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Quantico‘s Priyanka Chopra on the perils of playing a double-crossed spy

Priyanka Chopra has appeared in more than 50 feature films, she’s released chart-topping songs in collaboration with musicians including Pitbull and will.i.am and, in the year 2000, she took home the crown at the Miss World pageant. So why is it a TV show that’s making her anxious? Perhaps because the new ABC series Quantico—debuting September 27 based around a set of FBI trainees, one of whom may be responsible for a terrorist attack on U.S. soil—is her first foray into American network TV. 

Here, Chopra shares what makes Quantico exciting, how she got into the mind of an FBI agent and how Kerry Washington helped prepare her for her small-screen debut.  

 Where in the world are you today?

 I was in Zurich yesterday, the day before yesterday I was in Mumbai, today I’m in Montreal, thank you very much. 

 I would need a nap.

 I’m at work. A nap is a luxury that I don’t get very often. 

 You’ll have to write that into your contract. How’s it going with filming the series?

 I’m good. It’s a lot of work and it’s that time right before the show goes on air that there’s a lot going on and it’s a scary, scary time.

 How did you get involved with the show?

 I read 26 pilots that ABC gave me, and Quantico was my favorite. Not just the part— though the part is amazing and I love Alex’s role—but the show because it kept me on my toes. I pick my scripts by thinking whether it’s something that I would want to see myself. Quantico was so that, and more. It’s entertainment at its best: It’s smart, it’s sexy, it’s good looking. At the same time, it’s just got so many twists and turns and questions that it keeps you intrigued and engaged at all times. 

 And Alex is an interesting character; she’s obviously the hero but she comes with flaws as well. 

 Nobody lives in blacks and whites anymore, the word exists in grays. And I think that that’s Alex and almost everybody on the show. It’s about people and their reactions as if it was real life. And that’s really refreshing to see on TV for me, that none of us are apologetic about being the way we are.

 She’s an FBI trainee. What was the training like for you to master the physical aspect of the job?

 I was very lucky that among the films that I do in India, I’ve done a bunch of action movies. I did a boxing movie last year and I just finished a movie where I play a cop. I had to do a lot of physical training for that, so that came in handy for Quantico for sure. For the series, I wanted to spend a lot of time with FBI consultants that we had on the show to understand how it works being an FBI agent and what it takes. At the same time learning how to handle guns, the language, understanding how things happen in real time and what happens at the real Quantico. So that took a lot of my time when I first came in. 

 Were you able to crack the mindset?

 That’s the challenge of being an actor. We get to play so many different characters, and each one of them starts right from the beginning, so the challenge of playing every character for me has always been to be able to start from zero and build up. I think I leave a part of my soul in each character that I play, because I give it life from what was written. It’s an incredible challenge every time.

 And you get to spend a whole season watching her take shape!

 That’s what’s so new for me. I’ve never experienced something like that. Kerry Washington once told me that the best part about doing a TV show is how your characters evolve and, like real people, they can fix their mistakes. They are alive on television. I never realized that because I’ve always done features that are bound from the beginning to the end. Now, every time I get an episode, I read it and I’m like, ‘Oh, my God. That’s what happens to her life.’ It keeps me on my toes.

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