When the call came asking acclaimed Indian actress Priyanka Chopra, 33, to star as an FBI recruit in ABC’s Quantico, she couldn’t resist.
“I’m a big American TV fan,” she says. “I watch Narcos, Fargo, Mr. Robot… Plus, Quantico is such a cool show, and my character is such an independent woman—it’s great to be able to play a role like that.”
Despite having never worked in television before, Chopra—who has more than 50 Bollywood films to her credit—is certainly familiar with the pace. She makes up to four movies a year, shooting in India as well as faraway locations like Australia and the U.K. And that’s on top of her work as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and occasional newspaper columnist. “I don’t really believe in taking vacations,” she jokes.
She’s not kidding. In addition to wrapping Season 1 of Quantico—which has become a huge hit for the network—she’s signed on for a major part in the upcoming Baywatch film, alongside Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron. Luckily, she doesn’t foresee any problems wearing one of the franchise’s trademark red bikinis.
“In India, you can wear anything and be sexy,” she says. “A sari or a swimsuit will work as long as it’s mysterious."
Men's Fitness caught up with Chopra between takes of Quantico to get the latest on her sense of individuality, what it means to be sexy, and how she brings her Indian background to American primetime.
Your character on Quantico certainly stands out among American broadcast dramas. What's that like for you?
It’s a very relevant show because it embraces diversity in a huge way, and, at the same time, feminism. I play an Indian-American girl. The Yasmin character is a Hijabi FBI agent. The characters are very progressive—that’s the best form of television. It’s not the kind of show that is ‘Art’ but it doesn’t take television for granted.
I’m an artist. I speak Indian and English, and so art is never restricted by borders or language. As long as you’re an artist you can conform to being anyone. I’m an Indian woman but I’m playing an American woman. If something interesting comes along, of course I’ll do it. I’m looking at doing two films this year.
You're a veteran of film. What has the jump to TV been like for you?
Features are a little more languid, whereas TV is like a factory. It’s crazy hours. Beside that, that the chaos of film making is the same everywhere. It’s all the same everywhere.
You must be extraordinarily busy.
Let’s just say I’m in the process of figuring out a bunch of things right now, whether Indian movies or American. Because of the extension of Quantico, my scheduling is a nightmare.
Acting is what I do most and what I’ve known more than half of my life. But I’m a creative person and creativity can never be boxed. Besides acting, I’m producing films in India. I just produced a mobile web series in India. I write blogs. I try and express myself in the best ways I can.
Your Quantico character is serious, but also exudes a sense of sexuality. What does that mean for you? How do you achieve that as an actress?
Sexy is what sexy does. Sexy doesn’t have anything to do with how many clothes you wear or how you walk. Sexy is about confidence and style. Which inherently anyone can teach themselves, It’s walking with a sense of yourself. And that turns heads in a room. I’m a very individual person. I’ve never followed a particular style in the past. I’m just comfortable being me.
I do come from the land of kama sutra. In India, the idea of sexy is more about how you feel. That’s what I was taught living in India. And that applies to the movies we do as well. There’s always an appreciation of the female form. It’s something every culture has of its own. It’s understated but at the same time it’s extremely seductive.