Double duchess: Tiffany is mistaken for Meghan so often she gets to be her
Since the royal wedding, everyone from strangers to friends ‘suddenly found it hard to get past the resemblance’
It’s a balmy 22°C in LA, and Meghan Markle is wondering whether today might be “a double workout day”.
She’s just back from an early-morning hike – hence the off-duty actress uniform of workout “pants”, sneakers and sustainable Stella McCartney top – but is considering squeezing in a hot yoga session later this afternoon. “Because, in this business, there are days when you can’t fit anything in,” she explains, “so on the others, I sometimes try for a double”.
Then she smiles – a wide, white, ludicrously photogenic smile that reaches right up to her doe-like eyes – and I have to remind myself for the umpteenth time that it isn’t the Duchess of Sussex in front of me, but Tiffany Smith, a Californian actress who has the fortune and misfortune to look freakishly like her.
Fortune, because when it came to finding the perfect actress to play the duchess in the sequel to Harry & Meghan: A Royal Romance, Lifetime’s hit 2018 made-for-TV movie, 36-year-old Smith was a no-brainer.
Misfortune, because ever since Markle married Prince Harry in May 2018, everyone from strangers to friends of the actress “suddenly found it hard to get past the resemblance”.
“To the point that I’d be sent pictures of front covers from friends in New York who said: ‘I legitimately thought this was you!’”
This had never happened before because, contrary to popular British belief, Meghan wasn’t instantly recognisable to non-Suits fans out in the US until she married Prince Harry and started appearing on those front covers.
And, actually, it was almost a relief when the Duchess of Sussex became pregnant, Smith admits with a chuckle, “because I wasn’t pregnant, so there was no way I could be mistaken for her, walking down the street”.
Just weeks after her audition, Smith found herself filming Harry & Meghan: Becoming Royal in Vancouver, where she binge-watched Suits and every snippet of Markle footage she could find on YouTube, in an attempt to work out what made a woman, who she might have found herself alongside at a casting call just three years ago, unique enough to catch a prince’s eye.
“And the first thing I noticed was how genuine their relationship seemed to be. There’s obviously such a massive amount of love there.”
As Smith worked on perfecting the Duchess’ ticks – “she does this baby hair tuck a lot, where she doesn’t actually tuck anything behind her ear, and she also looks up at people through her lashes, in a way that’s very like Diana” – she would send Charlie Field, who stars alongside her as the Duke of Sussex, Instagram videos of the pair “having these little interactions together”.
The actress became obsessed with the few seconds at the end of their official engagement video, “where the microphones are switched off but you can still see them having this beautiful intimate moment. There’s a playfulness and a lightness there that we really tried to get across.”
“And, yes, Meghan’s obviously very ambitious,” she adds, “but Harry works really hard on his projects, too, so I think he wants someone by his side who is prepared to get their hands dirty. And the best relationships are the ones where you have similar goals and help each other along the way.”
Isn’t it pretty clear that Markle wears the trousers, though?
“Well, what I will say is that Harry gives Meghan the ‘I love you look’ a lot more than she does to him. I remember my grandmother would always tell me, ‘You need to make sure that the guy loves you more’,” she grins.
“But I don’t know if that’s necessarily what I’d want.”
It may well be what Meghan wants, however. And another thing Smith became sure of as she researched the duchess, “was that she’s someone who knows exactly what she wants – as well as how she's going to make it happen”.
“I think she always has been like that. And yet there is still this warmth to her that I love. So it was important for me to get that across in the film and present Meghan as this incredibly strong woman who wants to make changes in the world – but also as a tender, kind woman.”
She pauses. “There’s this idea in Hollywood now that we need to be showing more and more well-rounded female characters – because the truth is that no woman is just one thing.”
The Duchess of Sussex that screenwriter Scarlett Lacey depicts in Becoming Royal is certainly well rounded – as well as challenged and conflicted.
“I just feel like I’m pretending to be this beautiful swan,” laments Markle at one point in the film, before deftly putting a woman lacking in royal respect in her place just moments later.
“I’m still waiting on that curtsy.”
As a guest host on E! News and high priestess of American “geek culture” who gets mobbed at events like Comic-Con, Smith has experienced her fair share of public scrutiny, and believes being an actress used to interviews and public speaking will have helped the Duchess of Sussex get through that first year.
But it does feel that there was a breaking point reached within that time, doesn’t it?
A moment in which Markle decided that she wasn’t going to be bullied either by the palace’s rigid traditions or the press?
“Oh, just because we don’t see Meghan crying in public, it doesn’t mean that she hasn’t sometimes felt that way,” agrees Smith.
“I had to take what we do know and guess how I – with a similar background – would have tried to handle some of the situations she’s been in. And I do think there would have been a moment where she decided: ‘Okay, I’m tired of being pushed in this direction now, and I’m going to stand up for myself’.”
To the outside world, that moment was epitomised by the Duchess shutting her own car door when she arrived at her first solo event in September. Then came the messages daubed on bananas.
And, of course, since the film wrapped and the duchess announced her pregnancy, there have been many more, from her lavish New York baby shower and the launch of her and Harry’s “Sussex Royal” Instagram account, to the new mother’s decision not to pose with her newborn son on the steps of the Portland Hospital just hours after giving birth.
“And whereas in the first film you see a moment where Meghan retreats into herself, in this one there’s a feeling of her saying: ‘Look – we are married now, and I’m not going anywhere, which is why I’m making a stand. So if you’re going to try to push my buttons, then I’m going to push right back.’ I certainly don’t see Meghan as subservient in any way.”
Because although the wedding looms large in Becoming Royal – with all the human drama of the buildup – it’s the aftermath, the fallouts within the duchess’ family and the difficulties of the couple’s first, very public year together that’s explored in the most depth, with Lacey relying on a smattering of sources – from people close to the royals and Meghan’s Hollywood friends to royal journalists – to give the film veracity.
There are a few behind-closed-doors conversations between Meghan and Kate, but the supposed rivalry between the two women isn't directly addressed, says Smith, “because we don’t know what the real story is there. And I believe both women are strong supporters of female empowerment, so for me it was really important that we saw that camaraderie and support.
“There is this mentality that women can’t support each other when there could possibly be competition there, but I’m not that way at all. And because I have that kind of energy, it seems logical to me that Meghan does, too.”
Of all the surreal moments on set – and there were many, from telling her father she’d spent the day “playing charades with the queen” to acting out “a bit from Suits, which was pretty meta as an actress playing an actress” – there was one that stood out.
“It was on the first day when I put the wedding dress on and the tiara, and that image of Meghan was so iconic that when I walked out in front of the cast with my hair and makeup done just like hers, they all gasped and said: ‘Oh my gosh – you really look like her!’ And when I looked at myself in the mirror I gasped, too.”
But the oddest moment came a few weeks later, when Smith had just got back to LA and was poring over pictures of herself on the red carpet at a premiere the night before with bemusement.
“I liked the pictures, but there was something wrong,” she frowns. “And when I showed them to my best friend, she laughed and said: ‘It’s because they’re not you. You’ve still got Meghan on you’.”
– © Telegraph Media Group Limited (2019)