She’s A Hustler, Baby
Doing her own stunts, starting companies, and playing basketball at 3 a.m., Priyanka Chopra Jonas lives large. "I've worked hard to be able to do that," she says.
At the Met Gala in early May, Priyanka Chopra Jonas wore a rare, 11-carat blue diamond which hasn’t been seen in public in 40 years. The stone, known as the Bulgari Laguna Blu, fetched $25 million dollars at auction last week. And it required a team of four security guards plus a motorcade. “I felt like a queen,” said Chopra Jonas, who wore Valentino — as did her husband, the musician Nick Jonas.
Chopra Jonas recalled chatting with Florence Pugh, who’d recently shaved her head. “She looks hot as hell,” Chopra Jonas reports. And while she and Jonas were expected at a string of after-parties, they never made it. “I went to one after-party” — at the Boom Boom Room, she says — “because I liked my outfit. My daughter wakes up at 6:30, 7 in the morning. I was supposed to go to Stella’s, to Dua [Lipa]. I didn’t do anything. My feet hurt and my extensions had to come off. The ponytail hurt. Honestly, it was all a blur.”
The same could be said of Chopra Jonas’s past decade in America. Long famous in India, her bid for crossover stardom began with an ill-fated music career and a groundbreaking primetime ABC series. Just as U.S. audiences started to learn her name, she became the wife, muse, and sometime collaborator of America’s most eligible post-Disney pop star. Now, she’s headlining two very different projects with one goal: to prove she’s more than her 87 million Instagram followers.
Chopra Jonas and I are seated in a suite at Manhattan’s Crosby Street Hotel, where she’s promoting Love Again, a romantic comedy — co-starring Outlander’s Sam Heughan — about a grieving woman who spends her days sending very sad text messages to her late fiancé. Unbeknownst to her, the hottest man alive was recently assigned that same phone number and now he wants to meet-cute. Or meet-creepy. For an encore, Chopra Jonas flips the script — and more than a few tables — playing a top-drawer spy opposite Richard Madden in Amazon’s twisty Citadel, reportedly one of the most expensive television shows of all time. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the studio spent close to $300 million dollars to make six episodes of TV; thankfully some of that cash went to Chopra Jonas. For the first time in her career, she was paid the same as her male co-star. (More on that soon.)
Citadel is a curious beast. It’s good fun. (Where else can you hear Stanley Tucci mutter to a thug: “Are you Mary-Kate or Ashley?”) But it’s also a big risk. Before the public saw even one frame of this thing, Amazon declared it a massive global franchise, with interconnected, local language spinoffs planned in India, Italy, and Mexico. Whether the series will deliver an audience on that scale remains to be seen. But in a roundabout way, launching Citadel isn’t all that different from how Priyanka Chopra was pitched to the U.S. market a decade ago. She arrived in the States as a pre-packaged commodity, the “Beyoncé of Bollywood,” her own international I.P. That rollout didn’t go exactly as planned, and she’s way more interesting because of it.
“I felt like a failure,” she says. “I was hard on myself.”
Chopra Jonas, 40, is dressed in a shearling bomber over a silk slip, and she details her origin story between bites of what can only be described as a hulking Cuban sandwich. And so it begins: The daughter of two army doctors, Chopra Jonas moved often as a child. Her kid brother submitted her photograph to a modeling competition, and in 2000, at age 18, she was crowned Miss World. Bollywood stardom followed, and then America came calling. The legendary music executive Jimmy Iovine (who’d worked with Springsteen and later co-founded Beats with Dr. Dre) was all in, signing her to a division of Interscope Records with promises of pop stardom.
In early interviews, the trans-Atlantic move was described as a Cinderella story — and it was in many ways. Suddenly she was in the studio with the likes of Pitbull and will.i.am. But she recently revealed she’d already been looking for an exit from Bollywood, telling Dax Shepard: “I was being pushed into a corner in the industry. I had people not casting me for reasons. I had beef with people… I was tired of the politics. ”
Today she goes further. When she was first working in Bollywood, she says — “This may have been 2002 or ’03” — she was hired to play a character who goes undercover. Chopra Jonas was new to the industry, working with a director she’d never met before. She sets the scene: “I’m undercover, I’m seducing the guy — obviously that’s what girls do when they’re undercover. But I’m seducing the guy and you have to take off one piece of clothing [at a time]. I wanted to layer up. The filmmaker was like, No, I need to see her underwear. Otherwise why is anybody coming to watch this movie?”
“He didn’t say it to me,” Chopra Jonas adds. “He said it to the stylist in front of me. It was such a dehumanizing moment. It was a feeling of, I’m nothing else outside of how I can be used, my art is not important, what I contribute is not important.” After two days of work, she walked off the film. And — at her father’s urging, out of her own pocket — she paid back the production for what they’d spent. Of the director, Priyanka says, “I just couldn’t look at him every day.”
‘We are hustlers, we’re not afraid of hard work, we’re not afraid to pivot. I’m someone who’s down to learn something I don’t know. And so is Nick.’
Initially, she tells me, her bestselling memoir Unfinished included a chapter about leaving Bollywood and “feeling cornered over there,” but she took it out. Still, that 2011 invitation to become a pop star was right on time. She worked hard (as she approaches everything), but her music career fizzled quickly, which she can see was inevitable. “I just felt like I sounded manufactured, it didn’t come from a real authentic place. That’s the best music, that’s the music I enjoy listening [to],” she says.
It was a strange and humbling time as she pivoted to acting in the States. “People didn’t want to take meetings with me because they thought I was a Bollywood actor and I couldn’t do mainstream American movies,” she says, adding: “I had been on the cover of this [fashion] magazine six times in India and they wouldn’t take a meeting with me in America. Because they were like, ‘Oh, I don’t know what we’ll do with her.’”
When viewed through that lens, her 2018 marriage to Nick Jonas makes sense. She had been coming out of a tumultuous relationship when they first met, and Jonas is by all accounts a gentleman (often bringing her coffee in bed). But I suspect there’s more to it. These are two people who got famous very early on but were later forced to reintroduce themselves to the world — an existential career crisis that could have easily gone another way.
Chopra Jonas considers the thesis, then says of her marriage: “It’s not therapy, you don’t sit down and talk about your past. But we connect a lot on our commonalities. And one of them is that ability— We are hustlers, we’re not afraid of hard work, we’re not afraid to pivot. I’m someone who’s down to learn something I don’t know. And so is Nick.”
In 2015, she landed the lead role in the ABC series Quantico, a primetime gig she parlayed into a role opposite Zac Efron in the forgettable, big screen Baywatch movie. But her mentality about that time is way more revealing than the work itself. “I’m not one to sit in the sh*t,” she says. “If I’m stuck in the sh*t, I will figure out a way of crawling out of it.”
She amassed her enormous social media following, signed on as a Bulgari global ambassador alongside Anne Hathaway and Zendaya, and became an early investor in Bumble (helping to bring the dating app to the massive Indian market). She also collaborated with the Jonas Brothers on something called Rob’s Backstage Popcorn, explaining: “I’m all about that high-low love, baby.” Meanwhile, her production company, Purple Pebble Pictures, scored a deal with Amazon and had writers’ rooms open for two not-yet-announced projects (until the strike ground production to a halt).
She’d previously been described as a striver, or a careerist. But maybe when you’ve done Bollywood musicals — and played a woman on the autism spectrum and won India’s equivalent of the Oscar five times — it’s not enough to smile and play the girlfriend. “I’m hoping to find parts that give me the ability to lose myself and actually become my character, because that’s what I do,” she says.
On Citadel — which is executive produced by the Russo Brothers, the team who directed Avengers: Endgame — Chopra Jonas stars as Nadia Sinh, a spy from a fallen global agency charged with taking down a powerful syndicate known as Manticore. She’s also maybe a double agent? Like Jennifer Garner in Alias or Ana de Armas in the last Bond film, Chopra Jonas brandishes a red lip as a weapon. But she also does a lot of her own stunts, including leaping from a moving horse (an impressive feat that didn’t actually make the final cut). And she’s doing it on a Marvel-sized budget.
Said Citadel’s Joe Russo on Chopra Jonas’ stunt work: “It’s invaluable to the audience’s belief in the story. And because she can execute these stunts, it doesn’t force us to edit around her. Because she’s so brave and so physically gifted. It’s not dissimilar to what Tom Cruise does in Mission Impossible. It allows the audience to see the actor experiencing the danger.”
He cites the show’s opening scene — an elaborate fight in a train car. “You see her trading blows, flipping over people — it’s all her. She’s the kind of person you have to talk out of things,” he says, adding: “She was the first person that we thought of and the first person to say yes. That role was written for her.”
At a SXSW panel in March, Chopra Jonas revealed that — for the first time in her career — she’d received pay parity with a male co-star. Chopra Jonas credited Amazon Studios chief Jennifer Salke for the bump, saying it took a woman to recognize another woman’s worth. Which is cool and all. But is it enough? No disrespect to Richard Madden. (Bodyguard hive, rise up!) And the Scottish actor might actually be the next James Bond (if the Internet is to be believed). But Chopra Jonas is a global star. Shouldn’t she, ya know, be paid more?
Chopra Jonas politely declines to engage with the topic, saying, “That’s above my pay grade, man. I would love for you to advocate for me.” OK. Is Richard Madden really playing Bond? “I don’t know,” she says. “I would [tell you]. I fully would. But I don’t know. I just know that everyone asks him that.” Fine, but what about that photo he posted of himself drinking a martini? “He really does drink martinis.” So does she, for the record. “Very, very dirty. I love that extra olive juice.”
While Chopra Jonas and I are talking, her baby, 18-month-old Malti, is uptown with her mother. The baby was born via surrogate in January 2022 and she’d arrived dangerously early, spending her first 110 days in the NICU — a traumatic start that thankfully has a happy ending. The family now travels as a pack, their life dictated by Jonas’ touring schedule and Chopra Jonas’s own filming. Of the upcoming Jonas Brothers world tour, she says, “I want him to do 87 countries. Our careers are very important to both of us and I love seeing him succeed.”
Theirs is a modern Hollywood marriage, which includes rules about posting photos of Malti to social media (“We always check in with each other”) and a $20-million-dollar, 20,000-square-foot home in Encino that has seven bedrooms and a bowling alley, “which I never use,” she says with a smile, clarifying, “the kids do.”
“This was our first home together,” she says, “and we both have a large life. We always have people in our home. I can’t speak for my husband, but the pressure in my job is really real. And the only way to decompress is to have friends and family — I’m not one to go out. I love having my friends over, opening a good bottle of wine and chatting. Or going to the bowling alley, or playing basketball at three o’clock in the morning, or getting into the hot tub... I’ve worked really hard to be able to build a life where we can do that.”
It happens to be exactly what Bulgari loved about Chopra Jonas, why they tapped her as a spokesperson. In addition to the actor’s charisma, which Bulgari Executive Creative Director Lucia Silvestri finds magnetic, Silvestri says, “I believe Priyanka represents women who work hard to achieve their successes in life.”
For the record, Citadel’s Joe Russo has “not bowled in the bowling alley,” but he echoes Bulgari’s assessment: “She’s incredibly social and she throws amazing parties. I’ve been to wonderful dinners with her and Nick. They’re two of the more engaging people you’ll ever meet.”
Chopra Jonas is, it must be said, easy to talk with. When asked if she’s ever been to a Waffle House — apropos of the Jonas Brothers song that’s all over TikTok — she laughs: “I love Waffle House. When I was filming Quantico Season 1 in Atlanta, the cast and I — whenever we shot nights — we would go early in the morning and get stuffed omelets and pancakes and talk about our feelings. We had all left our families. It was really cathartic.” She later asks me if I can talk-and-text at the same time — because apparently her husband cannot and she suspects only women really can. The other day, she says, Jonas was talking and asked her to please put her phone down. Chopra Jonas looked up and said, “I can literally repeat back every word of that sentence.”
She also doesn’t suffer fools. Of Love Again, she says, “It’s so good to work with actors that come in, know their lines, and are not divas.” Had that really been her experience? “Oh, yeah. I can’t tell you who. But I’ve had co-stars that stopped filming for three hours because they need stuff explained [to them] on a production day — not the night before — while the crew is standing around. Or have diva moments or arrive hours late while everyone’s waiting around. I’ve had that happen with a lot of male actors my whole life.”
Our conversation circles back to the cuts she made to her bestselling memoir and what she’s no longer afraid to say. “I was 17 years old when I started doing this. I’ve been picked apart — my actions, decisions have been scrutinized.” She tells me that she grappled with her identity, and was a different person at home and in public. “I’ve learned how to protect myself by building barriers and walls,” she says, “[but] now that I’ve done this for long enough, the lines are blurring for me. The public person and the real person are kind of becoming the same.”
She speaks with the self-assurance of someone who, having found success on two continents, finally learned to ignore the trolls. Because this career? This life? It may have started with a headshot sent on a lark, but it was not an accident.
“I’m more comfortable talking about myself to you than I would have been five years ago. I was a lot more guarded,” she says. “Maybe it’s maturity, maybe it’s coming into my own, finding a confidence in yourself and not seeking. I’m still figuring that out.”
Top image credits: Frederick Anderson dress, Bulgari watch
Photographs by Lauren Dukoff
Styling by Jan-Michael Quammie
Hair: Mashal Afzalzada
Makeup: Mary Phillips
Manicure: Britney Tokyo
Talent Bookings: Special Projects
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Editor in Chief: Kathy Lee
SVP Fashion: Tiffany Reid
SVP Creative: Karen Hibbert
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