‘Lockdown gave me the time to access my failures and rejections’

“I’m scared. I’m insecure. I feel crazy,” says Priyanka Chopra Jonas, describing what a down day is like for a woman who has starred in more than 60 films and been named in one of them time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People and was announced last week as one of Victoria’s Secret’s new recruits. “But I always talk to someone when I’m feeling down. And I say it out loud because it kind of takes the power out of it.”

It’s hard to imagine someone like Chopra Jonas feeling anything but a little smug. Actress, producer, singer, model, philanthropist, author—at 38, she has a resume most of us can only dream of.

And yet, as we talk on Zoom — her in front of an open fire in the Notting Hill house where she lives while filming in London — it becomes clear that being a Hollywood star who’s dating doesn’t make you any less immune Bollywood has become doubt.

We speak for mine telegraph podcast, cheater, which urges successful women to speak openly about their experiences with imposter syndrome—the feeling that you don’t deserve to be where you are and that you could be found out at any moment. You can listen to our conversation with the audio player above.

Chopra Jonas doesn’t seem like a natural character at first glance. Her career began by winning Miss World in 2000 and has seen her transition to the A-list. She announced the list of Oscar nominees this year alongside her husband, pop star Nick Jonas, with whom she is often pictured clinching on Instagram, to the delight of her 63.4 million followers. For his part, Jonas has 30.4 million and even the couple’s dog Diana has 166,000 – not for nothing are they dubbed one of the most influential couples on the platform. She is probably best known in the UK for her critically acclaimed role in the recent Netflix film The White tigerwhich she also served as executive producer.

However, Chopra Jonas’ success hasn’t been easy — she was recently revealed in her memoir Unfinished, which she wrote during the first lockdown. “I had the quiet time to look inside myself and really access my feelings, my failures, my rejections,” she says. She writes honestly about her traveling childhood in India as the daughter of military doctors; about being “abandoned” at boarding school at the age of seven; and her first experiences of racism after choosing to live with her aunt in the US as a teenager (“Go back to your country on the elephant you came on,” she recalls), which got so bad that she eventually returned to India.

“Bullying is abuse of power,” she says when I ask her about that upsetting time. “And racism is just basic stupidity. It’s medieval, almost… it’s crazy to me.”

What if she could talk to those school bullies now? “In my 20s I probably would have said, ‘Look how far I’ve come, b—-‘,” she laughs. “But now in my 30s, as a more mature person, I would probably say, ‘Let’s sit down for a cup of coffee’ … Now I would go below the surface.”

Not long after returning home, she was crowned Miss India and then Miss World, dropping out of her engineering degree to open the doors it opened. Film roles followed – one of which resulted in Chopra Jonas, then barely a teenager, leaving the set after hearing the director say, “I should be able to see her panties, who else is coming and watching the film.” It’s just demeaning, she says, “that I was reduced to that — I felt bad about who I was.”

Her parents, she reflects, were always there to pick her up. I can see that closeness in the tattoo on her right hand that reads “Daddy’s Lil Girl” in her father’s handwriting, inked after his cancer diagnosis. He died in 2013 and in Unfinishedshe admits to having fallen into a lull for almost two years after that.

She refused therapy but found it impossible to shake off her grief and lived through “most of my days and nights as a zombie.” Her childhood asthma worsened, she was constantly ill and could not sleep – yet she does not want to describe what she was going through as clinical depression, but as a “pause in my life”. Eventually, she made an effort to see friends again and soon ran into Jonas when he wrote to her on Twitter, “I heard from a few people that we should meet up.” She replied with her cell phone number.

At the same time, Chopra Jonas moved to Hollywood — and became a nobody when she arrived at industry soirees to find all the A-listers on one side of the room and the strangers, including herself, on the other. She didn’t let imposter syndrome win, however, and got her big break in 2015 when she starred as an FBI agent in a thriller Quantico – the first South Asian actress to direct an American series. Supporting roles in films followed: A kid like Jakeopposite Claire Danes and Isn’t it romantic? with Rebel Wilson, but it was The White tiger – adapted from the novel by Aravind Adiga – which won over critics earlier this year.

“I never expected to rest on my laurels,” she says after the success. “Just because I’ve had a hit movie doesn’t mean I should expect that next movie and that next movie everyone will love.” It’s in people’s consciousness to see a brown person as the lead in a mainstream TV show or movie.” After years of hard work, “I’m just starting the job I was looking for when I moved to America all those years ago came.” ‘Lockdown gave me the time to access my failures and rejections’

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