First published on OK! Online
Baywatch star Priyanka Chopra slams racial and sexist stereotypes in Hollywood: “It’s not easy to look the way I do and be able to demand or command parts”
PRIYANKA Chopra talks Baywatch, diversity and the representation of women in film.
The Indian actress shot to international fame thanks to the ABC TV series Quantico, playing the lead role of Alex Parrish, an FBI trainee/agent who must fight to clear her name after being suspected of masterminding the biggest and most deadly attack on US soil since 9/11.
Now she’s swapped hero for villain as Victoria Leeds in Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s Baywatch remake, opposite Zac Efron, Alexandra Daddario and Ilfenesh Hadera.
The comedy is Priyanka’s first major Hollywood movie role, having enjoyed an expansive Bollywood movie career with 45 films to her name, and, though the film has been poorly received by critics, there is much to praise about not just its representation of women, but also women of colour.
OK! Online sat down with the actress to discuss her Baywatch role, Hollywood diversity and female-led superhero movies…
Victoria Leeds is very different to your heroic Quantico character Alex Parrish – how did you get into the mind-set of a villain?
That’s what I liked about it, that’s one of my favourite parts. Victoria was one of the few new characters that were added into this Baywatch – Mitch and Brody had all come in from [the TV show] – so I had the liberty to be able to do anything. Alex is such a positive national hero that I was sort of craving to be able to play something that was a bit of a departure, and Victoria was all that and more.
What I love about Victoria is that she has no racial identifiers, she could have been played by anyone and you weren’t cast because of your ethnic background. Is that the reason you took the role and is that what you look for in parts – where it’s not about the colour of your skin but how good an actress you are?
I love that you caught onto that! It’s a very conscious decision for me. Even for Quantico and for Baywatch, I’m very, very particular and it’s not easy. It’s not easy to look the way I do and be able to demand or command parts that are ethnically ambiguous, but that’s what I want. I think that the world of entertainment needs to be like that. The best person for the job should get the job instead of what you look like, where you come from. I’m an actor, it’s my job to be able to conform into whatever you’ve written, and with me – with Quantico and with Baywatch – I think both were really big wins. Whatever I do going forward I don’t want to be put in the stereotype of what Bollywood is expected to be, or what Indians are expected to be, what someone brown is expected to be or what even a woman is expected to be. My character in Baywatch was written for a man, Alex Parrish was written for an American girl, so I want to be able to spin it on its head and that’s my ambition. I don’t know how far I’ll be able to be successful but so far so good.
Jessica Chastain recently said at Cannes that she was disappointed that the women in films she watched weren’t that relatable. Victoria is a sexy and quite powerful character, but do you think she’s relatable?
I mean this is a comedy, Baywatch is not relatable. I mean, who looks likes all these… who looks like that? So you always have to see a film for what it is first of all, this is a comedy, this is a summer fun, silly, movie. Go with your mates have fun, have a few laughs, come out – this is that movie. But when I pick characters I always try to give them stories that if not relatable try to leave you intrigued, you know, layers. So Victoria is evil and feeds people to the sharks if you even ask for a raise, but at the same time she’s a woman that stands for “my brother got the job because he’s a boy, not me, even though I have the business acumen, I have a point to prove. I am a woman playing ball in a man’s world.” When Zac Efron’s [character] calls [Victoria] crazy or a bitch, I say “well if I was a man you’d call me driven.” That’s the relatable aspect of her, that she’s someone who is fighting for her right to be successful just like everybody else. Like with Alex, she’s unapologetic, she is flawed, she is solitary, lonely, but at the same time she runs into a building. She doesn’t care what people think, she has a story and a point of view, and that’s the representation of a modern woman today. So I try to look for those things in a part, but I don’t trivialise entertainment.
There’s lots of talk about female superhero films, and with Batgirl and Silver and Black both in the works this could be an opportunity for leading ethnic representation in the genre. Would you love to have one of those roles or have you been in talks…?
Well there’s lots of chatter about lots of films but no one has spoken to me about it, but my dream part is, now that I’m working in America, I definitely want to do a superhero part. When I think of American movies, they’ve had superheroes for aeons right? So I definitely want to play a superhero and I want to have an interesting super power. I don’t know… Batgirl would be so cool!