Meghan Markle had a successful acting career before she gained the title Duchess of Sussex, but since that happened she's been a bit busy and hasn't spent a lot of time making television or film. However, today she returns to the screen, or at least her voice does, as she narrates the new Disneynature documentary debuting on Disney+, Elephant.
It's perhaps an unusual place to make a return considering she is best known for the role of Rachel Zane on cable drama Suits, but Elephant producer Vanessa Berlowitz says that the actress was "fascinated" by the social structure of elephants, specifically, the matriarchal focus of the animals, which led her to want to be part of the project. According to Berlowitz...
She was absolutely intrigued by the elephants and transfixed, especially by the female empowerment side. How important the matriarchs are to the story; it really is all about female leadership. It’s a different form of power — it’s about consensual leadership. It’s also very inclusive, as well — very contemporary. She was absolutely fascinated by that.
Meghan Markle and her husband had dinner with the producers in Botswana, while they were visiting the country for Elephants Without Borders. There, she learned about the elephants and the film. It was following that meeting that the producers tell People that they had the idea to have Markle narrate the film. They actually pulled audio from a speech the actress had given at the UN and played it against footage they had shot to get an idea how she would sound as part of the movie, and they thought it sounded great.
Meghan Markle then took the job, though as part of the deal, a donation was made by the production to Elephants Without Borders.
While the performance may be simply narration, Disneynature films, in the tradition of Walt Disney's True Life Adventures which have been made by Disney since the late 1940s, are stories to be told as much, if not more, than being documentaries. The film creates characters from the animals on screen and sends them through a narrative adventure. To that end, Berlowitz says that Meghan Markle, being a new mother herself, connected to the characters of mother and child Shani and Jojo in a particular way. Not unlike the way an actor might connect to a character they are playing. Markle was also given the freedom to improvise some of her lines.
With April being Earth Month, Disney+ is releasing a lot of Disneynature content today. April 3 will see the Disney+ debut of Penguins, the last, and probably final, Disneynature film to see a theatrical release, alongside Elephant and Dolphin Reef, narrated by Natalie Portman. Behind-the-scenes documentaries of all three films are also available.