An incredible work ethic has not only taken Priyanka Chopra to the very top, but enabled her to do an interesting array of projects in cinema, music and television.
The hard-working A-list star is currently balancing contrasting careers in India and North America on projects that are making a global impact. She was also recently crowned the sexiest Asian woman on the planet for the third time in four years in Eastern Eye’s popular annual poll.
Instead of basking in her success, she is working even harder and was in the middle of shooting for her US TV show Quantico in Montreal, when Eastern Eye caught up with her to talk about work, life, love, empowerment, creativity and her future plans.
Your work rate is incredible – it seems like there are three or four Priyanka Chopras out there…
(Laughs) I wish I had a clone. But if I had a clone, I would compete with her too, so it might not be good. But it is the choices that you make. I decided that I wanted two active careers on two different continents, so you have to pay the price for it. Yes, I don’t sleep enough; yes, I am sick sometimes; and yes, I don’t eat (properly), but you know what, as long as the work keeps happening, I keep up with everything that I do and do my best, that is all you can do. So far so good.
But do you have time to enjoy your success?
How do you enjoy it? What would you have to do to enjoy it? I wake up in the morning and go on set, and am happy being there, doing work that inspires me and not compromising on any of the work that I do. I don’t have to worry about not having work or about the kind of work I do and the quality of it. That is the celebration of my success – the ability to do the kind of work I want, including films I want to do. I guess if you see it that way, I am definitely enjoying my success.
You recently described TV as a brutal beast. What has the Quantico experience been like?
(Laughs) Yes, I wasn’t prepared for TV, that is for sure. All my co-actors on the show have so much more experience doing TV than me, but I guess you have to kind of know how to deal with it a little bit better. But I have got used to it. Doing eight scenes a day wasn’t something I thought I would have to do. But it has been an incredible experience. I have got to reach out to people who probably didn’t know me. They got to discover me and have given me such a warm welcome not just in America, but also across the world where Quantico has gone. And it is coming to the UK very soon. I am very excited about that, I can’t wait to share it with everyone there. But yes, I got to meet some incredible people and work with amazing co-actors and crew. It’s been a big adventure for me. Let’s see where it takes me.
Do you think working under such tough conditions has helped you as an actor?
I think the one thing that it definitely has helped is my instincts. You don’t get time to prep, so your instincts have to be on point. There is no excuse for doing a scene badly because you are in a bad mood or ill, you just have to be all there and at all times. You have to be extremely focused and know your job. It has made me a better professional. I don’t know about a better actor, but it definitely helped me become a better professional.
Everyone has now started seeing you as the global ambassador for India. Does that put pressure on you?
That is how I started my career, representing India at the Miss World pageant. I don’t see myself as a representation of a country, but I definitely see myself as a modern independent girl, someone who stands up for herself. I don’t want to be put into a box and be told how much or what the standard for a woman is, or for a woman from India is, or the standard for any woman should be. My dad once told me, don’t try fitting into the glass slipper, shatter the glass ceiling. That is what I try and aim for in every endeavour of mine.
How are you selecting the films that you do, because everybody wants to work with you?
Fortunately that has been a good problem to have. Choices, lots of them. I have been very fortunate to work with some amazing filmmakers in my career. I am limited with my time so I guess between Quantico and the films I take on, I will only be able to do a certain number of projects. I am in the middle of figuring out what I will be doing next right now.
Is doing a Hollywood film next for you now?
You know, I have never really planned my career. I’ve always been someone who takes opportunities and make the most of them. I think that’s the best way of keeping sane in this insane world of show business.
I don’t go after things, I just make sure that I work bloody hard in what I have going on right now and that I am really good at it. You know, if you work hard and make sure that is undeniable in the job you are doing, then it’s just natural for good work to come your way. So I’ve never needed to do a film or a project to prove a point. If something interesting comes my way with my standards and on my terms, of course I will do it, whether it is America, India, the UK, Australia – as long as it is in a language I speak. (Laughs) Even if it isn’t, I don’t even mind trying that.
You have played some incredible characters. Do you have any unfulfilled cinematic ambitions?
What is the population of the world, Asjad?
It is about seven billion…
Yes, Asjad, over seven billion. Can you imagine how many characters I can play? There is so much more for me to do. As long as people keep writing interesting parts and films, as long as the audience wants to watch me, as long as there’s a place for me in the spotlight, I will keep working.
How did you feel about being declared the sexiest Asian woman in the world again and the subsequent global media attention?
(Laughs) Can I please tell you this list of yours is so good for my ego. I love it. I love bringing sexy back every time with your list, Asjad. Thank you so much. Three times in four years and four times in total. I am extremely flattered and super grateful to everyone who voted. Thank you to those who think I am sexy. I guess I always am of the belief that sexy is what sexy does. So I must be doing something right.
You said it is a male dominated world. Are you actively pushing for equality?
Look, I am a feminist and a proud one. I don’t think your life should revolve around proving a point in any way at all. I make my little contributions doing whatever work I do, am vocal about things I feel strongly about, am opinionated and am an independent strong girl of the 21st century. I believe that is doing your part for all the women out there. I think the fight becomes about what we can achieve and where we can go as women instead of putting down men. It’s about making sure you create opportunities and get jobs on merit because you’re damn good, not because you’re a man or a woman. I think it’s important for us to be undeniable and work towards that.
You have done TV, films and music. Do you have other talents we don’t know about?
(Laughs) You know, I keep surprising myself. It’s so funny, I do believe that creativity cannot be boxed – it comes out in so many different ways. I have done music, TV and movies, and I like writing. I have written for The New York Times and other publications. I don’t know yet. I am spread thin right now with all the things that I’m doing, but I am a creative person. I think through my life that is something which will stay with me. I don’t know how it will express itself. I always try to look for new avenues for my creativity. I just don’t think I could be a painter. (Laughs) I am terrible at it – I can’t even draw a circle.
We have read reports that you have a media shy boyfriend in Los Angeles?
Oh god, ‘a media shy boyfriend hiding in Los Angeles’. Oh please, at least people could have come up with a better rumour.
What would a guy have to do to impress you?
I do have very high standards, I will say that. Not just because of who I am, but as a girl I believe that. First of all I like shy guys, but being someone who has been in the business and in the spotlight for so long, I don’t think I would like to be with someone who is scared of being in the spotlight or shy about it. My dad was a showman, so I would definitely be with a showman.
Tell us about the experience of working on Bajirao Mastani?
Bajirao was an incredible experience. It was a film I took on because I love Sanjay Leela Bhansali. I am a big admirer of his. We have a strange silent sort of understanding. I am very much a director’s actor. He is a complete actor’s director. He gives you so much respect and space, but at the same time he holds the reins super tight. So it’s really amazing working with him.
What was it like playing Kashi Bai?
Kashi Bai was, for me, such a different character to play. I’ve played these extremely tough, weapon-wielding, badass women, but it was super challenging actually for me to play Kashi because she is the one that history literally forgot about when the love story of Bajirao and Mastani was being spoken about. Everything that was said about it was so scandalous, but nobody ever thought about her. I love the fact that Sanjay sir decided to make Kashi an integral part of the film because it is true. What would have happened to that girl who got left behind?
It must have been a challenge to play?
For me to think like that and not be the independent girl that I am today, who in that situation would have said ‘peace, I am out’, was challenging. But hundreds of years ago, Kashi being the queen that she was and having the responsibilities towards not just her kingdom, but also her family and society, she had to have grace under fire. Be heartbroken, yet graceful. It was so convoluted, all the things she was feeling, that it really was emotionally depleting for me as a part.
Finally, would you like to give us a message for your fans?
I have always been so well supported by my friends and well-wishers that I really truly believe I am where I am because they are the wind beneath my wings in everything I do. I can tread uncharted territories because I know I have this mafia behind me that holds me up and I am so grateful for that. I hope I can keep doing work that inspires you to support me for as long as I can. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Bajirao Mastani is in cinemas now.