On Monday, May 27, you'll have the opportunity to tune into Lifetime's original movie, Harry & Meghan: A Royal Romance.
Jordan Whalen is a young actor who got to step into the shoes of Prince William, Harry's brother and Meghan's brother-in-law. Married to Kate Middleton, Prince William has spent his entire life in the public eye.
We chatted with Whalen about what it was like to take on the role of someone so beloved and well known. Enjoy our interview below.
What can you tell me about Harry and Meghan becoming royal, and how you got involved?
Well, how did I get involved? You know I suppose, like most other actors, it's just an audition to come down to shoot and it's something I threw on tape and recorded and sent out.
About a week later, I heard that I was their guy, and about five days after that I was flying to Vancouver, and then a few days after that, I was filming. So, it's pretty crazy for such a short turnaround and then again from completing filming to having it premiere two weeks from yesterday.
But it was just a lovely process; everybody on set was amazing. Getting to take a little peek at the royal family and pull back the curtain and make choices about what they're like behind closed doors was great fun.
And how much did you know about Prince William before taking on the role?
Seventeen percent. [laughs] You know I didn't know a ton about him off camera, but I heard I looked like Prince William just started after he married Kate Middleton. Then your ears prick up with your thing, but beyond that, being an American, I did not know a lot about them.
Whereas, I think pretty much every Brit knows a little more about them just because it's part of their culture and heritage. There's really no American equivalent to the royal family. You know we have our celebrities that enjoy their time in the limelight, but there's something different about royalty.
It's still an evolution for me, and I'm still learning about it. Obviously, now I have a little bit more of a connection and I'm learning more, but walking into it, I didn't know tons about him other than just broad facts about his life.
Was there anybody on set that knew the royal family or had insider information to help you prepare?
Other than the script, written by Scarlett Lacey, which like any script that kind of becomes your Bible, and that becomes your source. Beyond that, it was talking to the British people that were on set and the director, who is British. Charlie Field who plays Prince Harry, he's from London. Same goes for James Dreyfus who was in it as well.
So you kind of pick up some clues from them, but other than that, it's just on me to do the research and figure out the family tree. That's just homework though, and so that's why I didn't feel like, “Oh man, this is a disservice,” or anything. That's my job to kind of figure it out. You try to talk to people that you can, but it's on me to ultimately do it.
And I have that as a question. How did you prepare for it? What kind of research did you do?
Well, I was watching lots of interview with him and really just trying to get what he's like as a person behind closed doors, off camera, because you know he's been prepped for this, you know from day one.
There's hours and hours of footage of this guy and what you get from that is, you get a very careful presentation of a person. And I don't mean that's not him. You're kind of on guard when you're talking to a complete or semi-stranger in front of a camera, and you've got to be careful what you say, especially for royalty who, as constitutional monarchs, have to remain as politically neutral as possible.
But what was really helpful for me was just finding interviews panning out from him. Like a closeup, because there's a few interviews that I've watched where you know can see his hands, and he fidgets with them, which to me is an indication that the guy's not terribly comfortable being on camera here.
And there's an energy that is running through his body that he is shielding people from seeing, but sometimes unconsciously, fingers and thumbs moving. He also purses his lips a lot; that's just something else that I kind of picked up on and then I'm trying to take a guess on what it means for somebody to do that and then how does that translate if he's not in front of the camera, which for this movie is most of it. So we're taking some educated guesses on that.
And what was something that you found out about him as a person that you found really surprising?
Mmmmm, I don't know if I really found anything too surprising. I guess from his interviews that he seemed to be keeping a watchful eye, a very watchful eye on what the current Queen, Elizabeth II, his grandmother, is doing.
As second in line behind his father, I think he's just trying to see how she rules and what has been successful for her. So, first off, she does not seem to really be taking him aside and saying, "listen, here's how it's done." So I think it comes down to him trying to intuit.
And then he's also then making his own decisions on how political he can be, how much in the limelight he should be, how much of his family he should bring out, just by virtue of them doing interviews one-on-one. I don't think Queen Elizabeth II really does many of those if any.
So it's not surprising, but that was just something that was illuminating for me to see him break from certain traditions as it's more of a modern monarch.
You did a lot of research, that's impressive.
Well yeah. Like I've been saying, it's a great advantage to have thousands and thousands of hours from the actual person that I'm portraying, but it's also a bit intimidating because there's thousands of hours of this figure, and people know him, and they know what he sounds like, they know what he looks like, they know how he moves and certain things like that.
There's an expectation that, as the actor, you try to give your all and do your best, but with the short turnaround from being cast to getting the dialect down and as an American, you don't want to just come out with a terribly unconvincing dialect. So that's where a lot of the interviews were really helpful.
And I have that as a question too. How hard was it to perfect your British accent in his dialect, and what was your process to do that? How short of a turnaround was it?
I think I had nine days...
To be prepared, I studied the RP dialect which stands for received pronunciation. But that's more of the classic, you know, how they sound on The Crown, the Netflix series The Crown. You know, Claire Foy and everybody with that stiff upper lip.
But you listen to William, and he's not that. He's relaxed. He has a more relaxed dialect, a dialect they call posh, but also not too posh.
So I met and worked with the wonderful dialect coach on set, Anna Galvin, and a couple of days before we started filming, she came in, and we went through all my lines, and as a midwestern American, I had to really work on rounding certain words, but also getting the cadence right for the flat way that they speak compared to the classical drawing room comedies or something like that.
So, she suggested to me to stay in dialect as often as you can. I thought, well, there's really no point in me not staying in dialect the entire time, so for the next four weeks I stayed in dialect. Even when I was talking to my parents to catch them up on how filming went, I was in British dialect. I wasn't walking around having everybody call me Prince William, so I wasn't really method acting, but it was just really helpful.
You know, it's like learning a new language; you just immerse yourself in the language and what you do with that is that your mind is always kind of working and sharpening for the sounds that differ from general American.
So, that's what I did, and you know you kind of mirror when you're talking to the director or Harry or James, these guys who are British, and that really helped.
Do you think you'll be able to pick up other British accents easily now that you've done one, or do you think that you'll always kind of stick with that one dialect? They have so many dialects, that's why I find it so interesting.
They do, and honestly, this really helps sharpen my ear to that. I think we're all first exposed to the British by TV shows or movies, and so you say “Harry Potter” and you think, "oh, that's a pretty good British style."
There are like you just said, so many different dialects that you know somebody from Manchester versus somebody from Leeds versus somebody from even within London have different dialects there.
I think this really helped to sharpen my ear to an extent, but the next role I work on if it's a character set in Birmingham, you know that's going to be another challenge all on its own. But I'm better equipped to handle that challenge because I went through the rigors of this dialect.
And you did it so fast!
Well, let's hope I did it so fast. I was pretty happy with where it ended up. You know, as an actor, you always kind of kick yourself after a show and wish, "oh, I wish I would've had longer," but it is what it is, and you do your best.
When did you find out you got the role? Ut sounds like it's only been a couple of months?
Yeah, I don't have a date, but I mean I found out I got the role and then nine days later we were filming.
And you just finished filming, is that right?
We just finished filming; my last day was March 22nd.
Yeah and this is a quick, quick turnaround. You know, I've done other movies and other projects where you've had a year or two sometimes until you actually see the finished product, so it's really exciting to have it so fresh and then get to see the finished product just a few months later.
Given how much you look like Prince William, does it worry you at all that you might get typecast, or do you want to be typecast? I don't know, maybe that could be a good thing.
No. I don't want to be typecast, and that's not knocking Prince William, but my greater ambitions are to be able to play a wide array of characters from different backgrounds and different countries and explore different parts of my creativity with that.
I don't think I'm like a twin of Prince William. I don't ever get passed in the street and it's like, “oh my gosh, hey Prince William.” I think people obviously would know enough that Prince William's not just gonna be chilling on 51st Street in New York City,
But, I'm lucky enough to look enough like a guy who's famous enough that they made a movie about him in 2019, and I'm physically happy with it. I can go back to my life and not feel like, oh, now I will only play Prince William.
Or princes, you know, maybe you could end up on the Hallmark Channel as any prince, they have a lot of movies with princes, and they're all filmed in Canada, so you got that down.
I know. So much films in Vancouver, like 80 things at any one time are filmed in Vancouver; it's fantastic.
I know it's crazy. Well what do you want to say to everybody who's going to watch? Do you have a selling point other than the obvious, which is it's the royal family and everybody loves them?
Well, you combine Lifetime, which has a huge following and then combine that with the royal family, which has a massive following, and you've already got a lot of interest right there. You know people I haven't heard of since high school are like, “Oh my Gosh, I went to high school with that guy.” It's just kind of humbling.
But main selling point is, we've put a lot of hard work and effort into this, so come and see what we've been able to create, May 27th, Memorial Day at 8/7c.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.