If you thought it was noteworthy that Meghan Markle, a divorced, biracial American actress, is marrying Queen Elizabeth II’s grandson, Prince Harry, on Saturday, then hold on to your top hat:
Prince Charles, Harry’s dad and the future King of England, lives in Atlanta.
Morningside to be precise.
“When my agent called me, he was just as surprised as I was,” Steve Coulter said with a chuckle.
Coulter, 58, portrays Charles in “Harry & Meghan: A Royal Love Story,” a new and surprisingly uncornball-ish TV movie that debuted on Lifetime on Sunday night. If you missed it, don’t worry: Lifetime will replay it at least eight times this week -- including four times today and Tuesday -- pretty much ensuring no one misses this first-date-to-proposal retelling of a royal love story that’s more rocky reality than fairy tale at times.
“It’s really kind of fun, but it’s also sweet and not tabloid-y,” said Coulter, who started out not knowing much about the real-life royals, but ended up empathizing with them. “It has stuff about the media and the pressure of public life and the struggle to always represent (England) with honor.”
Indeed, Charles is often depicted as being stiff and woefully out of touch with the real world, but this movie shows him as an engaged father who’s also aware that his family belongs to and helps set the tone for the entire British commonwealth. The opening scenes are a flashback to the days after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, when Charles takes Harry and his older brother, William, to Africa.
“I’ve never acted with a lion before,” Coulter said of the scenes set in Botswana, which was actually a ranch about an hour north of Los Angeles. “I’ve acted with Al Pacino, but I think I was actually more excited about acting with the lion!”
In part, Charles’s goal is to get his traumatized sons as far away as possible from the media many (including Harry) consider responsible for the death of their mother. But he also wants them to “reflect on the world at large,” he tells them in the opening scene, and their place in it.
It’s a theme that continues years later as Harry and Meghan struggle to balance their personal lives and public responsibilities -- a balance Charles eventually helps tip in their favor (and at Pippa Middleton’s wedding to boot!).
“Charles is trying to get (Harry) to realize it’s not all just for appearances, that people look to them for an example of dignity,” Coulter said. “And then it comes full circle with Charles helping him and standing up for him.”
If you’re wondering how an Atlanta-based actor who once served as head writer for Tyler Perry’s TV series wound up portraying this veddy proper British royal, join the club. Coulter’s impressive acting credentials range from recurring roles on “House of Cards” and “The Walking Dead” to co-starring with Robert DeNiro (in “The Wizard of Lies” about Bernie Madoff) and Al Pacino (in HBO’s “Paterno” and 2017’s “Hangman,” which was filmed here).
Still, when his agents suggested he audition for Charles, his first instinct was to say no.
“They were asking for British accents and I don’t look like him,” said Coulter, who was born in Canada and moved to the United States at age two. “But then I Googled him and saw we had the same color hair and we parted it the same way, so I said ‘why not?’”
Why not? Well there is that rather prominent bald spot in the middle of the 69-year-old Charles’s head. When he got to the set in Vancouver, Canada, for a month of filming in February, Coulter went all DeNiro method-y and had them shave a similar bald patch into his own full head of hair. By then, he’d watched over 100 interviews of Charles to get down his mannerisms -- “He does a lot of putting his hands behind his back, especially when things get uncomfortable” -- and his accent, which he practiced while leafblowing his lawn and driving in Atlanta traffic.
And for a guy who started out having to Google the other guy, Coulter cares what Charles thinks now. “On the off chance” Charles catches the Lifetime flick (maybe when he’s visiting his sons, who undoubtedly know how to stream stuff) he wants his doppelganger, the future king, to give him the royal thumbs up.
“I didn’t realize what the royal family goes through and how much they give back,” said Coulter, who hasn’t yet decided whether to watch Saturday’s nuptials on TV. “I’d like him to think I’m doing him justice, that I’m not mocking him or just doing a character.”
Just like that, Coulter switched into his Charles upper class British accent from the movie:
“Hopefully he will go, ‘That chap does it right.’”