Before she stole Prince Harry’s heart, Meghan Markle played the part of ambitious paralegal Rachel Zane in USA’s Suits. In 2017, she walked away from her breakout role to walk down the aisle and become British royalty. But what was she like before all the fame and fortune?
From her feminist ideals at age 11 to that stint on a game show that she’d rather not talk about, here is Markle’s once upon a time…
She was a Catholic schoolgirl
Markle fell in love with acting at the Immaculate Heart all-girls Catholic high school in Los Angeles. She starred in several school productions, including Damn Yankees!, before graduating in 1999. A former schoolmate told People: "Meghan was really charismatic and was a very hard worker and very focused and you could tell she was going to do something special with her life… She had the talent and focus to back it up and you could tell she knew the work it would take and she was willing to put in the work."
When news of her engagement broke in November 2017, Immaculate Heart was bombarded by reporters. "They’ve been scaling the walls," school Communication Director Callie Webb told The Catholic Spirit. Nevertheless, the institution is proud of its alumna. "Over 10,000 women of great heart and right conscience have graduated from Immaculate Heart, and we are proud to count actress and humanitarian [Markle] among them," the school tweeted. "Today, we send her our very best wishes as she celebrates her engagement to His Royal Highness Prince Harry."
She grew up around television
It seems Markle was destined to be on TV. After all, she’s been around it her entire life. Markle’s father was a lighting director and director of photography for FOX’s cult classic, Married… with Children.
"Every day after school for 10 years, I was on the set of Married… with Children, which is a really funny and perverse place for a little girl in a Catholic school uniform to grow up," she told Esquire. "There were a lot of times my dad would say, ‘Meg, why don’t you go and help with the craft services room over there? This is just a little off-color for your 11-year-old eyes.’"
She became a feminist at age 11 because of dish soap
In 1995, Meghan Markle saw a commercial for Ivory Clear Dishwashing Liquid with the tagline: "Women all over America are fighting greasy pots and pans." That day, a feminist was born.
"Two boys from my class said, ‘Yeah. That’s where women belong — in the kitchen,’" Markle recalled at a United Nations conference. "I remember feeling shocked and angry and also just feeling so hurt. It just wasn’t right, and something needed to be done."
Her father encouraged her to write letters, and that she did, mailing notes to first lady Hillary Clinton and to powerhouse attorney Gloria Allred. Her efforts appeared to pay off. Clinton and Allred wrote encouraging notes back to her, and soap manufacturer Proctor and Gamble changed its commercial to "People all over America are fighting greasy pots and pans." Markle said, "It was at that moment that I realized the magnitude of my actions. At the age of 11, I had created my small level of impact by standing up for equality."
She’s a political activist and humanitarian
Much like Harry’s mother, Princess Diana, Markle is a humanitarian and staunch advocate for those less fortunate around the world. During her senior year at Northwestern University, she interned with foreign services in Argentina, working at the embassy in Buenos Aires. She’s rubbed shoulders with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the One Young World Summit and also served as an ambassador for the World Vision Clean Water campaign. "The contrast between communities that do and do not have access to clean water had a great impact on me," she says on the World Vision website." One borehole can bring life-giving water to as many as 500 people! I’m on a mission to build wells in Africa, and I’m asking each of you to join me and see how many wells we can build together."
Her first speaking role was opposite Viola Davis
Although her first onscreen appearance was as a background nurse on a 2002 episode of the daytime soap General Hospital, Markle’s first speaking role was in CBS’ short-lived science-fiction legal drama Century City in 2004. Acting alongside Lost‘s Nestor Campbell and Oscar-winner Viola Davis, Markle made the most of her line. Everybody raise a glass!
She was a briefcase girl on Deal or No Deal
"I would end up standing up there forever in these terribly uncomfortable and inexpensive five-inch heels just waiting for someone to pick my number so I could go and sit down," she told Esquire. "Definitely working on Deal or No Deal was a learning experience, and it helped me to understand what I would rather be doing. So if that’s a way for me to gloss over that subject, then I will happily shift gears into something else.
She did freelance calligraphy between acting jobs
While a struggling actor trying to pay the bills, Markle did a little bit of everything, including calligraphy for Robin Thicke and Paula Patton’s wedding and Dolce & Gabbana’s celebrity holiday correspondence. "I would sit there with a little white tube sock on my hand so no hand oils got on the card, trying to pay my bills while auditioning," she told Esquire. "I’m glad that in the land of no one seeming to appreciate a handwritten note anymore that I can try to keep that alive."
But how much does it pay? "Oh, it’s super-lucrative. Because there are so few people doing it," Markle said. "What’s funny is I probably still have some calligraphy business cards floating out in the world and I can’t wait for someone to call me in a month or something, and say, ‘Can you do these for my son’s Bar Mitzvah?’"
She had a provocative turn on 90210
Shortly after her appearance on Deal or No Deal, Markle appeared in The CW’s teen drama 90210 in 2008. It was, shall we say, interesting.
According to Vulture, "Markle was a messy b**ch who lived for the drama in a two-part arc of the 90210 reboot—her very first scene was giving a guy a [NSFW act] in a car, and she continues to wreak havoc on these high-school students’ romantic entanglements until her quick departure."
Being biracial hurt her career
In a 2015 essay for Elle UK, Markle wrote about "creating her identity and finding her voice as a mixed race woman." By being biracial (her father is white and her mother is African-American), Markle thought being ethnically nondescript would help her land roles. Unfortunately, she said that wasn’t the case.
"Being ‘ethnically ambiguous,’ as I was pegged in the industry, meant I could audition for virtually any role. Morphing from Latina when I was dressed in red, to African American when in mustard yellow…" she wrote. "Sadly, it didn’t matter: I wasn’t black enough for the black roles and I wasn’t white enough for the white ones, leaving me somewhere in the middle as the ethnic chameleon who couldn’t book a job."
Markle felt like her role on USA’s critically-acclaimed Suits was created specifically for her. "The show’s producers weren’t looking for someone mixed, nor someone white or black for that matter. They were simply looking for Rachel," she said. "In making a choice like that, the Suits producers helped shift the way pop culture defines beauty."
She was written off her hit show
Suits creator Aaron Korsh apparently knew true love when he saw it. Realizing Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s relationship was blossoming, the decision was made to write her character off the show…just in case royal duties called.
"I knew from a year ago that this relationship was burgeoning. And I had a decision to make because I didn’t want to intrude and ask her, ‘Hey what’s going on and what are you going to do?’ So collectively with the writers, we decided to take a gamble that these two people were in love and it was going to work out," Korsh told Radio 4’s Today (via BBC News).
When asked if Markle would be able to handle the spotlight of royal life, Korsh left no doubt: "She is just a natural in front of the camera, and her intelligence and poise… I mean if anyone could handle it I’d say it was Meghan."