A piece from the marvellous Celia Walden in the Telegraph:
Were the Duchess of Sussex to be nominated, there was a wealth of material to choose from to showcase her talent
The following artist, nominated for Best Actress In A Leading Role, delivered her performance with complexity, nuance and depth. She brought to life a young, independent woman and mother who was forced to fight back against often unsurvivable odds. She illuminated a truth, on screen, that might help others facing similar challenges in real life. Let’s take a look at some of her best work now…”
Were Meghan Markle to be nominated at this year’s Oscars – as she deserves to be for her CBS feature-length drama, co-starring Oprah Winfrey and Prince Harry – the Academy would have trouble choosing which clip best showcases her talent. But in the end, I think we’re all agreed, it would have to be the Little Mermaid scene.
Some years ago, the Duchess of Sussex told Oprah on Sunday night, she was sitting in Nottingham Cottage, “and The Little Mermaid came on?” That’s not a question, incidentally, but like so many of the poignant truths Meghan shared with the world during her interview, it was delivered with the rising inflection favoured by Southern Californian teenage girls, known as ‘upspeak’. The purpose of upspeak? To turn definitive declarations and aggressions into ‘reassurance-seeking’ questions. To portray a woman with iron determination as a little girl lost.
Anyway, Meghan, framed against the chicken coop in her Santa Barbara garden where Oprah is unaccountably holding half a dozen free-range eggs, goes on: “Now who, as an adult, watches The Little Mermaid?” This really is a question, and one which serves to underline her inner child. “But I was, like, ‘Well, I’m just here all the time, so I may as well watch this?’”
Should the 48-point font subtext not be clear to all here (and I realise we’re mixing metaphors), Meghan is Rapunzel now, imprisoned in her Kensington Palace tower. Because, as she says elsewhere in the drama, she was only able to leave the house “twice in four months”. Really?
But back to the award-winning scene. “And I went: Oh my God? She [The Little Mermaid] falls in love with the prince and, because of that, she has to lose her voice.” Pause. Eye-misting. A small smile pushing through the pain. “But by the end, she gets her voice back.”
Boom. Deafening applause. Standing ovation. Although overlooked time and time again throughout her illustrious career – first for the 2011 TV movie The Boys and Girls Guide to Getting Down, and then, even more unfairly, for her 2016 Hallmark film, Dater’s Handbook – the Oscar for Best Actress 2021 goes to… Meghan Markle.
Daniel Day Lewis has nothing on this woman, either in terms of methodology or preparation. The pauses before Meghan answered Oprah’s most challenging questions were, in many ways, the high points. The heaving maternal chest, and “maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s Maybelline” mid-distant stares, as she wrestles with whether to say the things she decided to make public months, if not years, ago.
Because this interview was as meticulously choreographed as the twin ‘flyaway’ hair strands Meghan uses as a prop throughout her performance, but it’s important for her to show every push and pull of that inner tug of war to up the drama. Just as she needs us to know, time and time again throughout this two-hour emotional tour de force, how “naïve” she was.
This would make her unique. After over a decade living in LA – where I’ve interviewed and socialised with actors daily – I have yet to meet a naïve actress. Yet Meghan was so guileless, she assures Oprah, that she knew nothing about either the royal family or what she was getting herself into. She has never looked up Prince Harry online. She “never researched what it would mean” to be his girlfriend or become his wife. She “honestly” thought The Firm was looking out for her best interests – it was left to Meghan’s friends to inform her, again, how naïve she was. She “didn’t have a plan”, and “genuinely hadn’t thought of” profiting from her royal title with whopping Netflix and Spotify deals.
Journalists famously ask leading questions. Meghan is the only celebrity interviewee I’ve ever seen to give such leading answers she might as well have been pulling poor Oprah along by a leash. She’d worked out exactly how to throw Kate under the bus while not wanting “in any way to be disparaging about her.” She’s “advocated for so long for women to use their voice”, she says on International Women’s Day (nothing has been left to chance here). “And then, I was silent…” Oh, Meghan, what are you saying? Silent… or silenced?
However superb, Meghan’s performance was not without the odd blooper, the odd misstep she might have wanted a second take on, if given the chance. The talking over and interrupting Harry sat awkwardly with her professed vulnerability. The equating of her pain to a pandemic that has killed 2.5 million people around the world was regrettable. The momentary loss of poise surrounding talk of lost titles.
And Oprah, usually such a fantastic interviewer, might also have wanted to re-shoot a journalistic misstep of her own. Because when Meghan, back in the chicken coop, explains that: “This morning, I woke up earlier than H and saw a note from someone in our team in the UK saying that the Duke of Edinburgh had gone to the hospital”, did this not beg for one of Oprah’s famous: “Wa-wa-wait a minute! You found that out this morning – and still you went ahead with this interview? Really?”
But in the end, as Meghan points out: “Life is about storytelling, right? About the stories we tell ourselves and what we buy into.” So let’s just sit back and watch how this “fairytale” pans out.
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