The villain in this month’s Baywatch movie has a lot more going for her than meets the eye.
Contrary to popular belief, life isn’t always a walk in the park for beautiful girls. Take the gorgeous, successful Priyanka Chopra, for example. When she was just 13, the Indian native moved to the United States to live with her aunt and attend school stateside. The talented teen attended schools in Queens, New York; Newton, Massachusetts; and Cedar Rapids, Iowa. As if adolescence isn’t difficult enough, Chopra was bullied because of her skin color to the point where she didn’t want to eat lunch in the cafeteria with the other students and instead would take her midday meal in the bathroom.
At 16, she returned to India, finishing her senior year in high school at the Army Public School in Bareilly. It was around this time that she won the local “May Queen” beauty pageant. This brought on a spate of admirers who pursued her so relentlessly, her family equipped their home with bars for her protection. At 17, Chopra was crowned Miss India and subsequently Miss World. Not long afterward, although she had planned to go to college to become an aeronautical engineer, Bollywood producers came knocking, and before you know it, she had made more than 50 movies in India and won 24 film awards, including the Indian equivalent of an Oscar.
A few years ago, Chopra, now 34, decided to change things up and move to Los Angeles to record an album. She signed with an American record label, and was soon working with Pharrell and Will.i.am on singles and hanging out with Bruce Springsteen and Bono in LA, even celebrating her 30th birthday at the U2 singer’s home. At a dinner party, Chopra met Keli Lee, the VP of casting at ABC, who was on a mission to bring more diversity to television. Since Chopra was shooting films in India, Lee flew to Mumbai and spent the day on set with her before offering a holding deal with ABC—meaning that Chopra had her pick of all 26 projects the network had in development. And that is how she ended up starring in Quantico, a hit drama that debuted in 2015 and follows the lives of young government agents as they undergo training to become special agents. The following year, Chopra won the People’s Choice Award for Favorite Actress in a New Series.
This month, Chopra will hit the big screen alongside Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron in the film verson of Baywatch, about which she gushed recently to Marie Claire, “I loved Baywatch so much growing up. It was the quintessential American dream. All those beautiful people in bathing suits, running slo-mo on the beach in Malibu—amazing!” Perhaps one of the most fun parts of playing her character in the movie is that she gets to be the main villain, Victoria Leeds, whom she has described as “the interruption in their slo-mo.” (In other words, no iconic red swimsuit for her.)
Co-star Johnson welcomed her to the cast with this Instagram post: “Every great story starts with a great villain…My sistah @priyankachopra is one of the biggest and most beloved stars in the world. When I asked her how she felt about playing opposite me as our main #Baywatch villain she simply said with a sly and seductively evil smile, ‘Oh, you’re going down…’ Cool is the rule, but sometimes bad is bad. #GoodLordIGotMyHandsFull #ChopraDontPlay #BAYWATCH SUMMER 2017”
We think Johnson’s right: Priyanka Chopra is a badass. And in case you’re not convinced, we came up with 10 reasons to back up that assertion.
1. She has said, “I was a gawky kid, had low self-esteem, came from a modest middle-class background, had white marks on my legs…But I was damn hard-working. Today, my legs sell 12 brands.”
2. Under her Mumbai-based film production company, Purple Pebble Pictures, which she created to produce small-budget films and promote new talents both on-screen and behind the scenes—including writers, directors and technicians—Bhojpuri entertainer Bam Bam Bol Raha Hai Kashi, Punjabi film Sarvann and the Marathi movie Ventilator have all seen the light of day. And more are set to come. “My reason for setting up this company was to give opportunities where opportunities were denied, or give opportunities where they were not provided… And we only do that based on content and merit,” she has said, pointing out the decision to make a Sikkimese film “because no film has ever been made in Sikkim.”
3. “I am extremely hands-on. I am a control freak. Nothing moves without me knowing, especially creatively. I am involved with everything to add to the fun and pain of everyone I am working with.”
4. “I am a little—I won’t say arrogant—self-assured,” she told The Guardian.
5. She can act, sing and dance. “I’m a triple threat,” she laughs.
6. Chopra considers herself a feminist, and when asked if that characterization is a contradiction to being a beauty pageant contestant, she replied, “I don’t think so at all. I am exercising my feminist right to be in that beauty pageant. Men are going to objectify women. But feminism is just saying: give me the independence and the ability to make my own choices.”
7. On romance, she says, “I’m not someone who looks for love. I don’t believe in making it happen. My life has been shaped by so many serendipitous moments so far, I feel like, Why screw with a good thing?”
8. “Giving back was a big part of my upbringing. When you get so much, you’ve got to find a way to give back. You don’t need a fat wallet. Time is something each one of us has and all it really takes to make the world better—and intention.”
9. Does she get lonely? “I’m always around people!’” she says, pointing at the publicists and assistants in the room. “I want to be lonely. I want to be left alone for, like, two hours, for fuck’s sake!”
10. “Plans and me don’t really work out,” she’s said, referring to her thwarted intentions to go to college. “I’ve learned it’s better to just go with my instincts.”