Thirty seconds into my interview with Priyanka Chopra, disaster nearly strikes. We’ve just gotten into a black SUV that’s supposed to take us to Silvercup Studios in Long Island City, where Chopra is filming her show, Quantico. Outside, the sky is ugly-crying silvery tears that stream down the windowpane; a mini whirlpool is forming on the footpath. Chopra leans her back against the car door—which the driver suddenly jerks open from the outside. For a horrifying split second, it seems as if she will careen back-first and land in the small river below. (I can picture the tabloid headline now: Actress falls out of vehicle, pushed by journalist inside?) My arm instinctively jolts out, trying to save her from certain injury. But alas—Chopra needs no saving. Miraculously, inexplicably, she manages to right herself milliseconds before a less nimble person such as myself would have free-fallen to the pavement. A tense moment passes as she gathers herself, and the driver apologises, anxious. I’m expecting a terse word or at least a hint of annoyance. Instead, Chopra chuckles. “I’m actually really agile,” she says to me in her husky voice, smiling. “They call me spider monkey on set.” She smooths her hair, adjusts her sunglasses, and grabs her coffee from the cup holder. “Now, what were you saying?” And just like that, I’ve caught my first glimpse of the Priyanka Factor.
The Priyanka Factor isn’t a tangible thing, but it’s the only way to explain the series of fateful events that led to Chopra’s ascent from pageant queen to Bollywood star to Hollywood darling. “I’m destiny’s other favourite child besides Beyoncé,” she says with a laugh (we laugh a lot during this car ride). “The stars aligned or something when all this happened to me.” She tells me how she was in America in high school when an incident of the Mean Girls variety prompted her return home to India. (Lest you think Chopra is bitter about the bullying, she’s not. “Maybe because I come from the land of Gandhi, but I’m very compassionate and I always try to understand why people do what they do. If we do that, it changes the way we are to them. It’s just logical,” she explains with all the grace and serenity of Gandhi himself.)
Her parents were in for a surprise. The last time they had seen their daughter, she was just 12; now, she was a blossoming 16-year-old. “They were like, ‘What the hell happened to you?!’” Chopra says. “I don’t know if it was something in the water in America or whatever, but I grew up.” Fully intending to pursue a career in aeronautical engineering, the self-proclaimed “geek at heart” asked a photographer to take photos of her for her scholarship application to a program in Australia. Unbeknownst to Chopra, her mother sent the shots to the Miss India competition. The callback offer arrived, and the rest, as they say, is history (or kismet, if you ask Chopra). She won Miss India and took the Miss World title shortly after; thus, the unknown girl from Jharkhand was on the fast track to becoming a star in her own country and beyond.
Nowadays, Chopra plays the brazen and badass Alex Parrish on NBC’s hit show Quantico, currently in its second season after a well-received debut. Her role is, in a way, the first of its kind. “My part was not written for an Indian girl,” Chopra points out. “I know my job well enough to be able to play a 1700s Indian queen in my last movie, which was a period drama, to Alex Parrish, who is a really modern American girl. Neither of which is me, by the way.” Intentionally or not, she’s paving the way for a race-blind and even gender-blind Hollywood. (Case in point: In the upcoming Baywatch movie, she’s playing the villain Victoria, which was originally written as Victor.)
Along with becoming the first female Indian lead in a U.S. television show, Chopra has done what few actresses have before, which is break into the American spotlight after becoming successful in her own country. But she’s quick to denounce the term crossover. “I don’t like that word,” she states matter-of-factly. “It’s not something I’m doing. I’m an Indian actor. I work in Indian films, and I work in America. The globe is my stage, and I’m someone who goes where my work takes me. I’m not crossing over or crossing back. There shouldn’t be borders to talent.”
Up until now, it may appear that Priyanka Chopra is just an ordinary (albeit incredibly photogenic) girl who was thrust into the spotlight. But it’s time to address the elephant in the room: Chopra is not ordinary, because she is mesmerizingly gorgeous. When I meet up with her on that dreary Friday morning, she is supposedly freshly showered and makeup-free. But this is not the way most people look first thing in the morning—it is certainly not the way I look first thing in the morning. Her skin is like a slab of marble, smooth and candlelit; her hair is slightly damp and magically air-drying into perfect waves before my eyes (but how?!); and her lips—one of her most defining features—look plush and pillowy soft. Her eyes are hidden behind sleek silver frames, but she removes them throughout our journey whenever she starts getting particularly emphatic, and each time I am taken aback—they appear jade green in certain light and crinkle with laughter often. In such close proximity, it’s all I can do not to lean over my seat to peer at her face up close (lucky for us both, I refrain).
So of course, I have to ask the former beauty queen about her beauty regimen. It is—as is usually the case with the genetically blessed—maddeningly simple. After convincing me she has “nothing on her face except lip balm,” Chopra says her secret is to give her skin a chance to breathe at every opportunity. “I don’t even sit down when I get home after shooting,” she says. “I go straight to the bathroom to remove my makeup.” Chopra likes to shower twice a day and keeps her body moisturized with a surprising drugstore find: BioOil ($13). “It evens out the tone on your body,” she raves. “It is oily, so it’s best to do it at night. I do it in the day, though, too. I mix it with Diptyque’s Body Cream ($90), which is really thick and smells like expensive, luxurious talcum powder.” Foundation wise, she’s a MAC and Bobbi Brown girl. “They have great products for Asian skin,” she explains. She’s addicted to the NC series for MAC; for Bobbi Brown, she uses the foundation shade Honey, which she says is “perfect for my skin,” with an “amazing glow.” She credits drinking lots of water as the secret to her skin but, after more probing, reveals another secret: She drank four liters of water with lemon per day for three days as a detox treatment for her skin. “The lemon has antioxidants and cleans out your system,” she promises. “It’s the easiest thing to do—and free!”
As I get to know Priyanka Chopra, I start to see why Guess founder Paul Marciano calls her a “young Sophia Loren” and why directors who work with her always end up utterly besotted. For as much as Chopra is down to earth, chatty, and funny (when asked about her workout habits, she blithely replies, “Working out is an acquired taste. I haven't acquired it yet”), there is an unmistakable star quality about her: the Priyanka Factor. Perhaps it’s the way her eyes glitter with a fiery intensity when she starts talking about something she’s passionate about (she’s been outspoken about the importance of education for girls, and recently fronted the Girl Rising India campaign with Freida Pinto) or the lilting timbre of her voice that makes anything she says sound just the slightest bit subversive. Whatever it is, it’s utterly arresting; when you’re in Chopra’s presence, it’s very hard to look away, and you have the nagging feeling that you might believe or do anything she tells you. (My firsthand experience: Chopra stopping our interview to ask her assistant to jump out of the car and get her not one, but two street hot dogs, promising me that they are “delicious.” I somehow end up with one in my hand, and we toast hot dogs. It is indeed delicious.)
Though Chopra can credit destiny for the start of her career, her own work ethic and drive are responsible for everything that followed. After hearing about her crazy schedule, it soon becomes clear that Priyanka Chopra does not rest. “I work seven days a week,” she says blithely. “In India, we don’t have the idea of weekends—we have a half-day on Saturday. Kids go to school and everything. It kind of teaches you what you have to do.” Any other person might be exhausted or strung out jetting from L.A. to New York to India every few weeks (or even days) nonstop, but not Chopra. “She’s the hardest-working person I know,” says her publicist, and I believe her. For all her talk of destiny and stars aligning, it’s clear that Chopra’s success is a result of one thing: her own hard work and determination. And don’t think that just because America has welcomed her with open arms and she’s landed some major magazine covers that she’s slowing down—quite the opposite, in fact. “If you start thinking you’re successful, you’ll never aim for success, because you’ve already achieved it,” she muses. “I like winning. Once I’ve done something, though, I don’t even think about it. It’s like playing Candy Crush. You never play the same level again—you just keep looking ahead.” She laughs while she says this, but the truth is clear: Priyanka Chopra is crushing it.
Her growing fame in the age of social media doesn’t come without some negatives, however, and even Chopra—who has millions of followers on Twitter and Instagram—isn’t immune to the occasional online troll. So how does she deal with the haters? “There’s a beautiful little button called block,” she says. “I have so many people who send me so much love and affection—I’m not going to let a few trolls spoil that.” Suddenly, as if in a fit of divine inspiration, she breaks out into what appears to be a freestyle rap: “Potatoes gonna potate, rotis gonna rotate, haters gonna hate. Whatcha gonna DO?!” Rotis gonna rotate? “Yeah, when you make them, they rotate!” She repeats it again, doubling over in laughter. “That’s a Priyanka original,” she says, eyes twinkling. Anyone else saying the phrase rotis gonna rotate would probably elicit a strange look, but Chopra, it’s become clear, is not anyone else. Priyanka Factor sighting number three: check.
Our cozy car ride is coming to an end. Chopra is headed straight to the hair and makeup chair before a full day of shooting Quantico. Tomorrow, she’s off to L.A. for our Byrdie shoot, appearing on Chelsea Handler and Ellen, and accepting a Breakout Star of the Year award from InStyle—all happening on a Saturday. I’ll say it again: Priyanka Chopra never rests. She’s been proclaimed the most beautiful, the most talented, the one with the most potential, but at the end of the day, she just wants people to know her as one thing: Priyanka. “I’m just a girl who speaks her mind in a world where women shouldn’t be so outspoken,” she says. “I’m just a girl who works for a living … tries to survive. I’m not manufactured in any way. I’m a real person who was thrown into this world, like a baby being thrown into water. I’m just trying to stay above water.” She shrugs, then remembers one more thing: “Oh, and get eight hours of sleep. That’s my only goal.” With that, she wraps me in a hug and is off again, rest, sleep, and haters be damned. I, on the other hand, will be going home and downloading Candy Crush.
What would you ask the actress? Tell us below, and then check out more of Priyanka Chopra’s beauty secrets.
Photography: Kat Borchart; Makeup: Pati Dubroff; Hair: Christian Marc; Styling: Jamie Schneider.