Prepare for Priyanka Chopra's World Domination
You've seen Priyanka Chopra before. It's almost guaranteed—especially if you live in New York, where she's been staring you down all season from virtually every taxi top, billboard, city bus, and subway station in the city in ads for her ABC series Quantico. Or maybe you've spotted the Indian actress and winner of the 2000 Miss World title in any of the 50-plus Bollywood movies she's starred in, or maybe you've glimpsed her on the cover of GQ's India edition. And if not, no matter—she'll make absolutely sure you know her by name by the time she's done.
Quantico finds Chopra in her first starring role in an American production as Alex Parrish, a top FBI recruit who finds herself accused of masterminding a terrorist attack on New York City. But talking to Chopra, you get the creeping yet not-unwelcome suspicion that the United States is just the next phase of her campaign for Roman Empire-style world domination. When she's not filming Quantico during the week, she's traveling to movie shoots in India on the weekends, and in the spare time she somehow has, she's also a singer (you can hear her on Pitbull's 2013 single "Exotic") and the founder of her own production house. "I really believe I’m the other 'destiny's child,' besides Beyoncé," she says. "Destiny has a plan for me."
"I work hard, and you know what? I will get somewhere," she adds, as though she hasn't already.
Surrender willingly, America, to the unstoppable Chopra.
Quantico is just a few episodes into its season at this point, but already I've watched you assemble a gun, do push-ups, kick down a door, and throw somebody over your shoulder—and I just keep thinking, she can do everything! Has this role required a lot of training?
I've done a bunch of action movies, so I'm used to this in a way. That's made it much easier. What I do need to work on is my American accent. What I don't need to work on is kicking down doors. [Laughs]
"Counterterrorism task force—it took me two days to learn to say that in an American accent."
What are some of the craziest things you've had to learn to do onscreen, for said action movies? Oh, wow. When I was doing this boxing movie—you know how boxers are always skipping rope? They go back and forth and sideways, and I had to have a crash course on that in like two months. I played a five-time world champion boxer, an Indian woman named Mary Kom, and she's a real-life Indian woman who's about my age. Her trainers are the ones who trained me, and I had to learn how to box like her. But she's a lefty and I'm a righty, so I had to learn everything like a southpaw! It was really, really difficult.
You mentioned mastering the American accent was tough. What's that training been like?
I'd done accents before, in India, because we have so many different languages within the country and so many different dialects. I've played characters from lots of different parts of the country, so I know how the process works. But rolling my R's was really hard for me. [Laughs] Alex is an American-born girl but she also spent ten years in India, right before coming to Quantico [the FBI training academy]—so I'm supposed to have a mixed accent, but it has to have the American drawl.
Were there particular words that were hard for you in the script? R's and L's are hard for me. "Counterterrorism task force" in an American accent—it took me two days to say that. Coun-ter-ter-ror-is-m task force. We speak the British dialect in our English [in India], so stuff like that was a real mouthful for me. And it's much harder when I'm tired. Like this week—I came back from India, where I was doing a shoot for a movie over the weekend, and I think my accent was a lot more Indian.
So you've been traveling back and forth from the U.S. to India. Can you talk a little about what you're working on there? Yeah, I've been in India over the weekends. I just wrapped a film called Bajirao Mastani, released December 18, and the movie's based on history in the 1700s. It's a costume drama—a period film. It's a really beautiful, really serious film, directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali. But it's been a year of shooting, which has been difficult.
And I'm sure it's even more difficult when you have to play one character in one country during the week and another character in another country on the weekends. [Laughs] Yeah. Global domination, though, I guess! It was my choice to do this. Gotta pay for it.
Your Quantico role wasn't written specifically with an Indian actress in mind. What kinds of changes happened—in the script or in your performance—to make Alex Indian-American? We discussed changing Alex's name to make it Indian. But I got the spot on merit, and I think actors can always do the part that was written. So we had to of course explain why I look the way I do, so my mom is Indian in the show; and we had to explain why I speak the way I do, so [my character spends] considerable amounts of time in India, as well. Those things needed to be explained, in terms of making the character convincing. But I wanted to be able to become Alex. That's my job as a professional actor.
One thing I want to achieve with the show, more than entertaining people, is the ability to be seen as just an actor and not the color of my skin or where I come from. I think it's important to have a colorblind world, and the world's ready for that. We've spent enough time on the color of someone's skin; we need to start focusing on abilities and who's best for the job. That'll bring a form of equality to the world.
Last question for you. Kind of a weird one, but: I read once that when you were growing up, you had so many admirers that your family had bars installed over your windows. True?! True or false? [Laughter] Well. That was a phase, first of all. And that wasn't my family, it was my dad. I came back from school in America, I was seventeen, and yeah—I may have attracted some attention. I can say that. [laughs] So my dad, you know, being a possessive, protective dad of a teenager, he… jailed our house! He put wrought-iron bars on my windows because I had one guy try to sneak into my balcony, and my dad really freaked out about it. It only lasted, like, six months. I conformed, and my dad conformed, and we both kind of adjusted.
There's something a little bit funny about being the girl who's so beautiful she has to live in a cage, but then you think about it for a second, and that... sounds kind of awful, actually. Oh, my God. [laughs] I don't think it was about being beautiful. I just think I was that kind of girl who... you know. I'd strut a little.