I did Quantico to break Indian stereotypes in American culture, says Priyanka Chopra

Mumbai,Tushar Joshi: Priyanka Chopra is excited and equally nervous about being the lead in ABC’s Quantico — a thriller television series about a group of FBI recruits. The show has been picked up for the 2015-16 TV season and PC says she is in ‘uncharted territory’. In an exclusive chat between finishing her many commitments before flying off to LA, she talks to me about being a ‘global icon’ and why she was clear on not playing a stereotypical Indian on the show. Here are excerpts from our chat…

You didn’t get Quantico the traditional way, there was no audition, how did the show come to you ?

For me, it was very different. Most actors audition for a lot of shows. But for me, I had done a special deal with ABC, they scout talent around the world. So, when Kelly Lee, who is in casting, came down, I was shooting Gunday. She said 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. So then I had to go to LA and read the 25 pilots that they had picked for me, tell them the ones I liked, which was around three or four scripts. If it ends up working for everyone from writers, directors and the creative team, you end up doing it. So I am happy that I got my first pick which was Quantico!

Is it true you had a clause stating you wouldn’t play an Indian on the show?
Interestingly, Quantico was written for an all-American girl, a white girl. So they tweaked the story. My ethnicity on the show is half Indian-half Caucasian.

You know I went to school in America, I grew up there, and all the Indian characters that I saw on American shows are stereotypes and talk like Apu from The Simpsons, who I hate because growing up, everyone would ask me ‘How come you don’t talk like Apu?’. It used to piss me off. 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 do a big fat Indian Punjabi family, that’s so expected from a Bollywood actress. I had clearly told them that if you want to treat me like an actress and not a ‘Bollywood’ jewel, where am supposed to dance and do those things, then I am fine. Which is why the parts they chose for me and scripts I read were for characters that are ethnically ambiguous.

You already have an accent. Is that something you have retained on the show ?

I have never played an FBI agent. In fact, you will hear me speak in a more American accent than the one that I already have! Because to be a FBI agent, you need to be an American citizen, so it was very important for me to get that right. I had dialect coaching to sound even more American and how much I have laughed! Because I told them in India anyway people think I have an accent, now with Quantico, that’s on some other level. But as an actor you do it, like when I did Kaminey, I sounded so Maharashtrian. For Jhilmil, I had to change my voice completely.

Talk to me about the way American media looks at Indian actors.

They see me as a person from another land. They don’t understand the concept of how I have the fan following that I do.

Which I find amazing, because the world has become this one big global family, and I hope to be that change for India, where people don’t just see us as Patel stores, and curry shops and everything that’s typical. It’s a great shift for Indian actors, or even what Anil sir has done with 24 and now Family Guy. I remember when I was growing up, I didn’t see anyone who looked like me in global pop culture. In today’s time, Rihanna is from the Islands, David Guetta is from Sweden, today’s pop culture reflects global diversity and I want to be part of that.

What is your biggest fear playing the lead on Quantico?

It’s very scary, because I don’t know if the world is ready for an Indian protagonist. When I did NFL, and ‘In My City’ was picked for NFL, it was the opening song after Faith Hill. Several racist comments came my way, that I am an Arab terrorist on social media and the NFL network, they had people writing to them. Because I was brown, they figured I’m Arab, and people were like ‘How can you have her headlining an American event? Why is she in an all-American sport?’ So, I don’t know how people will react especially since I’m playing an American from India! But it’s a great part and a great show, it could be really cool.

What are your fav American TV shows?

I am obsessed with CSI, SVU, Dexter. I also like Grey’s Anatomy and all of that. I watch a lot of TV, I prefer watching TV shows over a long film. My mother is obsessed with her murder fix at night, so I end up watching one episode with her during dinner. Now she’s damn happy that I am going to be her murder fix with Quantico (laughs). I am excited, nervous, it’s uncharted territory. When you don’t have a precedent it freaks you out.

Posted by on May 13, 2015. Filed under Bollywood. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.