To call Quantico star Priyanka Chopra multitalented is to understate her massive appeal. She’s one of India’s richest celebrities, a Bollywood star who has rocked the modeling world. She’s also a recording artist; her cover of Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me” peaked at 28 on Billboard’s Hot Dance/Electronic Songs Chart when it was released in 2014.
Shall we go on? The former Miss World became the first Indian woman to serve as a Global Brand Ambassador for GUESS. She’s also a columnist for Elle.com. Her work as a UNICEF goodwill ambassador, combined with her bankability in the film world, has led some to liken Chopra to Angelina Jolie.
Indeed, looking at everything Chopra has accomplished at the age of 33 could make the average workaholic feel a little lazy.
Her starring role in Quantico, which premiered last night on ABC, marks her first stint as a television series regular, as well as the first time a Bollywood star has played the lead in an American TV show. Chopra plays FBI recruit Alex Parrish, part of a top-notch group who arrives at Quantico. But her life changes drastically after she is drawn into the hunt for the perpetrator of the most devastating attack on New York City since 9/11.
With Quantico, Chopra is poised to become a household name in the U.S. In spite of this, she exuded humility and seemed grounded during a recent interview in Hollywood. That may be due in part to a tattoo on her right wrist that reads “Daddy’s Little Girl” in neat script. The handwriting belongs to her father Ashok Chopra, who she lost to cancer two years ago. She traced it and had it inked upon her skin, “so I feel like I have him with me, always.”
Find out what Chopra had to say about preparing for Quantico, and how she finds time for all of her other projects.
You have had a long career in India, and it’s earned you a huge fan base. But you’re only now being introduced to U.S. audiences on a massive scale. So what is the main difference between doing a show for a network like ABC, and working in film and TV in India?
I’ve mostly only done features in India, but I did do one TV show: I hosted Fear Factor in India. But it was a one-season thing, and I did it as a guest celebrity host. So the big difference for me is features versus television. In features, we’re a bit languid about our work. We’ll do, like, one scene in two days. Here, we’re doing nine scenes in a day! So that’s pretty crazy.
But I’m not a stranger to America. I went to high school here [in Massachusetts and New York], and Indian movies have a huge fan base in America as well. Our movies release here, and we premiere them here all the time. But when it comes to the major demographic, yes, I’m really happy that I’m going to be introduced to them through a show like Quantico and a character like Alex.
If I had to do it in any other way, I probably wouldn’t have. This is the best possible introduction I would have wanted for myself, because Alex is a character any actress across the world would want to play. She’s tough, she’s smart, and yet she’s feminine and gentle, you know? She’s an amalgamation of what female empowerment should be. And I think it’s a great time to have that.
What kind of training did you have to do to prepare to play an FBI agent?
Oh my god! I was lucky, because I’m doing a movie in India right now called Jai Gangaajal in which I play an Indian police officer. So I was training for that and Quantico simultaneously. But here, more important than all of the physical things that I have to do to maintain stamina and stuff, was understanding what the FBI is about, and the human side of that. Because we’ve never really seen that. You always see FBI agents — except, maybe in Criminal Minds a little bit — as these tough-as-nails, door-breaking, gun-wielding characters.
But when I spoke to a lot of the consultants, they talked to me about how the cases affected them, especially cases with children, pedophilia, mindless terrorism, and especially the attacks that the FBI has been able to avoid. So it gave a human aspect to them, which is what Alex is. She’s the human side of a tough-as-nails job. That was very important to me to mentally prep for that.
So it sounds like the mental prep was the toughest part, but was there specific physical training that you had to undertake?
You know, I’ve done a lot of action movies in India, so …I’ve trained in martial arts. I’ve done a boxing movie, so I’m familiar with fighting. I played a five-time world champion boxer in my last movie. So I didn’t have to train as much. But yeah, I need to develop a few muscles!
A lot of people don’t know that you’re also a writer….
Yes. I’ve always loved writing. And I’ve done music — I’m a recording artist signed with Interscope. I’ve released four singles. I try to explore my creativity in every possible way, and I think creative people should never be limited to only one thing. If you can write, you can definitely do other creative things. If you can act, definitely — it’s just art. And art can be expressed in so many different ways. So I try to attempt everything!
So how do you find time for yourself? You have your film career, you have your writing, and this show–
…And my music. (laughs) I don’t! I work almost 365 days a year. I live on a plane. My family travels to me. But I love my job, you know. I just…I wake up every morning and I’m so excited to go to set. I feel blessed to be, like, part of a small percentage of the people in the world who get to do this. And I’m grateful for it. I will never take my job for granted. There are a million people who probably deserve it more than me, but I’ve still been put in this position. I won’t take it for granted.