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“Quantico” returns with its third season on Thursday night, taking over the time slot previously held by ABC’s “Scandal,” which officially signed off last week after seven seasons on air.
Stepping into Kerry Washington’s void on network television does not go unnoticed by Priyanka Chopra, who became the first-ever South Asian actor to lead a broadcast show in television history with “Quantico,” which debuted in 2015.
“It seems a little late, considering it happened in 2015,” Chopra tells Variety, referencing the milestone of an Indian actress toplining an American show. “But then even Kerry Washington was the first African American woman to lead a network TV drama in 2012,” she mutters.
“It’s really funny that ‘Scandal’ just went off air and we’re actually taking their slot on Thursday nights at 10 o’clock. I was a huge fan of Olivia Pope and Kerry herself,” Chopra says. “Kerry is so wonderful in what she managed to do for women of color coming into mainstream network television, and I do think ‘Quanitco’ is a really big step in that direction as well for expanding the parameters of women of color and also immigrant women who come into the country and want to be part of global entertainment.”
Chopra recalls her early meetings with ABC when she first signed a talent deal with the network, ahead of her being cast to star in “Quantico.” At the time, Chopra — one of the biggest Bollywood stars of all time — told executives she did not want to play a stereotypical Indian character.
“My only thing was them was that I wanted to play a part that was ethnically ambiguous because what happens with a lot of South Asian actors or actors who come from different countries is you get stereotyped into just what studio execs think that Indians should be,” Chopra says. “So I told them I wanted to play a part where I, as an actor, could deliver my job and it had nothing to do with my color or my ethnicity. That’s how they found me for ‘Quantico,’ which was a huge win for me being a South Asian actor, but for me, it was a personal win because I went to high school in America and I grew up in a time where the only South Asian representation that I saw on television was Apu on ‘The Simpsons’ — and he was annoying as hell because not all of us speak like that. It just made you feel really small.”
“When I was going to do TV in a different country, I wanted to just be an actor and I wanted the world to see that my ethnicity doesn’t drive my merit and my work,” Chopra adds, in an interview held at Ciroc and Variety‘s Empowerment brunch in New York City this week.
Now that she has a global platform as the star of a major network TV show, Chopra is doing her part to work toward the momentous progress for equality for women in entertainment.
“We’re getting there, but there is still so much to do,” she says. “I now am a producer and I want to be an instrument in that change. With all the films that I’m doing and all the work that I’m developing, I am creating a lot of parts for women,” she explains, referencing jobs ranging from female directors to technical staff, which are predominantly filled with men on TV and film sets.
“I want to be that instrument, I want to talk about it, even if it’s shaming Hollywood intro creating opportunities for women — whatever it takes so that I hope that in my lifetime or in the next generation, young girls won’t even have to think about it,” Chopra elaborates. “It dwindles down even more with women of color — the opportunities are even less. So I want to be able to create those opportunities and talk about them and make people admit that yes, it’s a problem.”
As for “Quantico’s” upcoming third season, Chopra describes the on-screen themes as “very diverse and extremely global” with scenes that were shot everywhere from Italy to Ireland to New York City. “In almost every episode, American is liasoning with some country in the world,” she says, adding that the season includes storylines that are ripped from the headlines of many global conversations.
While news headlines may have influenced the new 13-episode season, Chopra promises the campy drama is still very much present.
“Alex, this year, has a lot of man drama. She has so much man drama, that it stressed me out!” she says of her character. “New cast members come in and new potential love interests as well, so all of that stuff still exists, and to me, that’s my favorite part of the show — you have what you love about the network drama, but at the same time to have thought-provoking content.”
Looking ahead to Season 3, Chopra says, “I’m very excited about the show coming back this year. Those are some big shoes to fill with ‘Scandal,’ but I’m hoping the ‘Scandal’ fans will welcome the show, too.”
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