Priyanka Chopra Opens Up About Her Twitter Controversy and Marrying Nick Jonas: I ‘Never Will Be Pro-War’
The Bollywood legend and “Baywatch” star sat down with Liza Foreman in Marrakesh to discuss the backlash over her pro-Indian military tweet, marrying younger, and much more.
There’s a commotion going on inside a to-die-for Moroccan villa in the jungle-like gardens of the city’s most palatial hotel, La Mamounia.
Priyanka Chopra Jonas, the Bollywood actress who in 2018 married pop star Nick Jonas, is the reason. She’s here fielding a day of press interviews ahead of a tribute on Marrakesh’s main square for her contributions to cinema over the past 20 years, a day after she received the Danny Kaye Humanitarian Award in New York from UNICEF, where she serves as a goodwill ambassador.
Her team fusses about where she’s going to sit to catch the strands of winter light that hover above a tiled, courtyard table with a view of a private pool. Then she appears. Flawless, exotic, and unflustered—bearing the rich beauty of her Indian ancestry and the wardrobe of her Hollywood home: a retro white suit that speaks 1950s Tinseltown glamour.
Alongside her huge career in Bollywood, Chopra Jonas has won both the Miss India and Miss World contests. She’s gorgeous, friendly and photogenic. Like her contemporary Aishwarya Rai, she comes from a hard-working, middle-class background, and initially planned a sensible career in engineering. (Rai had considered medicine).
Raised by two military physicians in an Army barracks, she says she hadn’t really thought about a career in glamour or watched too many films growing up. She preferred music. But, like for Rai, winning Miss India and Miss World changed all of that.
“I come from a very academic family,” she says. “I was very academically inclined. When I was 17, I didn’t really think that the profession of glamour was a real profession, because everyone in my family was academic, but it changed, by fluke, when I won Miss India. When I did, and I started working in movies, I realized that I was very creatively inclined as well. And the arts is something I really found fascinating. From there, I become a producer as well, and now I’m an author as well. And my creative verticals just expanded from there.”
Chopra Jonas seems to be too diplomatic and balanced to have become the focus of a media frenzy, though that’s exactly what occurred this summer—over a patriotic tweet and something she subsequently said in Los Angeles.
A Pakistani audience member at a beauty event commented on a Chopra Jonas tweet that was construed, amid ongoing tensions between India and Pakistan, as nationalistic, in favor of nuclear war, and not the right response for a UNICEF ambassador.
The incident is not something that she wants to dwell on too much. “A couple of things,” she says. “I feel like this is not an opportune moment to talk about it. Second of all, it was unfortunate what happened, and third of all, I never have, never was, and never will be pro-war and that is in my statements itself. My work for all of these years is a testament to that, and I don’t feel I need to keep regurgitating it.”
Is being a celebrity, a goodwill ambassador, and a political commentator perhaps a tad too much at times? “I feel that influence is an extremely important power, and it has a lot of responsibility that comes with it,” she says. “It doesn’t have the responsibility that heads of states might have, because obviously we are not lawmakers or we cannot change those things, but we can influence, and I have always hoped to be able to use my influence in terms of philanthropy, and creativity in the arts, and to be able to, if I have opinions as a citizen, be able to speak about my opinions, and be able to give people perspective that they might not have seen because of my travels.”
Chopra Jonas is a self-made woman, but when I think of this special group, these beautiful women like herself and Aishwarya Rai, hard-working women that speak up for women’s rights and that planned on sensible careers, I wonder, is this truly progress? Has India ended up with some of its brightest women—some of the most beautiful in the world—opting instead for the glamour and acting world, instead of aeronautics?
“Women should follow their dream,” she says. “My 16-year-old self could never have imagined this. The fact that I will be getting this tribute at the square with 30,000 people that know my work, that’s extremely surprising—that I would be honored that way or that I would be able to have a career which is prolific or that people recognize my influence and my footprints in the world of entertainment and in the world of philanthropy. “
As well as speaking out for women’s rights, she has bucked a trend in Hollywood of older men marrying younger women. Her husband, Nick Jonas, is 10 years her junior. So, does age matter in marriage?
“Clearly it didn’t matter in ours,” she says. “But I just feel like people talk about it a lot more when it’s a woman that’s older. Most guys end up marrying younger women. It becomes a conversation when a woman is older. It never was a conversation for us. It was more of a conversation for the world than Nick and I.”
“He’s an old soul,” she adds. “He’s just someone that is so refined. He knows the world so much. He has a twenty-year career. He’s lived with type 1 diabetes. He’s just somebody that understands the world very well and has a maturity about him.”
The age gap didn’t stop their wedding being almost as big as the royals. “There were no cameras at our wedding. We only put out a few pics the day after. There was such an amazing reception to our wedding. I feel that there was so much love and affection to the fact that two completely different cultures can come together in a harmonious way. That’s what I take away from it, because the interest that came around the wedding was extremely amazing.”
The couple recently worked together on the music video for the Jonas Brothers’ song “Sucker.” But they are often working miles apart.
“Working on ‘Sucker’ was such fun that it didn’t even feel like work,” she says. “It was everyone in my family and my husband. We were having a great time and changing into crazy clothes and hair. We both have prolific careers, but we both knew that about each other when we started dating. And that’s the one thing we loved about each other: that we both love our work, and give a lot of time to our work. We both fly across the world and meet for like two days and then go back. Then meet for three days, then we go back. FaceTime. Video calling, thank God, has saved a lot of relationships.”
Chopra Jonas has made a huge career in Bollywood but, she says, “I haven’t done a lot of work in Bollywood recently. I just did The Sky Is Pink last year, and I’m filming in India for a Netflix film for America which is based on the book The White Tiger. It is hard but Nick flies down. He loves India and comes whenever he can, but because he’s on tour right now he can’t really move too much. So it’s just a lot of air miles and a lot of jet lag.”
She is also the star of Robert Rodriguez’ upcoming Netflix film, We Can Be Heroes.
“I do not play a superhero, let’s just say that. I play the opposite of one: a nemesis,” she says.
So, what are her keys to success?
“There is no such thing as a free lunch in the world,” she says. “Persistence. You cannot give up on an idea until you have gone all the way, and second, not to be afraid of hard work. You want to buy a jacket, you have to have enough money to buy a jacket. If you want to buy a car, you have to have enough money to buy a car. If you want to make a movie watched in the square by 30,000 people, you have to work very hard to attain that credibility.”
As for calls for her to resign from UNICEF following the Twitter incident, she offers, “Being an ambassador is a couple of things that I don’t think people understand. What do celebrities do? What is their real job when it comes to philanthropy? We are a means to an end. We are not an end. We are not something that can change too much, but we go to places of crisis, we take time from our lives, and we volunteer that time so we can bring attention to places of crisis and have all you guys write about it, and as soon as you guys write about it, because we have gone there, we are highlighting the voices of those children that didn’t probably get the opportunity to have their voices magnified as much as they do when I tell their story. So that is the job of an ambassador: to use your position to magnify the voices of people that might not have it. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have opinions, because we are human. Also we are not in politics, so we are not political. But at the same time, it’s very important to stand for peace and to stand for integrity and to stand for humanity.”