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They’ve received the queen’s blessing and weathered vicious tabloid fallout as well as precedent-breaking statements from Buckingham Palace, but as Meghan Markle and Prince Harry head west, the duo have yet to plot out the deals that will build their newly “independent” life. No sooner had the duke and duchess of Sussex revealed their shocking exit — or “Megxit” — from the U.K.’s royal family, from which they planned to step down as senior members, than talk switched to their next move.
The idea of Markle, who made her name on the USA Network series Suits, going back in front of the cameras has Hollywood asking around as her former agency, Gersh, stays mum for now. “If Meghan called anybody right now, believe me, we’d all run to the phone,” says Bill McGoldrick, president of original content at NBCUniversal Entertainment Networks and Direct-to-Consumer, who worked closely with Markle, 38, during her seven seasons at Suits. Rather than the pure entertainment route, McGoldrick expects that Markle will choose a more pro-social, “info-tainment” production path in line with Jeff Skoll’s Participant Media to “raise money and make movies that are about issues that are important to her.”
Most royal experts say a swift return to acting for Markle is unlikely, if only because of the logistics. “It’s off the books for the moment,” says Nick Bullen, co-founder of royal-focused SVOD service True Royalty, while Eric Schiffer, chairman of Reputation Management Consultants, says any attempt to immediately reignite her career would see the “knives come out” from U.K. critics. And any Markle role could appear to be “stunt” casting while adding significant costs of security and insurance, notes one prominent talent agent. Elizabeth Much, a publicist who serves as president and owner of E2W Collective, agrees that, for now, “It would be more difficult in the acting arena since Meghan’s fame is so enormous, but having said that, there will always be places that will hire her. She’s a really good actress, too.”
Meanwhile, Harry, 35, is already set to produce a series on mental health with Oprah Winfrey for Apple TV+, but this arrangement could end up being small compared to any production deal he makes alongside his wife. (Apple declined to comment.) And Markle has agreed to do a voiceover for an unnamed Disney project in return for a charitable donation to an elephant charity, The Times of London reported Jan. 11. (Disney wouldn’t comment.)
Another veteran publicist, who did not want to be named, noted that the couple appears to have been planning a break for some time, pointing out that the two had been working with U.S. PR firm Sunshine Sachs for the launch of Travalyst, Harry’s sustainable travel initiative. Hiring an outside PR firm is unusual for royals, and it reunited Markle with her former firm.
For many, the film and TV deal between Barack and Michelle Obama’s Higher Ground banner and Netflix, as well as the former first couple’s $65 million pact with Penguin Random House for books and Spotify for podcasts, is the option to emulate. (Indeed, the two couples are already close, with the British media reporting that the Obamas have been advising the royal pair on their future.) Alongside mental health, Harry’s own Invictus Games sporting initiative for wounded or disabled veterans could be a social program close to their hearts to bring into the entertainment fold.
There’s a Hollywood power couple who might better shine a light on what Harry and Markle could do next. And it’s another duo already in their showbiz orbit (and who, unlike the Obamas, got a ticket to 2018’s royal wedding). “The family that they see themselves more closely aligned to, even more so than the Obamas, is the Clooneys,” says Bullen, who has produced documentaries including Meghan for President. “George is Hollywood royalty, Amal is legal and humanitarian royalty. And if you look at where they live, they don’t have a base.” The Clooneys have residences around the world, including Los Angeles and London, and this “global citizen” model could be one that best suits the Sussexes, who have stated that they’ll split their time 50/50 between the U.K. and North America (Markle’s mother lives in L.A.).
The two are expected to relocate to Markle’s former Suits stomping ground of Canada (the show shot in Toronto), where they’d be able to enjoy the sort of privacy that has eluded them. Sources also have suggested to THR that a move outside of the U.K. would give the couple greater agency to pursue lawsuits against tabloid media, with the pair being outside the somewhat restrictive confines of the royal family and freer to act on their own accord. However, they might find themselves more restricted in terms of litigation if Harry seeks U.S. or dual citizenship.
Although the British media has been pessimistic about the couple’s future prospects outside the royal family, Bullen predicts that, in bringing fame and intrigue that is “probably unparalleled at the moment,” they could spark a bidding war among streamers or networks. “They could make hundreds of millions of dollars,” notes PR veteran Howard Bragman. “They were a part of the family business and they left to start their own. They saw they weren’t going to be running that business and didn’t want to cut ribbons and glad-hand and cover openings for the next 50 to 60 years.”
But, as PMK*BNC/Rogers & Cowan chair Cindi Berger notes, “They don’t need to do anything except to live their lives on their terms — or they can put on their ruby slippers and click their heels and say, ‘There’s no place like Buckingham Palace.’ “
Lesley Goldberg, Chris Gardner, Etan Vlessing and Borys Kit contributed to this report.
This story first appeared in the Jan. 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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