The actress opens up about her experience in the industry, as well as what advice she would give to women stepping into that world, for the cover story of Glamour‘s June issue (out May 9).
“It’s a scary place,” she says. “You will be rejected. I was rejected many times. I cried. I was told that female actors are replaceable in films because they just stand behind a guy anyway.”
“I’m still used to being paid — like most actresses around the world — a lot less than the boys,” she continues. “We’re told we’re too provocative or that being sexy is our strength, which it can be, and it is, but that’s not the only thing we have.”
“So there are so many things that you will be told,” she adds. “It’ll be scary. There will be strife. But women have incredible endurance and incredible strength. Your ability to deal with it is within you.”
Chopra, 34, moved to the United States to live with her aunt and uncle when she was 12, but moved back to India during her high school years after experiencing serious bullying.
“There was this girl who was a major bully. I think she didn’t like me because her boyfriend liked me, or some high school dynamic,” says Chopra. “She made my life hell. She used to call me names and would push me against the locker.”
“High school’s hard for everybody, and then there’s this woman,” she continued. “I asked my mom, ‘What do you think about me coming back?’ She flew down and picked me up.”
Being an Indian woman in the U.S., Chopra believes that many don’t “understand what Indians are.”
“And that’s our fault, a little,” she says. “We tend to forget our roots a bit. As kids [we think], If I’m too Indian, I’ll be put in a box, and people will think of me as different. They’ll think I’m weird, because I eat Indian food or my name is difficult to pronounce.”
“That girl in school used to call me ‘curry,’ ” she adds. “You’re scared of those things. We’re afraid of letting people see the glory of who we are.”
And while she admits we’re living in “an extremely scary time,” Chopra argues that no one should be afraid to be themselves.
“Maybe I, being on the platform that I am, can say this louder than the kid who has to get on the subway and go to school: You don’t need to be afraid of who you are,” she says. “I don’t want any kid to feel the way I felt in school. I was afraid of my bully. It made me feel like I’m less — in my skin, in my identity, in my culture.”
RELATED VIDEO: Priyanka Chopra on Playing the Villain in Baywatch
Before starring on Quantico starting in 2015, Chopra promised herself she wouldn’t compromise.
“I did not want to be the stereotype of either Bollywood or what Indian actors are [usually offered],” she explains. “The exotic, beautiful girl, or the academically inclined nerd. And I wanted to play a lead … and I’m playing an FBI agent on Quantico. I didn’t settle for less.”
“What affected me was after Quantico was picked up,” she admits. “I was like, ‘Oh crap, if I don’t do well, people will be like, ‘Oh my God, Indian actors can’t do lead parts.’ ” I felt that pressure.”
Up next, Chopra stars in the highly anticipated film Baywatch, out next month.
“I take over the beach. I open up a club. I’m this big shot billionaire chick who plays hardball in a man’s world,” says Chopra of her villainous character Victoria Leeds. “And what I love about Victoria is that she’s not baselessly evil. She thinks she’s just driven. She had the business acumen, but her family business went to her brother, because he was a boy. So she has a point to prove. There’s this amazing line in the [script]: Zac [Efron] says, ‘You’re such a bitch!’ And I’m like, ‘If I were a man, you’d call me driven.’ ”
“Victoria goes into an evil territory; not every driven woman’s evil,” she adds. “[But] ambition is a word associated with women negatively. People say, ‘She’s too ambitious.’ Why is that a bad thing?”
Baywatch hits theaters May 25, and Quantico airs Mondays (10 p.m. ET) on ABC.