The trouble with Harry is a long list if you ask some. But for actor, producer and writer, Jordan Dean, it was not just his uncanny resemblance to the estranged royal son of Prince Charles that helped him with the tricky role.
Instead, it was the weight of Harry’s past and the duty to his present—the well-being of his growing family— that intrigued the classically trained theater actor better known for his work on the USA series The Sinner, Netflix’s The Punisher, and Z: The Beginning of Everything opposite Christina Ricci for Amazon.
Lifetime ran the third film in a series with three different actors cast as the royal (or not to some) couple. Each film featured different people portraying the Sussexes.
The gist of Harry & Meghan: Escaping the Palace sees the racial edge of the British press cut deep into Meghan’s psyche and affect her mental health, causing her husband to immediately take on a protector role who creates an out for the family to escape “the firm.” Prince William and Prince Harry’s fallout continues and deepens.
There were many strikes against Meghan. She was biracial, American, an actor, and a divorced woman. All of which added the ammo to the relentless British press to fire away. Many in the UK celebrated her fresh face and arrival. Many bemoaned it and still do.
The subtlety that the actors brought to each person in the royal yarn made the Lifetime effort an exceptional turn—no clear-cut villains except for the press. Dean played Harry with class and dignified air. Dean did the red-headed royal a good turn in this modern portrayal and was believable in every script step. Paired with another Broadway veteran, Sydney Morton, the reenacted life with baby Archie and subsequent news of the second pregnancy and birth of Lilibet feels accurate and truthful.
Lifetime’s first film bowed in 2018 and set up their romance; the 2019 sequel involved Meghan settling into her new life. This last one was the exit plan, Harry’s “step back” move as senior royals in January 2020, and the intense backlash that received on both sides of the pond.
Dean was born in Brooklyn, then raised in New Jersey, an arts kid whose early years were immersive, both at home and in school. Dean participated in dozens of off-Broadway plays and participating in local theater. He even missed his high school graduation for his performance in An Enemy of the People at the Tony Award-winning Williamstown Theatre Festival in the Berkshires [Massachusetts].
Dean attended the prestigious Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama. He appeared in Cymbeline at the Lincoln Center opposite Phylicia Rashad and Michael Cerveris, American Psycho opposite Benjamin Walker, Mamma Mia, A New Century for Paul Rudnick, and A Midsummers Night’s Dream once again opposite Christina Ricci.
But life took a rapid turn for the worst for Dean in 2019, surviving two open-heart surgeries after suffering two aortic aneurysms, something he tells us he never even felt. Dean talked to Monsters & Critics about all of this in our exclusive interview.
Exclusive interview with Jordan Dean
Monsters & Critics: When this Lifetime film was presented to you, what were some of the surprising things that you’ve learned about Harry before you accepted the role?
Jordan Dean: Well, it’s funny. I think it was how much Diana’s passing affected him still and how much that was a factor in terms of his mental health and his relationship with his role in the palace.
I think he’s always been a bit of a free spirit in that sense. And I think that he has tried to find his path. But, when it comes to protecting Meghan and his family, I think he did what he did to keep them safe and avoid history repeating itself.
So I think it was hard learning about that [history] because this is an actual person who’s gone through these things. But as an actor, there’s a lot to mine from that.
M&C: Playing someone very much alive versus a historical figure is tricky. What was going on in the back of your mind as you were taking on this persona, taking on this role knowing full well that Harry could be watching?
Jordan Dean: Yes. Whenever you approach a role like this, you have to go in with a certain amount of specificity. When you’re playing Abraham Lincoln, you’re reading about him, trying to research in that sense, but with Harry, you have extended interviews and footage to pull from, almost to the point where it’s overwhelming.
How much he has been interviewed and on camera. I think you have to pick and choose what works for you and what works for the film and take what I can take and connect personally to as an actor, and how I can use that in the scenes, trying to throw away the rest and make it my own.
Because again, we’re not trying to do a parody or an impersonation or some camp version of it. We’re trying to get as much of the essence of them so that when you’re watching it, you get captured into the story, and you forget about [the fact] they’re actors portraying these real people who were alive.
M&C: This story is far from over. Do you anticipate that there will be a fourth film?
Jordan Dean: Honestly, I think there’s no shortage of storylines that they could Lifetime or, frankly, any other network could pull from.
But it’s funny after we wrapped. I wanted to let it go, to be honest with you. We were so immersed in the shooting that as soon as we wrapped on that final day, I needed a little royal break.
The reason is that we’re dealing with really serious subjects in the film, and you try to handle them with a certain amount of depth that they deserve.
I’m sure there’ll be more storylines for them to pull from and to write. I’m sure there’ll be, there’ll be things that they could pull from. Absolutely.
M&C: Your past is full of gritty work like The Sinner and The Punisher with Jon Bernthal. Do you prefer something that is an edgier and more physical role?
Jordan Dean: That is a great question. I love getting cast in roles like that because it allows me to use different energy than I walk with my normal life.
As an actor, it’s just a lot of fun, especially when working with someone like [The Punisher] Jon Bernthal or [The Sinner] Ben Barnes, actors who were so giving. Not to digress too much, but I walked on The Punisher set the first day, before I’d even worked some of my scenes with Jon, he was open to anything that I wanted to contribute to the character, Jake Nelson https://marvelcinematicuniverse.fandom.com/wiki/Jordan_Dean and what felt suitable for me and what didn’t feel right.
And again, I don’t know if [being drawn to] playing dark characters means that the actor is a sweetheart like Jon and Ben, but it’s amazing to sort of dive into those characters that are very different than me and to express things that are foreign to my daily life.
M&C: You’re from the east coast, and you have an incredible CV. What is it about theater versus work in television or a TV film energetically for you as an actor? What are your likes, and what are the drawbacks?
Jordan Dean: With theater, the immediate response of an audience is both gratifying and terrifying. So it’s for the lack of response sometimes in theater can be scary.
It’s thrilling in its unique way. But, on the other hand, it requires a particular focus because you don’t get another take that you’re using a different part of your brain every time you step on stage.
I think being an actor is brave, but being a theater actor and coming up in theaters trained me to be present and allowed me to do TV and film. Because I think without theater, it would have been much harder with all the moving pieces on a set and getting notes and the time restraints that you have on set.
There are no excuses when it comes to theater. So I think that helps when you’re on set and even also with no excuses, you do have [the ability for] another take.
M&C: Are you working on any other projects?
Jordan Dean: I’m currently writing a pilot based on a murder that happens up in Narrowsburg, New York, with my writing partner Laura Ramadei. We’re working on that, and that should be finished within the next two months. It’ll be a mini-series. It’s a darker, also very gritty world with some sort of gallows humor throughout it.
M&C: How is your health? How did you know that you were having an aortic aneurysm? Was it a feeling like a heart attack? How did you know what was going on?
Jordan Dean: It was about two years ago I had open-heart surgery to fix the two aneurysms. I had two surgeries. The first one failed. So that’s what I had to do, open-heart surgeries. I am fully recovered from them, which is a real blessing. You don’t feel anything which is the thing, [well] I didn’t feel anything when it came to my aneurisms, which is scary because they’re life-threatening. So I got a check-up, and I had an MRI. A lot of people live with aneurysms that are not so big. So then I had another MRI, and the Doctor said, “These are rather large, and we’re going to have to do something about these.”
And that the surgery was going to be tricky. “Tricky? What do you mean tricky?” I said. “Life or death tricky? One of the 10, how tricky are we talking?” And the Doctor said, “an eight.”
It puts your whole world into perspective, and it changed how I approach acting. It changed how I approach my day in a very good way. I felt very grateful to be working and feel strong again and have gone through this experience; it affects your work because it changed how I move through a room. It changed how I breathe. It changed how I speak.
There are things about how I go through my day different than there were before that surgery. And I feel fortunate, and I feel like every time I’m working on something, it’s a real blessing in a way that I couldn’t have appreciated before. Everything comes into sharp focus quickly.