Here's what Meghan Markle was like before becoming a royal

Meghan Markle, the American actor-turned-wife of Britain's Prince Harry, experienced an entry into the royal family so dramatic, it could've been one of her Hollywood roles. After meeting Harry in 2016, getting engaged in 2017 and staging a lavish royal wedding in May 2018, Meghan stirred up controversy and became the target of the British press, and was even rumored to be feuding with Harry's brother, Prince William, and his wife, Kate Middleton. After a tumultuous few years in the public eye, Meghan and Prince Harry made the shocking decision, dubbed their "Megxit," to step away from the royal family and split their time between Britain and North America.

Living life as a commoner, or at least a common celebrity, is no different from Meghan's life before she was linked to Harry. Well, at least until she became a well-known star, that is. Best known for her role on the USA Network legal drama Suits, Meghan certainly knew about life in the public eye pre-Harry. Of course, only time will tell how Meghan and Harry's post-Megxit life will play out, but Markle certainly has plenty of life experience to inform what their new world will look like. Read on for more details of Markle's Hollywood life before she became — for a short time — her royal highness.  

Before the small screen, Meghan Markle was a sorority girl

Meghan Markle spent her college years as a double major in theater and international relations at Northwestern University, graduating from the prestigious Evanston, Ill. institution in 2003. During her time at Northwestern, she was a member of the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority from 2000 to 2003. The sorority, with the official colors of light blue and dark blue, congratulated Markle on her 2017 engagement to Prince Harry, with a post on the organization's Facebook page, stating, "We hope Meghan remembers her something blue (and blue) on her special day."

"I had always been the theater nerd at Northwestern University," Markle told Marie Claire in 2013, with The Chicago Sun-Times speaking to one of her former theater professors, Prof. Harvey Young, in 2017. "She reminded me of a lot of our other very promising alumni, in that she was passionate about theater and really had a sense of self-confidence that you could imagine would allow her to weather the storms of the professional world," remembered Young, who taught Markle in his eight-person Studies in Black Performance class in 2003. Young also told The Chicago Tribune that the racial element of the class seemed to affect Markle. "As a biracial actress, (Markle) was quite aware about how people respond to race and racial differences and ideas of otherness," he said, praising her "very sophisticated understanding" of race. 

Meghan Markle contemplated a career in politics

A California native, Meghan Markle seemed almost destined to end up in Hollywood. But her career almost took a much different shape, with Markle once contemplating pursuing a different passion and going into politics. "I knew I wanted to do acting, but I hated the idea of being this cliché — a girl from L.A. who decides to be an actress," she told Marie Claire in 2013. I wanted more than that, and I had always loved politics ... by my junior year I had finished most of my credits, and I applied for an internship at the U.S. Embassy, so I ended up working in the embassy in Buenos Aires for a few months."

By a stroke of luck, Markle connected with a talent manager while home in Los Angeles for winter break during her senior year. "He saw a student film that I had done and said, 'You know what, you're going to make money, and I'll take 10 percent, and I think you should stick around,'" Markle told Marie Claire. The rest was history, with Markle beginning to make television appearances soon after. Her brush with politics, though, informed her breakthrough performance as paralegal Rachel Zane on the USA Network drama Suits. "I will say that working in the embassy has rooted my performance for this in a different way," she told Marie Claire. "I love the intelligence that's written into Rachel."

Yep, that was Meghan Markle on Deal or No Deal

Meghan Markle booked her first role even before she graduated from Northwestern University, appearing in the background of a 2002 episode of General Hospital as a nurse named Jill. Once she graduated in 2003 and decamped to Hollywood, her journey to make it as an actor would not be easy, as she admitted in a 2013 interview with Marie Claire, claiming she did "a pilot every year" before her Suits casting in 2011. "I was really spoiled because I booked my first audition right away, so it's the biggest tease because you think, 'Oh, this is easy,'" she said, adding, "All things considered, I'm so grateful and fortunate ... but it's not easy. It was definitely a struggle." 

Markle soldiered through many small roles in Hollywood, including the 2004 legal drama Century City, the family sitcom The War at Home in 2006, a 2006 episode of CSI: NY and an episode of 90210 in 2008, in which her character performs a racy sex act in a car. Perhaps Markle's most notorious pre-Suits role was in 2007, as a suitcase girl on the game show 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 recalled to Esquire in 2013.

Meghan Markle's first Hollywood romance ended in divorce

Meghan Markle began dating actor/producer Trevor Engelson (pictured above) in 2004, with the couple tying the knot in September 2011. Per Metro UK, their nuptials were an island bash, "thrown on a beach in Jamaica." The union lasted just shy of two years, with Markle and Engelson splitting in August 2013, their marriage ending in a no-fault divorce. 

Engelson also allegedly dated entrepreneur and TV personality Bethenny Frankel, as the former The Real Housewives of New York star told The Kyle and Jackie O Show, in 2018 (via Us Weekly). "I met this guy as a romantic interest, his name is Trevor," the Bravo star, 47, recalled while discussing her love life on the Australian radio show. Frankel claimed that Engelson pitched her a TV concept about a group of businesswomen, and that they "bypassed the romantics and went into the business." Frankel also recalled texting Engelson, upon finding out Markle and Prince Harry were dating, "Holy sh*t! Your ex is going to be a princess. Is that crazy?"

Engelson, who married for the second time in 2019, was also allegedly linked to a TV project that mirrored his own storyline with Markle, about a couple that gets divorced, only for the woman in the former relationship to marry a British prince. The show, greenlit by Fox in 2017, has yet to actually make it to the screen. 

She struggled with racial issues in Hollywood

As a biracial actor with a white father and a black mother, Meghan Markle has explained the difficulties of being treated like an "other" in Hollywood. In a 2015 essay for ELLE, Markle described how she navigated auditions that often had a race attached to the character. "Being 'ethnically ambiguous', as I was pegged in the industry, meant I could audition for virtually any role," she wrote, adding, "Morphing from Latina when I was dressed in red, to African American when in mustard yellow ... 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."

One specific aspect of the media's colorist treatment of Markle particularly bothered her: when magazines would airbrush over her freckles, as she explained to Allure in 2017. "Add the freckles to the mix and it created quite the conundrum," she said, describing how her facial attributes confused onlookers trying to guess her race. "To this day, my pet peeve is when my skin tone is changed and my freckles are airbrushed out of a photo shoot."

Suits was Meghan Markle's breakthrough role

Meghan Markle found a stable on-screen home in 2011, playing Rachel Zane, a cutthroat paralegal, on the USA Network legal drama Suits. The show may not have been a critical darling like other cable dramas of the 2010s, but it was a ratings hit, which Markle recognized in a 2013 interview with Esquire. "I guess what's so deceptive about it is that it doesn't seem like our show is part of the zeitgeist in the same way as the HBO shows, right?" she said, citing HBO's The Newsroom and Girls as examples. "But at the same time, you look at our numbers ... for our show, we've been really lucky that not only have we had a strong following from the beginning, but USA is the number-one (cable) network, and we're one of their number-one shows."

Markle identified with her character's intelligence and drive, she told Marie Claire in 2013. "Rachel and I, very similar: ambitious, driven, and always trying to take the bull by its horns," she said, describing how she originally thought, after her Suits audition, that she didn't get the role. "This was not realizing that behind the scenes, they loved my audition, and were putting together a test deal for me. And again, maybe that's where I'm similar to Rachel, in that I'm harder on myself than anyone else might be.After seven happy seasons, Markle's final Suits episode aired in 2018, shortly before her wedding to Prince Harry.

Canada became Meghan Markle's second home

A California native who moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting, Meghan Markle's Suits role required her to live in Canada for eight months out of the year in order to film the show. Toronto became a second home for Markle, and she and her co-stars bonded over living in their new locations. "We get out here in March, and we'll probably wrap early November this year. I am an adopted Canuck now," Markle told Esquire in 2013, describing the cookouts she and her Suits cast members would have together, and how she enjoyed cooking for them using one of her favorite kitchen gadgets. "When I had my car brought out here, I shipped my Vitamix in the backseat. It was one of the things where I was like, 'I cannot travel without my Vitamix.'"

While Markle seemingly enjoyed her time in Canada, some tabloids claimed that the substantial time Markle spent in the Great White North, which began around the same time as her 2011 marriage to Trevor Engelson, contributed to the couple's eventual divorce, considering the amount of time the duo spent apart. Years later, after weathering "seven Canadian winters," as she told Vanity Fair in 2017, she would return to Canada with her second husband, Prince Harry. After the couple controversially announced they were stepping away from their royal duties in January 2020, the two decamped for Vancouver with their young son Archie

Meghan Markle was a Hallmark Channel star

While appearing on Suits, Meghan Markle continued to book other acting roles. Hallmark Channel fans may have spotted her in two of the network's famously-sentimental original movies, in which she played two characters of career women who find love in unexpected places. In 2014, Markle appeared in the Hallmark Channel original film When Sparks Flyin which she played a journalist who reconnects with an ex-boyfriend while working on an article in her hometown. Next came Dater's Handbook in 2016 (screenshot above), which featured Markle as a businesswoman who re-fashions her love life around the advice of a self-help book, eventually falling in love with two different men. 

Markle, speaking to the Hallmark Channel about Dater's Handbook, called the network "amazing (to) work for ... It's just really heartwarming and affirming and validating, and I think, especially in this day and age, it's so nice for families to be able to all watch programming together." As for her Dater's Handbook role, Markle provided a few insights into her approach to love, which her fans would soon see on display in her relationship with Prince Harry. "You have to follow your heart to find your true love," she said, disputing the idea that relationships involve "games" and deceit. "At the end of the day, when it comes down to finding the person that you're right for, that's not the person you're going to play games with."

Was Meghan Markle becoming the next Gwyneth Paltrow?

Passionate about food and wine, Meghan Markle channeled her hobbies into her own lifestyle site, The Tig, named after one of her favorite Italian wines, the famous Tignanello. "For fashion, for beauty, whatever it is, there are all these 'a-ha moments' of 'getting it,'" she told The Rachael Ray Show in 2015 about the kinds of paradigm-shifting products and moments she intended the website to share. Beginning in 2014, Markle wrote posts covering her favorite fashion, books, music, travel, and style tips. Markle interviewed famous names like Serena Williams and Priyanka Chopra, both of whom attended Markle's royal wedding to Prince Harry in May 2018, and also dubbed her magical moments of realization "Tig moments" on the site's About page (via Cosmopolitan).  

Markle eventually shut the site down in 2017 and archived all its posts once her relationship with Prince Harry became public. "What began as a passion project (my little engine that could) evolved into an amazing community of inspiration, support, fun and frivolity," Markle wrote in her farewell note on The Tig's homepage. However, now that Markle and Harry are free from the constraints of the British royal family, including a restrictive media policy that would've made Markle maintaining The Tig as a duchess nearly impossible, the internet has speculated whether Markle will relaunch The Tig to chronicle her family's new life in North America. 

Meghan Markle planned to conquer the big screen before she met Harry

Meghan Markle's Hollywood career was sidelined in 2016 when she began dating Prince Harry, with the couple making its first official appearance at a royal engagement together in September 2017. While Markle was best known in Hollywood for her Suits TV role, she also appeared in her fair share of film roles, including the 2010 comedy Get Him To the Greekthe 2010 drama Remember Me2011's slapstick Horrible Bosses and the thriller Anti-Social in 2015. In interviews she gave before she began dating Harry, Markle said she hoped to book more film roles, telling Marie Claire in 2013 she aspired to act in "a really gritty, interesting, indie-type film, (and) commercial, bigger stuff."

Following Meghan and Prince Harry's decision to step back from the British royal family, which they announced in January 2020, entertainment trade magazines buzzed about the prospect of Markle returning to her career as an actress. And it didn't take long for Markle to make a return of sorts to Hollywood. She narrated the Disneynature feature Elephant that premiered in April 2020 on the streaming platform Disney+. According to The Times, Markle allegedly took no pay for the gig, with Disney instead making a donation to the anti-poaching Elephants Without Borders organization as part of the couple's new initiative to "[use] their celebrity status to benefit their chosen causes."