from this third installment?

MF: I think the reactions are as mixed to the films as they are to the couple themselves. People show up to love Harry and Meghan, and people show up hate Harry and Meghan; and I would say the same thing is true of Lifetime movies. People show up to tweet all night about how much they hate the movie they’re watching and spending their time tweeting about, and then people show up to truly be entertained. One of the things we love about working with Lifetime is that they access real viewership and really invested people in every way. If they show up to hate watch—bring it! Because we made a really good movie. You can show up and try to fault us, but we’re really proud of the work that we do. I think it’s a funny thing how that’s true for both Harry and Meghan, and Lifetime and these types of movies.

MW: Since the events in the last movie, there’s become more of a British-American divide. So, we expect that. I would say that’s the biggest change. You didn’t feel that so much in the first movie, but it’s become more of a lightning rod in the UK given all the events in the world and in the royal family.

Photo credit: Betram Malgas - Getty Images
Photo credit: Betram Malgas - Getty Images

Speaking of, this movie focuses on the topics and struggles that led Harry and Meghan to step back from their royal roles—topics like racism, discrimination, and mental health. Was that a daunting prospect?

MW: These are issues that we’ve cared about even from the first film. Issues about racism that are brought up in the portrayal of this couple, and some of the ways they’ve been attacked in the press, we feel like we want to show that. We talked to an agent during the casting process who said, “Oh, this movie is more contentious. There’s real issues of race being brought up.” And we said, “you didn’t watch the first movie!”

MF: Or the second movie!

MW: Yeah, Parisa used the n-word in the first movie. She insisted on using it, on saying it—which Lifetime had never done—because she felt like that’s what she would say if she were this person talking to her fiancé, and she also felt like it was important to say the truth. So those issues have been there the whole time.

MF: I think people watch Lifetime because they do take on hard topics. But they do it in a way that you feel comfortable seeing it in your living room.

Did you keep up with the royal family before taking on these movies?

MW: I don’t think we were royal watchers. With the first movie, we thought the story was so amazing—that it was a real-life story that was actually happening—that we dove in, and once we dove in on that, we were in. We were in the habit of following everything they said and did. And we found the story fascinating. We found the narratives, and the press, and how that affected public opinion, and how people saw these two characters—we found that fascinating. We still find it fascinating.

Should viewers expect a fourth Harry & Meghan movie?

MF: We’re not already planning on it, we’ll say that. We feel complete with the trilogy. We did want to do a third one. We knew that there’d be more story, so it was satisfying to do the third. Do I think that there will be more movie-worthy material from this couple? Absolutely. We’re not sure what the appetite of the audience will be, or of the network. But we’ll be paying attention.

Harry & Meghan escaping the palace premieres on Monday, September 6 on Lifetime.

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