With 50 Bollywood films, the lead role in ABC’s smash hit Quantico, the villain credit in Baywatch and a devoted international fan base, Priyanka Chopra needs no introduction. And yet, strolling into the hotel room at the Ritz-Carlton Toronto, she extended her hand to me and did so anyway—while I tried not to pass out. Wearing a hot pink jumpsuit with lipstick to match, Chopra gives off the vibe of someone you’ve known long before walking in that room. Perhaps that’s because between premiering her film Pahuna: The Little Visitors at the Toronto International Film Festival, being an ambassador for Pantene and other brands and constantly interacting with her millions of social media followers, she seems to be literally everywhere these days.
During her whirlwind visit to Toronto, I was lucky to curl up on the couch with the international superstar and gab about her go-to beauty products, her fight for better representation in film and television and the immense pressure that is put on single women—and how she’s learned to handle it so gracefully. Let’s just say, this woman is #goals.
You are constantly travelling. What do you look forward to when you visit Canada?
The food and the people. When I’ve been away from home for a really long time, I really crave Indian food so it’s always really great to come to Toronto because you have great Indian food here. And the people are just nice. It’s like, why can’t the world be nice like that? There are “sorrys” and “thank yous” and “excuse mes” and it’s just so sweet.
Between all of your film, TV and humanitarian projects, it seems like you’re always on the go. How do you keep your look fresh when your schedule is so hectic?
A lot of water, first of all. For the skin, it’s really important to have the right moisturizer and face wash, whatever you prefer. No matter how tired or drunk you are, you have to take your makeup off at night. You have to give your skin time to breathe—and if you add hydration to that, you’re set.
Your fantastic hair is one of your signature features, what do you do to keep it so healthy looking?
The right hair products, which for me, includes Pantene’s 3 Minute Miracle. It just works so well for my hair, I don’t even need a serum or anything. I thought initially that this conditioner was something you use as a mask or intermittently throughout the week, but you can use it like a regular conditioner. I have troubled hair—I colour it, curl it and get blowouts all the time, and so I use this every day when I wash my hair. When I towel dry my hair after using it, my hair feels so smooth and manageable. I’ve turned my whole family onto it, all my people use just this now.
Before you Quantico or Baywatch, you were already a big star in Bollywood. When you first came over and starting working in Hollywood, did you notice any big differences between the two industries?
When I came to America, no one really knew me outside of the Indian demographic who had seen my Bollywood films. So it was a reintroduction that I had to do. After being an actor for about 15 years, it was a bit of, “Ugh, OK let’s do this.” It took me a moment, but I’m not deluded. I understand that if I’ve come to a different country, I’m going to have to introduce myself. When it comes to the same technique of cinema or entertainment, I think it’s the same everywhere—except for the dancing. But I compensate for that with my music videos here.
So you didn’t experience any sort of culture shock going from one industry to the other?
The culture shock for me was that I didn’t know too many pop culture references that were made on Quantico. So when the scripts would come to me, there were somethings I wouldn’t understand and I would have to ask Johanna Braddy [who plays Shelby Wyatt] and Yasmine Al Massri [who plays Nimah/Raina Amin]. I mean, I go to America all the time and I consume American culture, but I know more Indian pop culture, right? There was a line that said, “Don’t feel bad, even Ronda Rousey loses sometimes.” My bad, I didn’t know who Ronda Rousey was so I had to ask Johanna. So those things were a little hard for me—and understanding American.
It’s the third language I speak now. I’m trilingual. I speak Hindi, English and American. There are a lot of euphemisms used in American. My director would be like, “I don’t have a dog in that fight” and it will take a few seconds to recalibrate my brain and translate that. Things like that are different, it’s not a culture shock, but it’s a culture difference which took some getting used to, which now, I guess, I have.
No actors have crossed over from Bollywood to Hollywood as successfully as you. When was the first moment that you felt like: I’m going to make it big in Hollywood?
I didn’t come in here with that intention. Honestly, I just wanted to expand my horizons as an artist and I wanted to go where work takes me and wherever work takes me, I want to excel at it. When I was on the cover of Time, I was like, “OK, something’s happened.” And then, I was the second most searched person at the Oscars after Leonardo DiCaprio, that was a big moment. Those things just solidified that I may have made more strides than other South Asians have in the past. I hope that that paves the way for a lot more people who are not just South Asians, but immigrants who come from all over the world into America—which is a melting pot of immigrants—to have representation. If people in my generation like Mindy Kaling, Aziz Ansari and I are making that difference and fighting that fight, the next generation doesn’t have to.
You are fighting that fight, but a lot of non-white actors and activists talk about getting tired of constantly explaining why things like diversity matter and why they deserve to be in a certain industry. Do you ever get tired of repping the need for representation?
It doesn’t make me tired, it angers me. I want this to be a conversation that is normal and prevalent. Every generation takes on the responsibility of making the next generation’s life easier. I will talk about it until the day I die because until I see it change, for not just people who look like me, but for general representation in entertainment, which should represent what North America looks like right now. Whenever there’s a revolution that needs to happen, there needs to be people who dig their feet in and continue to do that until they see a change—and I will continue to do that.
Journalists and tabloids are constantly speculating who you are dating, and I don’t know about you, but I find as a single woman (particularly in an Indian family) I get a ton of pressure to be dating and on the path to marriage. Do you experience that, and if so, how do you deal with that pressure?
First of all, I think it’s people’s vicarious inquisitiveness. They want to know, ooooh what’s going on in her life? I also don’t think it’s an Indian thing, I think it’s a woman thing. Second of all, it’s a woman thing for people to ask, “When are you getting married?” A woman, unless she’s married at a certain age, is not complete, apparently. Whereas a boy, if he’s not married, he’s a playboy or a Casanova. That’s a pressure we have all over the world. My mum just said in an interview, “You know, my daughter’s worked really hard in her career and I don’t think a man defines her. When she finds someone who loves her and supports her for all the hard work that she’s done and her achievements that she’s achieved, then she should be with him. Otherwise, I don’t think she needs it.” I was like, wait, this is the opposite advice of what many mums would give their daughters, but my parents were really progressive and cool. It’s not like I’ve never been in relationships; I’ve been in amazing relationships. They’ve lasted as long as they have, and some have worked out and some haven’t, but that’s transient in life. For me, my personal life is the only thing that’s not up for discussion and I decided that when I was 18. People can speculate all they want, but unless there’s a ring on my finger or a commitment I feel like I’ve really truly made to someone—all my exes are going to be really mad, now—but unless I have that feeling where I want to hold someone’s hand and walk out on a carpet, I don’t feel the need to talk about it. Hopefully when that happens, someday, I will shout it from the rooftops.
You’ve worked a lot with your mother, most recently co-producing Pahuna: The Little Visitors, which is premiering at TIFF. What’s the best piece of career advice that you’ve gotten from your mother?
I think it was advice for life, which I translated into my career. She says, “If you’ve not done anything wrong, and if you’ve not maliciously tried to hurt someone, then there’s no need to be afraid of what you say, of what you do, of what choice you make. Just have courage of conviction.” I’ve really done that in my career, whether it’s bad films I’ve picked, successful decisions or choices or not, I’ve always stood by what I stand for with a lot of honesty and integrity. Truth is very important to me, and that is something my mom really shaped in my head.