'The Crown' comes to life in Oprah interview

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Meghan Markle and Prince Harry. Image credit: Mark Jones/Flickr

Watching Oprah interview Meghan Markle, I kept thinking: is this acting? Or as Piers Morgan would say, lying. (He "didn't believe a word" in her "diatribe of bilge.") Meghan and Oprah were both actors, though each has moved on. But the Oscar goes to Meghan.

I mean this in a complimentary way. Acting obviously isn't real, it's fake. Yet when it works, it rings true. Unsuccessful acting feels false. Oprah isn't a very good actor. Take the extended take she did when Meghan said one of the royals questioned how dark Archie's skin would be. You could feel Oprah counting in her head and readying a zinger. Finally, "Whaaat?" she mugged.

Most acting, bad or good, has this fabricated nature. You know the moment is coming, you've done it endlessly onstage, or in takes on set, but you need to find a way to make it "real." The Canadian Autoworkers once released a poster of their late, charismatic leader, Bob White, squatting and chatting with a little girl. He knew it was staged and how it'd look so he did what he'd have done naturally and it worked. Why? It really was him, even if not right then.

It's complicated and simple. You're faking something real and hoping that it reads through. In this way, Meghan was formidable. She visibly considered the effects of her responses before making them but also knew they had to come from somewhere true or they'd misfire. The person she really is -- or was playing, or both -- was immensely more interesting than Rachel Zane, the forgettable character she played on Suits for seven years.

Then Harry came on and was formidable too. You realized he has a mind, something hard to picture back when he dressed as a Nazi for a costume party. (Someone once said that reading Walt Whitman's journalism makes you realize he had a mind, which doesn't occur to you if you just read the ferocious imagery he spews in his free verse.) Asked about his dad, Harry paused thoughtfully, then muttered: "Lot to work through there." Eloquent, terse and about as good as an errant dad will get from a son pretty estranged for now.

In fact they were more interesting and effective than the characters in The Crown, and topped it for schmaltz and drama. How? By humanizing figures who in The Crown had already been humanized by fine acting -- but you always knew they were actors. The Crown made you care about people that you've -- or at least I've -- always dismissed as shallow twits. The interview drew you into thinking about the actual people, not just well-made representations.

You could think of it as a bonus episode.

Then, as an epilogue, came the Piers Morgan blow-up. He's a U.K. equivalent to the dominating presence that Fox's Bill O'Reilly had in the U.S. till four years ago -- if you can even remember him now. Morgan said he wouldn't believe Meghan "if she read a weather report" -- a nice touch since it was a weather "presenter," as they say there, who, er, precipitated Morgan's forced resignation from his show.

Alex Beresford is perceptive, engaging and mixed-race, so he was invited onto the main panel instead of speaking from his weather desk in the corner. He tried explaining what being racialized is like -- what James Baldwin compared to having two full-time jobs. But Piers just wanted to rant about Meghan not understanding the succession rules of 1917. So Alex reverted to his view that Piers is miffed because Meghan ghosted him instead of accepting overtures to be his pal and get interviewed like Princess Diana was, in the most famous TV interview ever given in the U.K., or perhaps anywhere. Piers stormed out on-air -- also a nice touch since he'd provoked Alex to do that a year ago by belittling his weather job, then calling him a drama queen. How supremely parallel.

We got to see Morgan go unhinged live after an explanation of racialized experience that he'll never get: you could see that in the way Beresford inhaled and sighed each time before having another go at it.

I recommend looking it up. It's a bonus on top of a bonus.

Rick Salutin writes about current affairs and politics. This column was first published in the Toronto Star.

Image credit: Mark Jones/Flickr

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