One of Bollywood's highest-paid actresses and most recognizable celebrities, with nearly 50 credits to her name, Chopra made her U.S. television debut as the lead of ABC’s “Quantico” in 2015. That role made her the first South Asian woman to headline an American network series. This Q&A is part of a special series examining diversity in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Read more profiles here.
On Aziz Ansari’s show “Master of None,” there’s an episode where as an aspiring actor, he’s asked to put on an accent to sound “more Indian” during an audition. Has that ever happened to you?
I’ve been used to being my own boss for a really long time, so I don’t take to authority very well. Yes, people have wanted me to amp up my Indian accent to sound like Apu [from “The Simpsons”]. They’ll just say, “Can you make it sound a little bit more Indian?” But I’m very clear that I don’t want to do it, and I’ve never been forced into doing it. Even on my show, I was clear that I didn’t want to be put in a box of a stereotype of what a Bollywood actress is — an exotic, pretty actress standing behind a boy or dancing. I hate the term “Bollywood,” because we’re not a “me too” of Hollywood. The Indian film industry is prolific.
What would it mean to you to be a member of the academy?
I would definitely be excited about it, if my work deserves for me to be there. It would be a big step. I presented an award at the Oscars this year. I didn’t know anyone, so Liev Schreiber, who I presented with, hung out with me at the bar and showed me who was who and explained who had done what. It was like a cultural exchange program.
Are the Oscars a big deal in India?
People stay up, because they’re on at like 4 in the morning there. So they’ll have pajama parties and it’s a big thing. I never stayed up because it was always too late for me.
Was there a person in the industry that looked like you and made you think this could be a career for you?
When I was in high school in America, I didn’t see anyone who looked like me hardly ever. I just thought that was normal because you don’t know any better. So I used to idolize so many other people, like Sarah Michelle Gellar on “Buffy.” But when I went back to India at age 17 and started traveling for work, that was when I slowly realized that we don’t all look like one person.
Once you’d found success in the Indian film business, was it challenging to break into Hollywood?
Alex, who I play on “Quantico” — that part wasn’t written for an Indian girl. So they changed her background to make her half Indian and half Caucasian. We were talking about what her name should be, and I remember telling [show creator] Josh Safran that I didn’t want them to change her name [to make it sound Indian], because it’s my job to play an American girl exactly the way I would play an Indian girl.