Priyanka Chopra has major swagger.
The Indian actress, 34, is poised and confident in person, the epitome of panache with a dose of humor. But as with most things in life, that self-assurance didn’t appear overnight.
“I was well into my 20s when I figured it out. It wasn’t in my teens. I had to reach that place myself,” she tells Yahoo Style. “I was at least 25 when I said, ‘I don’t want to give so much importance to what the world’s expectation of me is.’ My body looks a certain way. My hair is not perfect. But I decided I’d be OK with me.”
She’s not shy about sharing that epiphany with her fans, many of whom have known her since she won the Miss World pageant in 2000, at age 18, and then parlayed that fame into a meteoric acting career as a Bollywood star.
“You can teach yourself confidence,” she says. “I was a gawky teenager. I was uncomfortable with my body and the way I looked. I taught myself what was the best version of me. How do I want the world to perceive me? That’s how I walk out every morning. I tell myself I will be the best version of me. You have to be comfortable with yourself. You have to take care of you. It’s really important to have self-love. You can rule the world with that.”
And onscreen, she attempts to do just that in Baywatch, opening Friday. Chopra plays drug cartel ringleader Victoria Leeds, a character so immersed in her own perceived glory that she makes Dr. Evil from Austin Powers look grounded. And she stays fully clothed throughout.
“I’m not a lifeguard,” says Chopra. “The idea of Victoria was that she should look unnatural in this world. I don’t wear a bathing suit. She wears couture and heels on the beach. Who wears a dress and heels in the sand?”
The character was originally written for a man, which fills Chopra with giddiness — in particular because an “Indian girl,” as she says, wound up playing the part. And she even has a few things in common with Victoria, a narcissist with an insatiable appetite for power.
“First and foremost, all feminists are not evil bitches, but Victoria is. Feminism has a bad name right now. People think it’s about dissing men. It’s not. It’s about women wanting to make their own choices and not being judged for them,” says Chopra. “My character is a massive feminist. She just takes it too far. I am also seriously ambitious and I love my job and I am a feminist. I just don’t kill people for a living.”
But Chopra is capable of breaking the Internet — just look up the blue bikini she wore on the beach in Miami earlier this month.
“I’m generally shy, but I really needed to go into the ocean. Miami’s paparazzi are good at getting pictures. I wasn’t prepared for that, honestly. I didn’t know there would be that many paparazzi. The ocean was calling me. It’s bikini season. It doesn’t matter,” she says with a shrug.
And, yes, Chopra knows how to throw down. “I have a weakness for the sun, the sand, the ocean. Bikinis and bellinis are my recipe for a good vacation. I’m a little boujie that way.”
She’s a showstopper on red carpets. But in real life, says Chopra, her style is all about comfort — even when she’s doing back-to-back interviews. While promoting Baywatch, she wore spring-inspired Roberto Cavalli, a stunning leather Ralph Lauren dress, and a shimmery Derek Lam mini to the movie’s New York screening. And if you had stems like hers, you too would wear a flowing, short Fendi dress while talking to Jimmy Fallon. She says if she’s not feeling the ensemble, it shows.
“I’m not as confident,” she explains. “I’m more of a jeans and T-shirt kind of girl, a little similar to Alex in Quantico. Or I like track pants. I don’t like wearing clothes just because — I think your clothes should say something. They should say what I’m feeling. I don’t want to feel costume-y.”
Chopra was already a global superstar when she was cast in ABC’s Quantico, which was just renewed for a third season. She became the first South Asian woman to headline a network TV series, playing an FBI recruit turned CIA case officer turned fugitive. And she’s come into her own in the fashion world, slaying on the Met Ball red carpet back in May in a sexy, spy-inspired Ralph Lauren number. She met comedian and writer Aziz Ansari at the after-party, and recalls a joke they shared. The first year that Ansari went to the Met Ball, he told Chopra, “there was one brown person there. This year there were seven brown people. It was so funny. Progress is being made!”
But in truth, it is — and Chopra is a major part of it. Just look at the Baywatch film, which is headlined by the Rock — who is as nice in person as everyone says, promises Chopra — and who is American, Canadian, and Samoan, and was raised in New Zealand.
She recalls watching the Baywatch film series with her mother, and the largely homogenous cast led her to believe that everyone in the United States was blond. The 2017 film, on the other hand, adjusted to changing times.
“It’s cool to see the representation of Baywatch as what entertainment should be. It looks like what the world looks like. There’s more awareness. The fight for diversity has to keep happening,” she says.
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