Over the weekend, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle proved that Hollywood is their new kingdom. Their bombshell sit-down interview with Oprah Winfrey scored more than 17 million viewers in its live broadcast on CBS on March 7, almost three times the audience that tuned in for the previous Sunday’s Golden Globes ceremony. In the U.K., 11.3 million viewers tuned in to ITV’s broadcast of the interview.
It’s only a matter of time before everyone in show business starts picking up the phone — that was the general consensus Variety got from numerous conversations with power brokers, executives and agents following the two-hour TV special where the Duke and Duchess of Sussex opened up about their hard-won decampment from the U.K.’s royal family last year.
“I can only imagine the calls over there Monday morning,” says one top talent manager who initially pursued representing the couple when they moved to Los Angeles last March, speaking of industry interest in working with the pair on creative projects.
The confessional sit-down earned almost universal praise for Markle, the former actor who starred on the TV series “Suits.” While she’s been mostly silent since marrying into the royal family in 2018, the interview was positioned as a chance for her to reclaim her voice. She admitted to suicidal thoughts while pregnant within the walls of Windsor Castle’s Frogmore Cottage and revealed — to much subsequent discussion — that there were concerns from an unnamed royal family member about how “dark” her and Harry’s then-unborn son, Archie, would be. While Anglophiles and global gossip fans have been parsing the interview’s revelations, industry insiders found the program just as interesting for what it promised for the days ahead. As one film and TV media strategist put it: “That interview was just as much about table-setting as it was about clearing the air.”
But don’t expect Markle to make a return to acting — at least not for now — despite speculation that her career in TV and film prompted the couple to move to Southern California. Quite the contrary, Variety has learned: In recent months Markle has parted ways with her longtime talent representative Nick Collins of The Gersh Agency. An individual close to Markle says that with no plans to act, she simply doesn’t need an agent. But Meghan and Harry may occasionally appear in documentary projects to elevate their topics.
“I’ve already asked for scripts on an animated movie based on ‘Archie’s Chick Inn,’” one screenwriters’ rep joked, referring to the shabby-chic henhouse that Meghan and Harry have on their Montecito, Calif., property, labeled “Archie’s Chick Inn, Est. 2021.”
Instead, Meghan and Harry are expected to focus their efforts on Archewell Prods., their content label that entered into a reported $100 million overall deal with Netflix last September. Under the banner, a sister entity of the couple’s nonprofit Archewell Foundation, the agreement includes scripted series, docu-series, documentaries, features and children’s programming.
One content executive who works with big studios and premium indie brands says Meghan and Harry are now positioned as “dream partners, especially for the world we currently live in.” The executive con- tinues: “The social justice elements of this story as a woman of color profiled by the monarchy, combined with the mental health aspect and the aesthetic of their global celebrity? Forget it. Home run.”
In line with the harrowing tales of exclusion and targeting that Meghan faced at the hands of the British press — which many in that country have called “colonial” points of view and Americans on social media have blasted as outright racism — Markle says Archewell would work toward healing and uplifting.
“Life is about storytelling. About the stories we tell ourselves, what we’re told, and what we buy into,” Markle told Winfrey. “For us to be able to have storytelling through a truthful lens that is also hopefully uplifting is great … being able to give a voice to a lot of people that aren’t really represented or heard.”
A crucial next step, says one leading agent in the motion picture and series space, is for the couple to define their brand identity through their staff. Archewell Prods. does not yet have a lead internal executive in charge of production and development. Hollywood will intently watch the search for that person.
“That interview was awesome as far as getting the realness of who she is,” says one agent about Markle. “And they both seem settled into what this decision is and the context. What needs to come next is clarity on their ambition. It seems [Archewell is] a place of entertainment with a message; now it’s a question of staffing up and having a profile of ‘You want to come work for us.’”
An experienced hire, in the opinion of the agent, would also give the couple more authority in brokering for scripts and talent for their slate — especially after Harry’s stunning admission that beyond the inheritance left to him by his mother, Princess Diana, the deals were essential to the couple’s economic survival.
“My family literally cut me off financially, and I had to afford security for us,” Harry told Oprah of his and Markle’s exploratory conversations with studios, among them reportedly Apple Studios and NBCUniversal. Meghan and Harry have also signed a multimillion-dollar podcast deal with Spotify, produced under another offshoot, Archewell Audio. The show promises interviews with a constellation of thought leaders and notables and will take shape in the coming months, insiders say, similar to the yearlong timeline the Obamas deployed in their own podcast deal.
“We’re talking to some amazing people; they’re going to share their memories that have really helped shape this past year, which has been, as we know, a difficult one for everyone,” Meghan said of the audio project upon announcement. Harry said the podcast would acknowledge that “so many people have been through so much pain this year, experiencing loss, a huge amount of uncertainty — but it feels worth acknowledging that 2020 has connected us in ways we could have never imagined, through endless acts of compassion and kindness.”
Creative direction aside, the ongoing story of the Sussex family — and the embattled royal institution they have left behind — will continue to unfold, providing what numerous sources say is priceless marketing value.
Global fascination with the Windsor dynasty has only increased in the past decade, from the sensation of Prince William’s union with commoner Kate Middleton to, well, “The Crown” — Peter Morgan’s Netflix juggernaut about Queen Elizabeth II’s journey from princess to unwitting sovereign (produced by the very tech giant that signed Harry to an overall deal). At one point, Harry’s late mother briefly considered starring in a sequel to “The Bodyguard,” Kevin Costner said in a 2019 interview, but talks dissolved. She remains the subject of documentaries and cinematic portrayals to this day, including the upcoming Pablo Larraín film “Spencer,” in which Diana will be played by Kristen Stewart.
Kate Aurthur and Todd Spangler contributed to this report.