Priyanka Chopra is reaching for the stars with new season of Quantico

Priyanka Chopra – the star of crime thriller Quantico, which returns to OSN on Monday – tells The National about juggling Hollywood and Bollywood, and her dreams of global domination.
ABC's Quantico stars Priyanka Chopra as Alex Parrish. Bob D'Amicol / ABC via Getty Images
ABC's Quantico stars Priyanka Chopra as Alex Parrish. Bob D'Amicol / ABC via Getty Images

This year, Priyanka Chopra was waiting to get her passport stamped at Los Angeles airport after yet another globetrotting filming trip. The immigration officer took one look, and refused to let her into the United States … until she revealed the identity of the mystery terrorist in her hit TV crime-thriller Quantico, the second season of which begins tomorrow on OSN First HD.

“I mean, come on,” says Chopra, laughing at the memory. “Since when do you ask a brown girl who a terrorist is … in an airport?”

It is an amusing anecdote that also says everything about how the United States has taken to its heart this Indian star of award- winning Hindi films such as Aitraaz, Fashion, 7 Khoon Maaf and Bajirao Mastani.

Landing the role of Alex Parrish, an FBI trainee who is wrongly charged with a terrorist ­attack in New York, was a huge break for the 34 year-old, who was born in Jamshedpur. She is the first Indian actor to play the lead in a mainstream US television drama. She describes the character as “brazen and bold, damaged but not broken”.

“Alex was written as an American girl, and I’m not even Indian- American, I’m Indian-Indian,” she says with a smile. “So it was a big test of my acting skills to convince people every week that Alex is American although I did get people asking me why I didn’t speak like Apu from The Simpsons.

“I was raised with both English and Hindi as my first language – and kudos to the producers that they found me a show that has absolutely nothing to do with my ethnicity.”

In fact, her role had everything to do with Chopra’s hard work, good judgement, and just a little networking: she worked with Will.i.am and Pitbull on a few music singles and found herself at the same dinner party in Los Angeles as Keli Lee, VP casting at ABC. Lee was so impressed, she flew out to India and pitched a talent holding deal, where Chopra could read any number of ABC scripts and see which ones she fancied. Of the three she liked, she went for Quantico because it “was the one that entertained me the most … I really wanted to watch it”. The other two are no longer in production.

Undoubtedly, Lee would have been struck by her confidence. Chopra tells me more than once that “failure isn’t an option”, and that she felt so at ease doing Quantico’s high-octane action scenes thanks to her experiences on Indian films, she barely felt the need to rehearse them. She was so sure of herself, so driven, she’d fly to India on a Friday night after a week of filming, shoot some scenes for a Hindi film over the weekend, and then fly back to continue her work on Quantico. And this year, Chopra had a similar schedule for the new Baywatch movie.

“It’s almost like opening up a new book when I arrive on a set,” she says. “I create characters in my mind which I know so well, they’re almost like my best friends, which is why it’s easy to flip and switch. But I love my job. I’m good at it. And I’ve created a life for myself where I don’t need a holiday. If you want global domination you’ve got to give up your sleep.”

Global domination? Such brazen desire might be mistaken for arrogance if Chopra wasn’t such disarmingly good company – she says her favourite thing to do is binge-watch popular television shows in her pyjamas – or so strident in her belief that there has to be substance behind celebrity. In Baywatch, she won’t be a ditsy lifeguard but an antagonistic real-estate developer determined to destroy the bay. Tellingly, the part was originally written for a man.

“I want to take on roles that people might raise eyebrows at and say ‘why would a girl want to do that?’”, she says. “I don’t want to be a stereotype, so my choices are always a little to the left.”

All of which makes her victories in the beauty pageants Miss India and Miss World earlier in her career now seem something of an oddity.

“Trust me, if it was all about the prettiest girl in the room, I wouldn’t have won,” she says. “It’s not about how you look in a bikini – my year we didn’t even have a bikini round. It was very much about the way you carry yourself, the way you represent your country, the way you think.”

In a way, this is exactly what Quantico has done for Chopra. It’s showed how a thoughtful, ambitious and intelligent woman from India can make a success of prime time television drama. The new series has relocated from Montreal to New York, and it also sees Alex in a new role as a CIA operative. How does she see her character developing?

“Well, it was a rough year for Alex. She ended the last season completely distraught – saving New York City takes a lot out of girl! So if it was completely up to me I would love it if Alex went to Dubai for a holiday and just sat on a beach with her girlfriends for like a day. Went shopping. Poor thing, she needs one weekend like that!”

Priyanka Chopra would love a weekend like that herself – if she had the time to go on it.

• Quantico is on Monday at OSN First HD at 10pm. For details go to www.osn.com

artslife@thenational.ae

Published: September 24, 2016 04:00 AM

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