Although it feels like all eyes will be on Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on Saturday for their royal wedding, not everyone is a follower of the Royal Family and their every move. When actress Parisa Fitz-Henley got cast in Lifetime’s “Harry & Meghan: A Royal Romance” Lifetime movie, she had to take a crash course to play Markle, the actress and humanitarian activist who will be joining the House of Windsor.
“I started learning about her when I got the audition … but I saw the engagement video after a lot of people were responding to it,” Fitz-Henley said in an interview with IndieWire. “I’m not a royal watcher. I try not to be in other people’s business if I can, and so it was interesting to me to see the kind of people whose interest was piqued by this. So I said, ‘Let me just take a watch.’ I didn’t expect to respond to something like this.”
For fellow non-royal watchers, the video in question is the sit-down interview Prince Harry and Markle did with the BBC after they announced their engagement in November. The 20-minute segment touches on a number of subjects that actually make it into the Lifetime movie ranging from details of the low-key proposal to how Markle gets along with the Queen’s corgis. Although the interview brought up issues of race and ethnicity, the couple skillfully avoided addressing the topic directly.
This hasn’t always been the case. At one point, Prince Harry released a statement decrying the “racial undertones” in how the press covered their relationship. And long before they even met, in 2015, Markle wrote an essay for Elle titled, “Meghan Markle: I’m More Than an ‘Other’” about the issues she faced as a biracial woman in America where she was never white enough or black enough for certain groups. Many portions of the essay appear in the Lifetime movie as Meghan confiding in Harry.
Fitz-Henley, who is Jamaican-American, was able to identify with Markle’s struggles.
“We’re both biracial. We’re both from the same generation. We’ve both had our challenging experiences with relationships,” she said. “I have definitely been in interracial relationships that were frowned upon and thwarted actually because of that. Like having family come and say, ‘You can’t do this. You can’t be with my son because he’s white and you’re not or not white enough.’ And so playing a character who is moving through those things is, it’s great for me. I love it.”
Depicting the couple’s struggles with racism was essential to presenting their relationship authentically for the movie. Fitz-Henley hopes that knowing the couple’s story makes a difference in how people think.
“It reminds a lot of people of their own lives that just because it’s beautiful and shiny doesn’t mean that there aren’t things that you have to work through and get over in order to be with someone,” she said. “Also in this time in our world, we desperately need to face the difficulties that we’ve had around race and root them out and heal… We’re just a very, very dysfunctional human family.”
Although Fitz-Henley familiarized herself with Markle’s background, she was most interested in her mannerisms and how she carried herself. Given that Markle was an actress who had just left the USA series “Suits” and that she’d been outspoken about humanitarian and women’s causes for a while, there was plenty of footage to draw from.
“It was just watching what she did, what she said, and how she said it, observing her mannerisms, asking myself why should she have them,” she said. “I was surprised to see how little we knew about her in the media. So it was to me surprising to see this is a person who studied theater and international relations, who had experience working in an embassy for year, who anyone could easily see working on the world stage if she had gone to work at the U.N. It would’ve been a no-brainer, but because she’s an actor, people can’t quite make the connection. And so, to me, it was a surprise that that connection wasn’t made more often and a real pleasure actually to be able to see her that way. Hopefully, help other people see her that way.”
After learning about and playing Markle, Fitz-Henley may not necessarily consider herself a royal watcher, but she does feel more invested in the future princess’ success.
“I just feel filled with love for my sisters and if I care about you as a particular sister, even more so. And so as my focus has been on her so much, I do feel like a certain level of – I want people to understand her more. I want people to be kind to her. I want her voice to be heard,” she said.
“She’s got a voice, she has no problem sharing it. The issue is whether people listen, and I want people to listen to her. I would like us all to be able to get over whatever kind of limitations we put on what we think other people can do because of whatever their jobs are. In general, I would like people to do that, but in particular, in this instance, I would like people to just really see her as an entire human being and be inspired.”
Fitz-Henley also teased a few details from the upcoming second season of “Midnight, Texas,” the supernatural action series on NBC. On it, she plays the witch Fiji Cavanaugh, who owns a talking cat named Mr. Snuggly. Also, Fiji and her good friend Bobo (Dylan Bruce) got even friendlier by the end of the first season.
“Can I spill the tea? This second season, we watched the first season go from this light, lovely town that’s a haven for the others to becoming this dark and dangerous place,” she said. “And in the second season, we’re going to see what Midnight looks like as it’s healing. But when you’re healing you also could be a little bruised. It’s never simple. We’re really going to see some of the complications that come from what was on Earth in the first.
“We’re gonna see relationships deepen and … If you watch the show you know that something happened between Fiji and Bobo that changed a lot for them,” she added. “Some special things happened, and I wouldn’t imagine that they would not want to continue those things.”
As for the mouthy Mr. Snuggly, she said, “He lives to annoy me at the very least, on the best day and on the worst days makes me want to pull all my hair out. And yet I love him. And so I hope we’ll be seeing more of Mr. Snuggly and I also hope I don’t have to see him at all. He’s running for mayor of Midnight [on Twitter].”
”Harry & Meghan: A Royal Romance” airs its encore performances at 8 p.m. ET on Monday & Tuesday, May 14-15 and Saturday, May 19 on Lifetime.