"I’m scared. I’m insecure. I’m feeling crazy," Priyanka Chopra Jonas says, describing what a "down day" looks like for a woman who’s starred in more than 60 films, been named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people and recently announced as one of Victoria’s Secret’s new recruits. "But I always talk to someone if I’m feeling low. And I’ll say it out loud, because it takes away the power somehow."
It’s hard to imagine someone like Priyanka feeling anything but, well, a little smug. Actress, producer, singer, model, philanthropist, author – at the age of 38, hers is a CV the likes of which most of us can only dream.
And yet, as we talk over Zoom – her in front of an open fire in the Notting Hill house where she is living while filming in London – it becomes clear that being a Bollywood-turned-Hollywood star doesn’t make you any less immune to self-doubt.
We are speaking for my podcast, Imposters, which challenges successful women to open up about their experiences of Imposter Syndrome – the feeling that you don’t deserve to be where you are and could be found out at any moment.
Priyanka might not, at first glance, seem like a natural fit. Hers is a career that started with winning Miss World in 2000 – in the Millennium Dome, no less – and has seen her transition on to the A-list. She this year announced the Academy Award nominees alongside her husband, pop star Nick Jonas, with whom she is often pictured in clinches on Instagram to the delight of her 63.4 million followers.
Jonas, for his part, has 30.4 million and even the couple’s dog, Diana, boasts 166k – not for nothing have they been called one of the platform’s most influential couples. In Britain, she is probably best known for her critically acclaimed role in the recent Netflix film The White Tiger, which she also executive produced.
Priyanka’s success hasn’t been plain sailing, though – recently laid bare in her memoir Unfinished, which she wrote during the first lockdown, when "I had the quiet time to look inside of me and really access my feelings, my failures, my rejections."
She writes honestly about her peripatetic childhood in India, as the daughter of military doctors; about being "abandoned" at boarding school aged seven; and her first taste of racism, after deciding as a teenager to live with her aunt in the US ("Go back to your country on the elephant you came on," she recalls), which became so bad that she ended up moving back to India.
"Bullying is an abuse of power," she says. "And racism is just basic stupidity. It’s medieval, almost..."
And if she could have a conversation with those school bullies now?
"In my 20s, I would have probably been like, ‘Look how far I’ve come, b--’," she laughs. "But now, in my 30s, a more mature person, I would probably be like, ‘Let’s sit down for a cup of coffee...’ Now I would get beneath the surface."
Not long after returning home, she won Miss India and then Miss World, abandoning her engineering studies to push at the doors it opened. Film roles followed – one of which led a then barely out of her teens Priyanka to walk off set after she overheard the director make a derogatory sexist remark.
It was just degrading, she says, "It made me feel bad about who I was".
Her parents, she reflects, were always there to pick her up. I can see that closeness in the tattoo on her right hand, which reads "Daddy’s lil girl" in her father’s handwriting, inked after his cancer diagnosis. He died in 2013 and in Unfinished, she admits to subsequently falling into a slump for almost two years.
She refused therapy but found it impossible to shake off her grief, going through "most of my days and nights as a zombie".
Her childhood asthma worsened, she was constantly ill and unable to sleep – yet won’t categorise this period as clinical depression, instead describing it as a "pause in my life".
Eventually, she began making an effort to see friends again and encountered Jonas soon after, when he messaged her on Twitter saying: "I’ve been hearing from a few people that we should meet." She replied with her mobile number.
At the same time, Chopra Jonas moved to Hollywood – and became a nobody, arriving at industry soirees to find all the A-listers on one side of the room and the unknowns, herself included, consigned to the other.
She would not let Imposter Syndrome win, though, and got her break in 2015, starring as an FBI agent in thriller Quantico – the first South Asian actress to lead an American series. Supporting film roles followed: A Kid Like Jake, opposite Claire Danes, and Isn’t it Romantic with Rebel Wilson, but it was The White Tiger – adapted from the novel by Aravind Adiga – which won over the critics earlier this year.
"I never expected to rest on my laurels," she says. "Just because I have had a hit film doesn’t mean I should expect that next movie, and that the next movie will be loved by everyone." And a "lot of breaking down doors" is still required, because "I don’t think it’s in people’s consciousness to see a brown person being the lead of a mainstream TV show or a movie." Even now, "I’m just about starting to do the kind of work that I was looking for when I came to America all those years ago."
In April, Chopra Jones and her husband launched an online fundraiser for the Covid effort in India, raising more than £1 million to date.
Priyanka is also a UN Goodwill Ambassador for girls’ education, a role which chimes with the interests of her friend the Duchess of Sussex. The pair met at a dinner in 2016 where they discovered their shared passion to "change the narrative". Priyanka was a guest at the royal wedding in 2018, and Harry and Meghan were invited to her nuptials – which took place over three days in a Jodhpur palace and counted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi among the guests but which they didn’t attend, reportedly as Meghan was pregnant.
Priyanka remains on the other side of the Atlantic to her friend, as filming for the romantic drama Text For You, with Russell Tovey, and the thriller series Citadel alongside Richard Madden will keep her in Britain for most of the year. She is also dabbling in more production, having signed a multimillion-dollar Amazon deal last year and as the head of her own production company, Purple Pebble Pictures, in India. And, of course, there will be more publicity for her book.
Having put so much of herself out there, is there anything she doesn’t want the world to know?
"There’s a lot I keep to myself. People who have known me and my trajectory so far, may think that they know me, but [they] don’t. And I will always protect that side of me," she says.
"I’m not for public consumption, just because my job is public. But it’s part and parcel of making the deal with the devil, I guess."
The Daily Telegraph
14 things you didn’t know about Priyanka?
1. If you thought Priyanka’s acting debut was in a Hindi film, The Hero: Love Story of a Spy (2003), you are wrong. She debuted in a Tamil action-drama film called Thamizhan (2002).
2. Priyanka’s nickname is Mimi and was called Mitthoo by her father before she changed it.
3. She is one of the most followed Bollywood celebrities on Instagram with 63.4 million followers.
4. Pee Cee had released a few songs – her most famous colab being with Pitbull in the hit song Exotic.
5. She never gets nerves on the red carpet, she told Elle UK.
6. She is the founder of Purple Pebble Pictures, alongside her mother, Dr. Madhu Chopra. The company aims to encourage new talent in the entertainment industry and has produced quite a few regional films until now.
7. In an interview with Vogue, she said, if she weren’t an actress, she would be an engineer at Nasa.
8. Her birthday is on July 18, making her a Cancerian.
9. Priyanka is also the Unicef Goodwill Ambassador for India.
10. She was also the first Indian woman to grace the cover of American Vogue.
11. Priyanka’s younger brother Siddharth is a professional chef and a restauranteur.
12. Her favourite style icons are Audrey Hepburn, Bollywood actress Rekha and her mum.
13. Earlier this year Priyanka launched her own haircare brand called Anamoly Haircare.
14. Priyanka and Nick have three pet dogs – Diana, Panda and Gino. Each of them have their own Instagram accounts.
– Miette Dsousa