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Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra is ready to take over America.
The Indian film actress and singer — and Miss World 2000 — will make her U.S. television debut in ABC’s new drama Quantico.
Chopra — who has 9.6 million Twitter followers and another 15 million on Facebook — has starred in more than 45 films and is already one of the highest-paid actresses in Bollywood. She is now on her way to becoming one of the most recognized talents in the world.
The actress, 32, will next add TV star to her already impressive resume in the fall when she stars as an aspiring FBI agent whose past resurfaces soon after she arrives at the training camp in Quantico. Chopra’s massive and vocal fan base helped make the series — then just hours old — a worldwide trending topic immediately after the Quantico trailer debuted online.
Here, Chopra details her globe-trotting experience of learning Quantico was picked up to series and traveling from Mumbai to New York (and Los Angeles) for her first upfront presentation. There, on one of TV’s biggest and most important stages, Chopra was hailed by the head of the network as the “quintessential ABC star,” and later received advice from two of the network’s most important players: Scandal’s Kerry Washington and Grey’s Anatomy’s Ellen Pompeo.
Read more Q&A With Priyanka Chopra
My life’s seriously hectic right now, and sometimes there’s that moment where I suddenly look up from what I’m preoccupied with and am unable to pinpoint where I am and what I’m doing.
The blame for that is all on me and if I could change that … I honestly wouldn’t. I am getting to do what I love to do, so why knock a gift-horse in the mouth, I say. But it does create some bizarre time warp moments.
One solution I found for this a few months ago (no … it doesn’t include doing less) is to keep track of it all in some way in a diary! It’s an old-school version … no laptops or iPads for this one … I simply pen my thoughts, emotions and experiences … I believed it would help me relive and also relish some of the finer moments.
So when The Hollywood Reporter asked me to give them a breakdown of the madness surrounding my U.S. television debut, my little diary came in handy.
Thursday, May 7, 9:30 p.m. EST/Friday, May 8: 7 a.m. (Mumbai)
Dear Diary (LOL, I had to!) — I had just fallen into a deep sleep, the kind where your body is completely relaxed and your mind is free to wander. I’m in the middle of shooting a film and we’re on the “graveyard” shift, so the days are my nights and the nights my days. I’ve been on edge the past few days, answering every call from my U.S. manager, Anjula Acharia-Bath, on the first ring anxiously awaiting the news from ABC about whether Quantico was given the green light. I’m somewhat of an all or nothing kind of person (I’ve always been that way, especially with my work), so needless to say missing puzzle pieces make me anxious. I like to see and know what the big picture is going to look like, and this “unknown” about Quantico has been a big piece missing from my puzzle. Until …
“Wake up, wake up, wake up!” I could hear my mom calling out to me as she simultaneously banged my bedroom door down. I somehow stumbled out of bed, suddenly worried that something bad had happened. “It’s Anjula,” she said breathlessly, “It’s about Quantico!” When Anjula couldn’t reach me (she called five times), she called mom and pretty much instructed her to do anything in her means to wake me up!
When Anjula told me the show was picked up, I was so relieved. Happy. Excited. Proud. A little scared. It’s hard for me to put into words the amount of pressure I’ve put on myself for this project. I’m not talking about the technical aspect of it; I love what I do … acting is in my blood. This was important for me to “win” … for reasons far beyond my own selfish needs.
See more Broadcast TV’s New Shows 2015-16
From the moment I started my international sojourn, with music and everything else that came after, my experiences and interactions with various people (especially those of Indian descent) created a burning desire to want to represent my country. To show the world that we are so much more than we are given credit for. No one obligated me to do so. I consciously (and at the same time subconsciously) put that pressure on myself. It’s something I feel very deeply about, something I have always felt. So, for me, this was one step in the right direction. To have an Indian actress at the helm of a major U.S. TV series, produced by one of the biggest networks in the world! It’s a good start.
The adrenaline kept me going for a few hours as the team was on constant calls with me, working through the next steps. Somewhere in the middle of this all my brain and body gave up … so it was lights out for me!
Friday, May 8, 8 a.m. EST/5:30 p.m. (Mumbai)
I wake up to the fact that the news has gone viral: Quantico has a home at ABC! I’m on my way to set (the graveyard shift), and I’ve now had a few hours to digest the news. In the car, I was reading all the Facebook and Twitter messages, not to mention all my friends and family sending in their congratulatory messages. I was on cloud nine and for the first time in a very long time. I felt so proud and accomplished … and I’m not going to lie … I was tooting my own horn a little!
Among the 25 scripts I read, Quantico was the one I really wanted. Did you know that only six out of 28 pilots were given the green light by ABC?! I feel so blessed to have this opportunity. Someone told me that I’m the first Indian actor from India to star as the lead on an American TV show.
Then the perfectionist in me kicked in … where is Quantico going to shoot? How many episodes are we going to be picked up for? Are we fall or midseason? I still haven’t seen the pilot. My plan is to straddle two careers: one in India and one in the U.S. I know that sounds absolutely crazy, but I’m going to make it work. I can’t and won’t let either one go, even if it kills me.
I’m buoyed in my decision by my crazy fans from across the world — they are one of my biggest support systems — and they have got #Quantico trending on social media across the globe! That’s heavy stuff and suddenly the expectations weigh in and it’s the biggest reality check anyone can give you.
Sunday, May 10, 2:15 p.m. EST/11:45p.m. (Mumbai)
This is really happening! I’m sitting on the plane, about to take off on my way to New York for ABC’s upfront presentation — and my nerves are setting in. You know that first day of your freshman year of high school feeling? That’s me right now. But if you think about it, I am a freshman … and a TV virgin! I have no clue what to expect, plus I’m the only cast member from Quantico attending upfronts.
Monday, May 11, 12:10 p.m. EST (New York)
Hello New York! We just landed in my favorite city in the world! I had a lot of time to think on the plane ride over (16 hours) and I am ready. I’ve got my nerves all bottled up and I’m charged to take this one head on! It helps that my calendar doesn’t give me a minute to breathe or to question this!
2:30 p.m. EST
So much to do, so little time! I can feel the buzz and excitement bubbling — an intoxicating energy, different from the normal energy of this city. I’m on my way to the studio to narrate the trailer, which I have not yet seen and I can’t wait. I feel like an artist who has been kept from their masterpiece for a cruel amount of time.
4 p.m. EST
Wow! The trailer’s great. It’s pretty amazing to see it all come together. I love that moment where all the memories of that particular shoot come flashing back and creating a trailer of its own in my head! Indescribable!
6:50 p.m. EST
It’s time for the glam squad of hair, makeup and stylist. Tonight we have two parties — including CAA. Oddly enough, I’m a little nervous! I’ve done this a million times, but I’m nervous. This is new … almost like attending my debutant ball!
7:21 p.m. EST
We just received an email from a rep at ABC informing us that [ABC Entertainment Group president] Paul Lee would like to have me, [The Catch star] Mireille Enos, [The Family’s] Joan Allen and [Scandal’s] Kerry Washington close out the upfront presentation tomorrow. His three new heroines and the OG … Kerry. Wow! Now that’s an honor and I’m supremely touched by the gesture!
9:30 p.m. EST
All I remember is my publicist Dana Supnick-Guidoni grabbing my hand and asking me if I was ready. I’ve walked a million red carpets — some of the most prestigious in the world — but there was something different about this one. Not literally, rather symbolically. I knew that the next step, the first flash, that particular smile and pose, would mark the beginning of something I had wanted so badly and something I had worked so hard for. I made my way down the carpet, photo-by-photo and interview-by-interview. “Wow. I’m still reeling, I just hope it’s amazing and people love it,” I heard myself say. “American TV is at the best place it has ever been …”
11:45 p.m. EST
I’m at the CAA Party and reunited at last with [Quantico executive producers] Nick Pepper and Josh Safran. We’ve been in touch, but I haven’t seen them since we wrapped Quantico in the beginning of April. The sense of accomplishment is shared between us, but like me, I know those boys are thinking ahead to making this show the best that it can be. I guess that’s why I loved working with them — that shared sense of purpose and wanting to do the best that we possibly can.
Tuesday, May 12, 5:40 a.m. EST
I can’t sleep. I’m so anxious for the day ahead. Today is the day of ABC’s upfront presentation. Somehow I’m calm and starting to enjoy this all.
1:15 p.m. EST
Oh God, I’ve just heard that the trailer of the show is out online and suddenly it’s all become very real. I had no prior warning that this was happening, I had expected its debut at the upfront, so I wasn’t prepared. This means that it’s out there now for the world to see and judge — all the hard work and effort, compressed into four and a half minutes, waiting for a verdict to be passed. No matter how many movies I’ve done, this moment, those feelings, are always the same. That anxiety, the fear, the breathlessness and the waiting — because no matter whether the audience loves it or hates it, the effort we put in is the same and we can only hope and have faith in our respective talents that the audience will appreciate our efforts. But then that moment passes, and it’s out there. It will be what it is destined to be, so I leave it up to the audience and focus on the upfront presentation.
3:50 p.m. EST
We’re backstage in the green room with about 75 cast members from ABC’s other shows. When I arrived, Kerry and I locked eyes and she screamed my name. We practically ran toward each other. Can you believe we’ve never actually met? We’ve just had a virtual love fest over the phone and on Twitter. She congratulated me on Quantico, and I congratulated her on the success of Scandal. I’m a huge Olivia Pope fan, I binge watch the show when I’m getting into hair and makeup or on long-haul flights, so it was great to finally meet her in person. She was everything I expected her to be. Warm, funny, genuine and so gorgeous.
As I sat backstage, I started to think about why I’m really doing this and who I’m really doing this for. I’m interrupted by the call for me to take my position just before I am called on stage. As I stood waiting in the wings, I can hear Paul Lee making the introductions — and for a moment, I am overwhelmed. He is so kind, saying the nicest things, and for me that’s a personal victory. I wanted to break the classic Indian stereotype that exists: No, we’re not Land of Snake Charmers. We don’t ride elephants to work. Not all of us have “that” accent. Not everyone wobbles their head. I wanted to show the young Indians out there that they can break the mold and find success among a global audience. It’s about setting goals, working hard and looking for the right opportunities. Many people told me it was impossible. My only answer was that no matter what happens, success or failure, at least I would have tried to do something new and to make my mark. I come from a country of hugely talented, intelligent, hardworking people, and I know that there is so much that they can achieve on the world stage, whether it be in businesses, industries, specializations or the like. I hope that in some small way, I can inspire or motivate them to take a shot at achieving their dreams, however improbable it may sound. My achievements have come from taking chances.
5 p.m. EST
That’s a wrap! As I take a moment to rest after the presentation, I’m so humbled by the outpouring of support and congratulations from the media, the barrage of tweets from friends, family, media who I’ve never met, old fans, and new fans, not to mention Paul Lee’s thoughtful words. When the president of ABC Entertainment refers to you as the “quintessential ABC star,” the only thing you feel is truly humbled.
I sat backstage for a while following the ceremony, soaking it all in. An upfront virgin no more! It was a night filled with new memories being made, especially the long conversation with Kerry and [Grey’s Anatomy star] Ellen Pompeo, who gave me my freshman orientation and told me the 411 on what to expect in my first year and all the other finer nuances of this hugely exciting TV world! We’re off to the reception next!
7:45 p.m. EST
Am I a total nerd to say that I’m a little star struck by Jimmy Kimmel? We met at the reception — he was walking out, catching a flight back to L.A. to shoot tonight’s show. When he joked that ABC is so diverse that CBS locks their doors when they drive by … I died. Total “mic drop” moment. I met some absolutely amazing people tonight, and caught up with lots of new and old friends. I’m in the car now on my way to dinner and we have a lot to celebrate — and I feel like celebrating!
Wednesday, May 13, 3 a.m. (NYC)
We just got home after a fun party hosted by the amazing [ABC exec vp talent and casting] Keli Lee. I’m about to go to bed, but I decided to pen a few thoughts from the day for all my fans that were so excited to see the trailer. Honestly, I wasn’t prepared for what I saw. In less than 12 hours, the trailer had hit a million views! Quantico was a trending topic on social media and congratulatory messages had literally taken over my timeline. Suddenly it was all too much. I knew I was taking a huge risk but I never anticipated such an amazing response. I had to speak to my mom. Calling her was the best decision ever as she helped me calm down as only she knows how. She told me to appreciate the moment — actually bask in it — and to be thankful for the opportunity and the people who were being supportive. “Get a good night’s sleep, because you’re going to need it! Tomorrow is already here and this journey is only just beginning!” she told me.
Saturday, May 16, 12:45 a.m. EST/10:15 p.m. (Mumbai)
Is this for real??! As of this afternoon (India time), the trailer has garnered more than 6 million views. This is in less than four days. I’m speechless, which is a rarity for me. I’m on a plane in a few hours, this time heading to L.A. for international upfronts tomorrow. I can’t wait to reunite with my fellow cast members: Jake McLaughlin, Tate Ellington, Graham Rogers, Yasmine Al Massri and my EPs. I’ve been an actor for a long time, longer than I’ll admit, and I can tell you it is so rare to have the incredible synergy that our cast has. I love those guys and I’m excited to share this with them.
Sunday, May 17 2:30 p.m. PST (Los Angeles)
L.A.! That’s all. I just landed and have to haul ass to the hotel — shower, hair and makeup, wardrobe and somehow make it to Disney for upfronts by 6:45 p.m.! Ahh! A girl needs time! Wish me luck!
7:20 p.m. PST (L.A.)
In between the last few entries and this, I’ve been back to India, got off the plane, went straight to shoot and four long days of shoot later, I was back on a flight to L.A. I landed a few hours ago and got straight into glam and have made my way, by the skin of my teeth, to ABC’s International Upfronts Presentation. Phew! But this is the life I’ve chosen, and as crazy as it sounds and as crazy as it is, I love it!
It’s such a different vibe at International Upfronts, not bad at all … just different — maybe because I’m not such a newbie now, and because I have the support of my fellow castmates this time. They’re all here cheering me on as I step on stage to introduce the Quantico trailer. It’s extra special sharing this with almost the whole team present. We truly come from all walks of life, and we worked so hard for this. It means something different to all of us, but special in its own way.
11:40 p.m. PST (L.A.)
I closed the upfronts presentation and this time alone in front of a huge international crowd. My manager was was egging me on, so I just went for it! Such an incredible honor. It’s crazy to think that a few short months ago this whole endeavor was not much more than an “idea.”
At the reception, there was a designated Quantico area and a long line of people wanting to meet us — side note: standing in these Christian Louboutins for five hours is work! The outpouring of support and congratulations is overwhelming. I feel like I should pinch myself. I’m so excited — we’re so excited.
Monday, May 18 8 a.m. PST (L.A.)
No sleep for the wicked the say! After a fun night with Team Quantico, I spent some time with my family who I haven’t seen in a while. My manager has me at a breakfast meeting at 8:30 a.m., and then I’m off to the airport to head back to Mumbai. All of this translates into no sleep, but I’m looking forwarding to catching up on my zzzzzs — and some TV — on the long flight home.
Strangely, I’m not tired. My brain is ticking away furiously and I have a sense of anticipation of what’s about to come. All I can say at this moment is, “Bring it on!”
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