The hit Lorde song goes, “We’ll never be royals.” This is the case for most of us, except for actor Jordan Whalen — kinda. The Iowa thespian, who has appeared on both stage and screen (The Wrath, The Assassin’s Code) is getting the chance to live out many folks’ regal fantasies, starring as Prince William in the Lifetime TV movie Harry & Meghan: Becoming Royal. As the film’s name suggests, it centres around the lives of the recently married Duke and Duchess of Sussex, and is a sequel to last year’s very popular Harry & Meghan: A Royal Romance. (Everyone was talking about it — just ask your wife.)
Here, we talk with Whalen about his resemblance to the Prince, the challenge of portraying historical figures, and the process of getting the perfect bald spot.
How does it feel to portray Prince William? You do look similar to him. Have you gotten that before?
Yeah, I have gotten that before. I just take it with a grain of salt because you ask somebody else and they’re like, “Ehh no way.” But it felt great to play him. It’s my first time really getting to dive into playing a real-life, current person, so the strategy of how you do your research has to change — you have real-life source material right there.
Yeah for sure! Going off that, how did you get into character?
I watched the many of the thousands of hours of interviews that he has and me, as an American growing up in the Midwest, I really tried to focus on his dialect and getting it just right. You have to have this hold up to a British audience; you just want to be as good as you can possibly be. Just kind of watching his mannerism, how he acts outwardly, so you can try and get an understanding about what might be going on inside — behind closed doors but also in his heart.
What would say the differences are between playing a real-life person and portraying a fictional one? Was it more challenging? Less?
I would say it’s both because you have the advantage of saying, “Okay, that’s exactly what he looks like today, and this is what he did in a interview this week or last month or three years ago.” So, you have all this material right there. The challenge with that is the expectations that people have with that as well, so you’re going to be measured against that, whereas if you’re playing a fictional person, he’s not gonna walk into the room and be like, “Ah, that’s not right!” Granted, Prince William is not gonna call me up and say, “No, you didn’t get it right.” There’s certain advantages and challenges with that for sure.
Did you watch the royal wedding at the time?
At the time? No, I think I was asleep. I followed it inasmuch as people were like, “Oh hey, I just watched the royal wedding, and you really remind me of Prince William.” That’s when I really started to get into it. So then I went back to look at the photos of him and it depends on the picture that you look at. I did go back and watch a little bit of the royal wedding when I was cast as William, just to again kind of get the major points of his life and maybe understand what he might be going through in those moments.
I read that they had to shave a bald patch in your hair. What was that like?
I thought it was going to be two minutes, buzz, buzz, buzz, and you’re out and you’re gonna be pretty darn bald. But it was really tedious. It was about 45 minutes. Shelley, our hair designer, basically used shears to trim patches out of my hair because in the photo we were using, he’s not completely and evenly bald. He’s got a big bald spot in the back, so that was pretty bare, but then everything else was kinda patched out, so I still had some remnants of some hair. And then she bleached that because on camera, the way that that reads is it’s a bit more bald than my normal hair. So that was the process.
If you could portray another historical figure, who would you want to play?
Oh wow, that’s a great question! I think I’d go with George Washington. I’ve read a lot about his life and the creation of the United States and I think it would be interesting to step into those colossal shoes. This man has kinda been lionized by history very deliberately and I think by historical standards he stands up pretty well. Obviously there are some things that don’t quite jive with the 2019 world but it would be interesting to wear that hat and wear the weight of a country. He was very soft spoken too, so a lot of that would be internal work.
You said you watched thousands of hours of Prince William in public, but how did you fill in the blanks with him in private?
Substitution, basically. You know, I have a brother and the roles are reversed: I’m the younger brother, whereas in this movie I’m the older brother. Harry’s the younger one. From understanding my relationship with my brother — and we have all the respect in the world for one another — but we give each other crap all the time and joke around. So any bit of that I can borrow and put into my relationship with Charlie Fields who plays Harry, I use. And Charlie and I just getting to goof around backstage and get that jocular, brotherly relationship down really helps. That’s what I focused on the most because most of the reactions in the film are with Harry.
Were there any surreal moments when you were filming? Any good stories from set?
I don’t know about stories, but a few scenes in the movie we were recreating from real life like this bow — the first time Meghan bowed to the Queen, we were recreating that verbatim and then there was another interview about the Heads Together event, about mental health awareness, so we couldn’t have it exactly the way it was but it could look very similar to the way they were doing it. So then you try to capture the exact mannerisms, gesture with your hands, inflect on the same words they do. That was kind of strange. We were all kind of trying to do our best impressions of the characters at that moment.