While living on both coasts (New York and Los Angeles) and in two countries (thanks Toronto), Meghan Markle works hard to defy what she calls “the mystique of being an actress.” The daughter of a Republican and an African American Democrat, Markle brings beauty and brains to her role as Rachel on Suits. And given that much of her childhood centered around being on television sets with her father who was a director on the longstanding comedy Married with Children, acting was a natural choice for Markle.
But acting wasn’t the only choice. When not filming Suits, Markle spends much of her time on The TIG, a lifestyle website she founded to share her love of travel, food, fashion, and beauty. And as a new advocate to UN Women, she joins the ranks of fellow actresses like Emma Watson and Angelina Jolie, known for both their body of work and their activism, which Markle has been involved in since age 11 when she went head-to-head with a dish soap manufacturer over their misogynistic advertising slogan and won.
With no manager (yet), Markle most definitely still does things her way. She’s a powerhouse while being effusive, self-deprecating, and resolutely human. We caught up with her at the World Bar at the Trump World Tower in New York and talked about fitting in, working at the United Nations, and being more than just a “fluff character that wiggles around in a pencil skirt.”
Mary Fellowes: Evidently you are a polymath. How do you find time to fit in so much?
Meghan Markle: If you’re passionate about it, you make it work. But if you’re riding a wave, the wave will crash, so you still do have to find time for yourself — even if that’s just 20 [minutes] of meditating or a bath.
MF: You don’t lead the traditional existence of an actress. Do you ever feel like a fish out of water?
MM: There’s a lot of crossover that sometimes doesn’t make sense because it’s not conventional. With The TIG I’m very hands-on — it’s my baby. I wanted to do the outreach at the onset, so I did everything; but then people found it very surprising because it doesn’t support the mystique of being an actress. It’s a learning curve and uncharted territory — especially with social media and the Internet being the Wild West. There’s no rules, you just figure it out everyday.
MF: Do you think for actors with strong political beliefs and conviction, social media has made it harder or easier to get your message out?
MM: Social media is so incredibly important, especially if it’s used correctly. The danger comes when people think they did enough by retweeting. But what’s the call to action? …I’m fortunate as an actor that my profile is higher so what I do tweet about, people listen. But it’s really important to understand if something on social media moves you, don’t just retweet it, DO something about it. Actually physically, tangibly, get involved it some way.
"I went to the costume department and was like, ‘Can I grab some looks? I don’t have things to wear to the United Nations!'"
MF: Right now we’re sitting across from the UN. Tell me about your role there, how it came about.
MM: It came about from what I did on The TIG : as well as food, travel, fashion, it was really trying to reshape the idea of beauty beyond the physical. I write a lot of think pieces about women’s empowerment or equality and I put them in the Beauty category. After I had written a piece on Independence Day about personal independence, I received an email from the Senior Advisor to the Executive Director of UN Women saying that they really liked what I was putting up, what I was using it for, and they wanted to work with me. I didn’t believe it at first!
MF What happened next?
MM: I wanted to see what they were doing at ground level. It was important not just attach my name to an organization, even if it was the UN. I called and said, “I have a week off from filming, can I come work in the office for a week?” They replied that no one had ever asked that. I offered to fly myself there and back and work nine to five, and told them I wanted to shadow meetings and see what really happens. So I went to New York, every day in work attire, which is very funny because as an actress you don’t have much suiting.
MF: What did you wear? Did you have to go out and buy suits?
MM: I borrowed a lot of stuff from my character Rachel’s closet on Suits! I went to the costume department and was like, ‘Can I grab some looks? I don’t have things to wear to the United Nations!’
MF: I love that your two seemingly opposing worlds perfectly collided – what next?
MM: I went to morning briefings with the UN Secretary General’s team and began understanding the pillars of the organization so I knew where I wanted to invest my time. As well as theatre, I studied International Relations at Northwestern and used to work for the US Embassy at Buenos Aires, which helped my decision to work on women’s political participation and leadership. It’s a space I feel comfortable in and am really excited about the future of, especially with the very strong possibility of Hillary putting her hat in the ring for office.*
MF: How did it all take shape initially?
MM: Once we realized that would be a comfortable fit for me, I went on a week’s learning mission with the UN to Rwanda because it has the highest percentage of women in the parliamentary system of any country in the world. Sixty-four percent — unbelievable, given that 20 years ago they had their genocide. So I met female senators and went to a refugee camp to meet with women at the grassroots leadership level.
"I get asked more about a blow out or a lip gloss than I do about the work that I’m doing and I hope that will change."
MF: Who are your female heroes? Who has inspired you to be a strong woman?
MM: Of course if I didn’t say my mother, she would kill me! She is ambitious and fiercely independent. And I remember reading when Madeleine Albright was on bed rest with her second pregnancy, she was like, ‘Well I can’t do anything, I’ll learn how to speak German now!’ and I thought, ‘That’s my kind of woman!’
MF: Do you think there is a glass ceiling for women’s political participation?
MM: I would hate to think that there is [a glass ceiling]. Although often people find it more interesting to talk about women’s fashion than the work that they’re doing in the world. But on the same token, you think about the op-ed Angelina Jolie wrote just a week ago….
MF: In The New York Times, about her cancer?
MM: Exactly. Amazing to be that vulnerable and open and willing to share that kind of information. And Emma Watson launched the He for She Campaign and that was everywhere and it still has a lot of momentum. I get asked more about a blow out or a lip gloss than I do about the work that I’m doing and I hope that will change. Which is why The TIG is really about defining this idea of beauty. Sure if you want to find out about the best lip gloss for your skin tone, I’ll plant it in there because I hope when you come back looking for something similar, instead you’ll find a think piece about the beauty of being an empowered woman. That’s all I can do.
MF: You have just started filming the fifth season of Suits, which is set in a man’s world. Are you drawn to the show because of its relatively cerebral nature, rather than being fluffy – also because your character’s not a gender typecast?
MM: Yes, she’s not just the girlfriend. I don’t necessarily see it as being a man’s world – the partner of the firm, who would typically have originally been written as a white male, is a black Cuban woman played by Gina Torres. What I love about my character specifically is she has incredible intellectual prowess. She’s pretty ambitious in terms of her career. It is endlessly more interesting personally for me to play that character, especially when it’s seen as a role model, rather than to just be some fluff character that wiggles around in a pencil skirt.
MF: You you grew up in Hollywood – with your father being a director you spent a lot of time on set for his show Married with Children. Did it put you off acting or become a case of that’s just what real life is?
MM: I did not think I would become an actor — that cliché of an LA-born and raised girl. But I did love the camaraderie that you find on a TV set; it becomes a small family and it was just what people did because it’s where I came from.
MF: What have been like the biggest hurdles and the biggest rewards in creating The TIG?
MM: Trying to balance the time and finding content that speaks to me. But the return on investment is from a soul satisfying place. I have young women run up to me on the street — five years ago it was ‘Oh my god, I love Suits,’ which still happens, but now they’re like, ‘Oh my god, I love The TIG!’ And as an actor, when you spend so much of your time saying other people’s words believably for a living, to have a forum where I say my own words and they resonate is the biggest payoff I could have ever imagined.
MF: Obviously you write a lot, which female writers have inspired you?
MM: I mean I love Arianna Huffington – Fanatics and Fools. And Rachel Maddow’s Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power. I love smart, savvy women. Of course I don’t spend all of my time being incredibly intellectual.
"...to have a forum where I say my own words and they resonate is the biggest payoff I could have ever imagined."
MF: What do you do when you’re not being intellectual?
MM: I was about to say I watch Jeopardy, but that is not the right answer! But I love it! And I have two dogs, they’re both crazy little rescue pups. I love throwing dinner parties — grilling in my backyard and drinking copious amounts of rosé.
MF: What else do you give yourself permission for – a manicure, going dancing?
MM: Manis and pedis and fittings, getting your hair and makeup done – it sounds so glamorous and fun, but I do it everyday for work. I prefer discovering new restaurants and off the beaten path travel – that’s very much from my mom. She was a travel agent.
MF: What about elsewhere in your life? What or who else keeps the show on the road?
MM: The team keeps things going – the anchor. I like a very small group around me. It’s hard for me to loosen the reins because I like people to know that I’m invested. I’ve had my theatrical agent for over a decade and he’s amazing, as is my lawyer. I don’t have a manager. But give it a year; if it continues to expand the way it does, I’m sure I’ll need someone else!
*Editor’s Note: Since our talk with Meghan, Hillary Clinton has officially announced her run for the presidency.