From Meghan Markle to Brad Pitt — Acting Coach Margie Haber Shares How She Helped Shape Hollywood's Biggest Stars

The prolific acting coach and author shares exclusive anecdotes from the 'good old days.'

The Acting Coach Who Helped Megan Markle and Brad Pitt Break Into Hollywood Has Seen Some Things
Photo: Margie Haber/ Getty Images/ InStyle

"We never know what people are going to become, do we?" muses Margie Haber, reflecting on teaching Meghan Markle about auditioning before the actress-turned-duchess landed Suits. In her half-century as an acting coach, Haber has been charmed by Brad Pitt, helped Sophia Bush land One Tree Hill and encouraged Tiffany Haddish to let her guard down. Then there was the day late music legend Prince turned up to class.

"He was the opposite of the electrifying person you saw on stage," Haber, 76, recalls. "He was sweet, shy and stayed in his comfort zone. A lot of actors are like that."

And, not just actors. Haber's new book, F*ck Your Comfort Zone, aims to help anyone shed the "walls" of their comfort zones in order to live more fulfilling lives. Featuring anecdotes from students like Haddish and transcripts from her classes, the book also weaves in lessons from Haber's own journey.

Raised by an opera singer father and concert pianist mother in Hewlett, New York, Haber performed her first play, South Pacific, at age six and dreamed of becoming Judy Garland. Performing Garland's songs in the garage — "it had a fantastic echo!" — 16-year-old Haber then rocked up to Mineola Playhouse (where Garland's daughter Liza Minnelli was performing) 21 nights in a row in hope of meeting her idol. Now that's fangirl dedication! She instead met Minnelli, who later introduced her to Garland. "I could barely catch my breath as she affectionately and humorously welcomed me."

However, it was becoming besties with The Supremes' late Mary Wilson that proved life-changing. After studying speech pathology and audiology, Haber took up Wilson's invite to join her in California, where she took her first acting class, in-between rubbing shoulders with The Temptations and poolside hangs with Michael Jackson. "He was an adorable 10-year-old. I would push him in the pool and we'd play. He just wanted to be a kid."

Ultimately, teaching was Haber's calling, but she credits acting and creativity for carrying her through a youth spent hiding her sexuality. Today, she's happily married to professional organizer Susan Roberts, but in the past, being gay felt "horrifying."

"I thought I was really sick, so I hid it for so long," says Haber, who has an adopted son Michael, 32. "But we're only as sick as our secrets and that's one reason I wrote this book. If we use our challenges to be more empathetic and curious, we become better humans."

Harnessing personal power is something Haber now focuses on while teaching at Los Angeles' Margie Haber Studio, which is why F*ck Your Comfort Zone isn't just for actors. She has also coached corporate and political leaders. "Our comfort zones are a straitjacket we wear which becomes a personal prison," Haber says. "When you remove those walls, you can have a wonderful, intimate life."

Below, Haber recounts the Hollywood stars who she has helped crush comfort zones.

The Acting Coach Who Helped Megan Markle and Brad Pitt Break Into Hollywood Has Seen Some Things
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Brad Pitt

As soon as Brad entered my studio, I knew he'd become a star. It's one thing being adorable and sexy, but he had an air of confidence and a twinkle in his eyes that was irresistible. There's a handful of actors, out of thousands I've taught, where I believed they had the "it" factor. Vince Vaughn, Tiffany Haddish and Kyle Chandler all exhibited that charisma — a bright light shining through them. When I met Brad, he made me feel special. He charmed me with his smile, openness and trust. We worked on Thelma & Louise and the scene where he spins the hairdryer in the motel. We spent hours working on the relationship between his character and Louise, to ensure he wasn't the villain on-screen.

Prince

One day, I got a call from a student, Andy Allo from Upload, asking if she could bring a friend to class. I don't usually let people watch because I want students to feel safe and not judged, but she said he was a close friend who was curious to watch me teach. His name was Prince. "In that case, yes!" I gasped. Prince walked in looking exactly like one would expect — petite, androgynous, shy. My entire class was freaking out. It was a new class, so everyone went around saying their name and we were all wondering what he would say. Would it be "Prince?" "The Artist?" "Alexander Nevermind?" His reply was "Stan Lee." He had a sense of humor! After class, he humbly thanked me for all he learned that day. Prince loved that everything I taught was connected to relationships and bringing actors' "specialness" into the life of a character. He was sincere and genuine.

The Acting Coach Who Helped Megan Markle and Brad Pitt Break Into Hollywood Has Seen Some Things
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Halle Berry

When Halle was filming Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, we talked about creating a character who was similar to her. Her character was a star in the 1950s/60s and the first Black woman to be nominated for a Best Actress Oscar. Ironically, Halle was later the first Black actress to receive the award. Halle understood Dorothy. She said, "My struggle has been similar to hers." We spoke about how challenging it was to live as a Black woman in the '50s and '60s. In the movie, Dorothy dipped her toes in the hotel pool and they later emptied the water and scrubbed it as if there were germs infesting it. That's the shame Halle had to experience living Dorothy Dandridge's life. Halle, today, is the same person she was when we worked together. When some students become successful, they start wearing a mask to protect themselves and aren't as open. They remove the best parts of themselves. Halle's still open, available and loving. Whenever I see her, she's like, "How are you, Margie? I'm so proud of you!" She's just delicious!

Josh Duhamel

I got a call from producer Oscar Torres about casting and working with actors on Bravetown, then became an associate producer, which is how Josh and I began working together. I used to go his house where Fergie was and hang out. I taught him to not write everything down. I said, "You've got to get away from being technical by doing biographies of a character. Get on the character's feet and allow yourself to connect with it fully, emotionally." I took the pen away from him, got him on his feet and we physically pushed each other to release the anger and pain he felt as this character who lost his best friend in the war. He changed a lot in the way he created characters because of what we did together.

Tiffany Haddish

I remember the day I met Tiffany at my studio in Los Angeles. People came to my class to learn how to audition. Tiffany seemed apprehensive to try something new. She was a streak of lightning, filled with energy, humor and warmth, but I knew there was more than meets the eye. Even the best of my students — Brad Pitt, Halle Berry, Mariska Hargitay — had to learn the art of the audition process. It's not easy to tell a stand-up comic, who gets paid to be funny, to let go of her humor and create the complications of a layered human being. That was my challenge with Tiffany. After a while, she let her guard down. With her vulnerability and openness, she was able to remove the armor and enjoy this new approach to creativity.

The Acting Coach Who Helped Megan Markle and Brad Pitt Break Into Hollywood Has Seen Some Things
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Meghan Markle

I've worked with a lot of people before they've landed a big show, like Mariska Hargitay before she landed Law & Order and Meghan before she was on Suits. Look at her now! It was just before Suits and I was teaching auditioning for film and television, so she was in class for that. She was a really nice person, who was a really good actress and I just helped her create … but didn't know what she would become later in life!

The Acting Coach Who Helped Megan Markle and Brad Pitt Break Into Hollywood Has Seen Some Things
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Heather Locklear

I taught Heather Locklear, Kristin Davis — who was young and adorable — Josie Bissett, Lisa Rinna and Brooke Langton and all of them ended up on Melrose Place. I was the proud Melrose Place coach! What I loved about Heather was at lunchtime we'd stand in line like all the crew and I'd ask, "You don't want to get in front?" She'd say, "I never do that. I'm in line with everybody else." Everybody loved her and I was her coach for many years. I also helped her find her sexuality for roles. It's interesting looking back because I've been interviewed many times about the #MeToo movement since and I remember a time when Heather was in a show and something happened which she felt uncomfortable about. At that time, I didn't understand what it meant, nor did anybody. Today, I understand the way women were treated was completely unacceptable. We put up with a lot we didn't realize was not professional nor kind during those years.

The Acting Coach Who Helped Megan Markle and Brad Pitt Break Into Hollywood Has Seen Some Things
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Sophia Bush

I was introduced to Sophia Bush as she was auditioning for One Tree Hill. It was a very relationship-oriented role and I knew she would book it. Nine years later, when the show was over, we worked on another audition for sitcom, Partners. We had a lot of fun creating the physical comedy of her laying on a yoga mat flashing her new engagement ring to her friend. She booked that too!

Rick Springfield

Years ago, Rick Springfield called saying, "Margie, I hear you're the best. I'm up for series regular on Californication and don't know how to have sex in an audition!" I knew Rick was a famous singer and everyone loved him as Noah on General Hospital, but I'd never met him before. Like many actors, he was terrified of auditioning. How do you have sex in an audition? You can't touch anybody and you can't go up to the casting director and pretend to have sex with them, so all you have is this chair. Rick sat in this chair squirming and so uncomfortable that I stopped him, turned the chair around and said, "I want you to imagine the woman you're having sex with is the woman you're reading with." You can't just hump a chair — you have to see the person in front of you and go, "I want you. I want to take you." Rick went for it and booked the role. That was the beginning of a long friendship. His challenges with suicide and depression are in his autobiography, which he graciously gave me a piece of for F*ck Your Comfort Zone. If you talk about f***ing your comfort zone, this guy has done it throughout his lifetime.

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