Quantico opens the door for Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra

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Priyanka Chopra as Alex Parrish in Quantico


Indian-born actress Priyanka Chopra, 33,  didn’t hesitate when offered the role of Alex Parrish in the new American spy thriller  Quantico.

“She’s Jason Bourne in female form,” Chopra says. “So it’s an amazing part and I really wanted to be a part of the show.”

The series, created by Joshua Safran  and produced by Safran and Mark Gordon, is set within the walls of the FBI Training Academy in Quantico, Virginia, and focuses on a group of FBI recruits who become enmeshed in a terrorism conspiracy.

Hollywood being Hollywood, the series was originally pitched as  Grey’s Anatomy  meets  Homeland  ”“  diehards of the latter would no doubt laugh at the proposition ”“  but with that in mind, you should expect as much emphasis on relationships as on action.

That doesn’t mean the series isn’t action-packed. Chopra says the role has been extremely demanding. “It was very physical,” she says. “I was in the middle of doing an Indian movie in which I play an Indian police officer and I was in training for that and  Quantico  simultaneously, so that really helped.

“I’m training with the rest of the cast … you have to be extremely physically fit,” she says. “We have to obviously look like FBI agents. So the training has been a big part of doing the show. And while we shoot 15-hour days, which I had no idea we had to do, we’re also trying to train whenever we can.”

The series pilot was filmed in Atlanta, but production has subsequently shifted to Montreal, Quebec, in Canada. In addition to Chopra, the series stars Aunjanue Ellis as the Academy’s assistant director Miranda Shaw, and Josh Hopkins as FBI Special Agent Liam O’Connor.

The role also required Chopra  to take a crash course on the inner workings of America’s Federal Bureau of Investigation. Before filming, she had just four days. “Four days of 18-hour days of cramming everything that the FBI does,” she says.

Chopra was introduced to an FBI agent who accompanied her everywhere, and broke down the inner workings of the iconic intelligence and policing agency. “[He] just kept talking to me, about his life, about his friends’ lives and what actually happened at Quantico.

“There’s a line in the show which I think aptly describes what happens in the FBI … it’s like you’re training for the Olympics in the morning and then given a bar in the evening,” she says. “It gets out the best of the best and you weed out the weak. And it’s pretty amazing, actually.”

The feedback from within the agency, Chopra notes, was very positive. “He was very excited about it, I think, because people usually just see Quantico [in the context of] what happens to the agents when they come out. But basically it’s like going to college.

“It’s young people who come together with one goal,” she says. “You make friends. You make enemies. You have relationships. You don’t. So all of those things, we’ve never really seen. You’re seeing FBI agents, who end up protecting your country, as real people, and what happens in their lives. And I think that’s really fascinating.”
Chopra’s character, Alex Parrish, sits within an ensemble, but she is very much front and centre, show  creator Safran says. “It’s her story,” he says. “She is the audience’s way in. She comes to Quantico with a drive and a question that needs to be answered, and the audience knows her question and understands her drive.”

Everyone else has secrets. “Alex is not hiding secrets except for this one thing that the audience is complicit with,” he says. “So I feel like it just kind of balances pretty easily. It really is a case of, she is our way in. She is our entree, our eyes, and the rest of it falls from there.”

For Chopra, a former model, and later singer and actress, the role means exchanging a well-established career in India, where she is one of Bollywood’s highest-paid actresses and one of the country’s most famous personalities, for  Hollywood, where she is comparatively unknown.  And that, she says, was as much about personal ambition as it was the colour of her skin.

“I wanted to do a show which gave me the respect of being an actor, instead of casting me for the colour of my skin or what I looked like or where I come from,” she says, applauding  Quanticos  producer, ABC Studios, for its  colour-blind casting. ABC’s other shows include  Grey’s Anatomy,  Scandal  and  How To Get Away With Murder.

As a girl, attending school in America ”“  her family lived in several places, including Newton, Massachusetts, and Cedar Rapids, Iowa ”“  Chopra says she never saw “anybody who looked like me on TV”. Taking a role on US television, she says, is “an opportunity for me to change that.

“To their credit, I think ABC is the biggest network in terms of taking diversity forward on television and  Quantico  is a testament to that. So when I read all the pilots that they had given to me,  Quantico  was my first choice, because any actress from any part of the world who wants to be good at their job would want to play Alex Parrish.”

By Michael Idato,  Entertainment Editor-at-Large, Los Angeles

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