Following her extraordinary success in the American television show Quantico, Priyanka Chopra takes another step forward by tackling a negative role in the upcoming Hollywood film Baywatch. Playing the role of Victoria Leeds in the flick, she will be seen alongside industry stalwarts including Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron. She chats with us about being a ‘global icon’ and why she was clear about not playing a stereotypical Indian on the show.
You didn’t get Quantico the traditional way, in that there was no audition. How did the show come to you?
It’s true that most actors audition for a lot of shows. But for me, I had done a special deal with ABC, a company that scouts talent around the world. When Kelly Lee, who is on the casting team came down, I was shooting for Gunday. She told me that they wanted to do a development deal where they find the right show for me. They had done similar deals with Sofia Vergara, Eva Longoria and a few other actresses, where they find the right show for that talent. I then had to go to LA and read the 25 pilots that they had picked for me, tell them the ones I liked and eventually struck the deal for Quantico.
Is it true that you had a clause stating you wouldn’t play an Indian on the show?
Interestingly, Quantico was written for an all-American white girl, so they had to tweak the story a bit. My ethnicity on the show is half Indian-half Caucasian. I went to school in America and while growing up, all the Indian characters that I saw on American shows were stereotypes and talk like Apu from The Simpsons, who I hate because everyone would ask me ‘How come you don’t talk like Apu?’. It used to annoy me. So my basis with ABC was that I want to do an ethnically ambiguous part, and that’s the only way I would do it. I didn’t want to play someone from a big fat Indian Punjabi family; that’s so expected from a Bollywood actress. I had clearly told them that if they want to treat me like an actress (and not a ‘Bollywood’ jewel, where I am supposed to dance and do those things), then I am fine.
What was the best compliment you’ve received for Quantico?
It was actually really funny, ‘She’s Indian?’ someone asked; that was the best compliment! The fact that people questioned if I was Indian was the greatest compliment. People don’t expect Indian people to look and do such roles. We’re always the computer geek or the doctor. I’ve still made Alex first in class, teacher’s pet – it’s in our blood to come first!
How different was it working in a foreign set-up?
The difference for me was shifting from feature to television. In films, we do one scene for two days; it is relaxed. My friends didn’t tell me that in television, we’ve got to do 10 scenes in a day. Who does that?! I have so many television producer friends and I fired them all saying, ‘Couldn’t you all tell me that television is like this?’ (laughs)! I’ve never done TV, so that was the only big difference for me. Otherwise it’s only the language; they speak only English and we speak in Hindi. I think Indian cinema has caught up to the world; I don’t see much of a difference in the way we make films or run our sets. I’m such a professional and I can deal with everything that is thrown at me because I’ve got the best training ground in the most prolific film industry in the world.
Is it safe to say that you are now more into Hollywood than Bollywood?
I have never claimed that I would do only Hollywood. I go wherever my work takes me; it doesn’t matter which part of the world it is. I am an artiste and I am only true to my art. I am not binding myself by borders and the world has become too small now. Actors should be cast on their merit and how they do their job, and not for how they look or where they come from. That is how I see myself. I am an Indian actor first. Whatever I have learnt is from the Hindi film industry first. I have been trained well enough to go anywhere in the world and know my job.
Can this be called the best phase of your career?
No, as soon as you say best it means there is nothing more to come, which is not the case.
Tell us about your role in Baywatch…
I was a huge Baywatch fan growing up and absolutely loved David Hasselhoff. Now I play the villain in the film, which I haven’t done before. I was initially approached for another part in the film, but I guess after the producers met me, they thought I’d be great as the antagonist, which hopefully is not a bad sign!