Priyanka Chopra Jonas and I have been playing a game of cat and mouse for two weeks, trying to find a window of time to talk during her non-stop world press tour for blockbuster TV series Citadel. When she finally appears on my laptop screen, from her sofa in LA, she tells me she’s exhausted from all the travelling, but you would never know it—the former Miss World looks positively radiant (if only jet lag was so kind to us all).
Five years in the making, action-packed thriller Citadel—Priyanka stars alongside Richard Madden and Stanley Tucci as a spy on a mission to save the world—is an ambitious experiment in what a global TV franchise can be. “A show of this kind has never been done before,” she says. “The concept was to create multiple shows around the world that are interconnected but created by different film-makers and writers. You can watch them individually or together, as there are threads that connect them all.” Three Citadel spin-offs produced in Italy, India and Mexico are in the works.
It’s a fresh new way to make TV but what’s even more exciting is that a South Asian actress is at the forefront of such a ground-breaking project. “Roles like this are predominantly enjoyed by white men,” says Priyanka. “So I really took it as a large responsibility not just for females but for women of colour. It feels great to be in a place as an immigrant actor where film-makers give me the agency and respect to ask for my opinion.”
For Priyanka, this moment is the culmination of more than two decades’ work in the industry (and a filmography that spans 80-plus roles), first as one of Bollywood’s biggest stars, then making the jump to Hollywood with parts in TV hit Quantico, The Matrix Resurrections, the 2017 Baywatch movie and Netflix comedy Isn’t It Romantic. Her international star power cannot be underestimated: she is the most followed Indian actor on Instagram (90m followers) and has been named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Forbes, Time and the BBC.
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Despite all this, Priyanka is astute enough at 40 to understand that celebrity can be a fickle thing. “My job is extremely inconsistent, I could get cancelled tomorrow, people could decide I’m not the flavour of the month, anything could happen,” she explains. “I have never been the kind of person who thinks that they have made it.”
It’s this ingrained, stop-at-nothing work ethic (familiar to anyone who is also from a South Asian background) that drives her. You work hard for everything you want in life and then, when you’ve achieved it, you work even harder.
Which might explain why the day after we talk she is back on a plane, flying to New York to begin the first leg of another press tour for her next project, romcom Love Again. Priyanka plays heroine Mira, who is grieving her fiancé’s death by sending texts to his old phone, which are serendipitously received by a handsome stranger (Outlander’s Sam Heughan) who in turn employs the help of Celine Dion—playing herself—to bring them together.
“Can you believe this is Celine Dion’s first film?” asks Priyanka, who confirms that the singer is every bit as much fun as you would hope for. “This film is such a departure from Citadel but it makes you feel good, feel warm and sometimes that’s just what you need: a dollop of comfort and hope.”
Aside from acting, Priyanka has many job titles: producer, philanthropist, activist, author, investor (in skiwear brand Perfect Moment) and mother. To be a multi-hyphenate to this degree takes talent, ambition, determination and an often-overlooked ingredient: support.
“Professionally, I know that I’m in an amazing place, after 23 years I’m getting the roles I always wanted. Personally, there is nowhere else I want to be but home.” In 2022 Priyanka and her husband of four years, pop star Nick Jonas, welcomed their first child, Maltie Marie (who made a guest appearance at GRAZIA’s photo shoot). “Everything I do, I do for her. She’s the greatest gift that has ever happened to us, she is our homing signal and our beacon of light. But neither Nick nor I could do what we do without the support of our families,” she says.
“I grew up with working parents, so I know the importance of grandparents and the vital role they play. That ethos of shared responsibility was really apparent in my life. My cousins and I all went to each other’s homes when our parents were working—it’s a very Indian thing, and Nick’s parents are so hands-on too. Right now, my daughter’s in New York with my mum, probably eating ice cream for dinner and having the time of her life.”
While Priyanka’s current status as an A-lister is as golden as the sunsets over the Hollywood Hills, the transition into the Western market from Bollywood is notoriously difficult. “Did you know I actually came to Hollywood to do music?” she asks, then quickly adds, “Don’t google it!”
“It was my life’s dream to make Indian music mainstream. I had a few songs out with Will.I.Am, Pharrell and Pitbull [in the early 2010s] but I quickly realised that everything just sounded manufactured and that wasn’t my dream.” (I ask if she ever duets with Nick and she admits they sometimes have dates in the studio when he is recording and sing together, but these songs only make it out to close friends and family.)
Her huge success in Bollywood did not immediately translate to success in Hollywood. “There were so many times I wanted to quit. I was tired of rejection. I felt dismissed and patronised on set, like people didn’t believe I could do my job even when Bollywood is as huge as it is. I had taken such a big risk leaving my career in India and that really was a concern for me. I felt like I had bitten off more than I can chew,” she says.
“Perseverance was my only way out. I kept going one step at a time, one day at a time and here I am today with the most monumental show I’ve ever done and I’m on the cover of GRAZIA as a Brown girl,” she says.
I tell Priyanka what I’ve been wanting to tell her all the way through the interview—that she is entering her “PCJ era”. In the same way Jennifer Lopez became J-Lo and Sarah Jessica Parker became SJP, the internet is starting to know Priyanka by those three letters, and it feels like a pivotal signifier of her stratospheric success.
“Michelle Yeoh said don’t ever let anyone tell you you’re over your prime when she won her Oscar this year, and I really appreciate you saying that because I was made to feel like my prime had peaked in my twenties. And here you are telling me I’m in my PCJ era in my forties,” she says.
While Priyanka of course is charmingly humble about it all, I can’t help but tell her how much her success means to me: how proud I am to share the same skin colour as her, proud to have come from the same heritage, proud that so many women like me will get see themselves as the main character.
My outpouring prompts her to finally admit that, yes, she does feel proud of herself, too. “I want to raise my daughter in a world where culture is normalised. It’s not about ethnicity or skin tone, it’s about differences and celebrating how cool they are.”
We end our conversation on what she has coming up next—a comedy with Idris Elba and John Cena, a project with Mindy Kaling, and a Hindi movie with two of Bollywood’s biggest female stars are just some of the projects Priyanka rattles off from the top of her head. So the work ethic isn’t waning any time soon? “Well,” she says, with a smile, “I’m in my PCJ era now.”
Stream Citadel on Amazon Prime Video.
Photography Danny Kasirye
Styling Kingsley Tao
Movement Director Yagamoto
Hair Stefan Bertin/Wall Group
Makeup Liz Martins/Eighteen Management, Using Dior Forever Foundation And Capture Totale Le Serum
Nails Michelle Humphrey/LMC Worldwide
Photography Assistant Stefan Neal Jackson
Digital Jem Rigby
Fashion Assistant Gavi Weiss
Fashion Interns Lara Howard, Katie Daly
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