During an average Wednesday afternoon at Mel’s Cite du Cinema, a studio nestled next to Montreal’s Saint Lawrence River in Montreal, the average pedestrian would perhaps be privy to the fact that the likes of Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Julia Roberts had all filmed box office hits within the walls. But what they wouldn’t know is that on that particular Wednesday, one of the biggest stars in the world – Priyanka Chopra – was busy shooting scenes for an upcoming episode of ABC’s “Quantico.”
When the series kicked off last Sunday, the press widely honed in on the fact that Chopra, a Bollywood star with more than 11 million Twitter followers, was about to become America’s sweetheart. As a former Miss World winner and a sought-after film star, she quickly became the poster child for the series during ABC’s heavy publicity campaign, despite not even the showrunner, Joshua Safran, being completely familiar with her work when she was cast.
“She just came in like any other actor on the day we were auditioning the role of Alex,” he told Indiewire. “She was very clearly an entity in and of herself and I was very surprised because I did not know who she was — she was just another name on that day’s sheet. This is an ensemble show — even though the role of Alex is front and center like Meredith Grey on ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ — so we weren’t going after stars.”
Once everyone involved realized the magnitude of who they had cast, Chopra became the show’s feature selling point. Between the commercials leading up to the premiere focusing on her scenes alone and the actress being the only one of the cast to appear at the 2015 TCA summer press tour, the strategy was fairly clear. It’s also one that seemed to have paid off — the show premiered to an overall audience of 7.1 million, easily winning the night for ABC and beating last year’s Season 4 debut of “Revenge” by 50 per cent.
According to Josh Hopkins (“Cougar Town,” and a last-minute addition to the pilot following Dougray Scott’s departure), Chopra’s star power became immensely clear during on-location filming in the streets of Montreal, where fans would swarm in so that they could catch a glimpse of the glamour — a rare instance for a freshman show.
“I’m ashamed to say I hadn’t heard of her — I should probably lie! But it took one minute of Internet investigation to realize, she has 11 million Twitter followers… like, what?” he said. “Everywhere we shoot, people come out and scream her name. When she shows up they go crazy. My dream would be that this show is so successful we all take a trip to India, because I would like to see what it’s like to walk around with Beyonce.”
For India’s version of Beyonce, Chopra herself seems pretty down to earth. On set she left personalized, signed posters for all of the journalists visiting that day (causing an uproar on social media from fans who wanted one), and opted to pull her chair closer during interviews in order to obtain a more intimate feel.
Of course as number one on the call sheet, it was also difficult to obtain more than five minutes with her at a time, during which she politely answered questions about her upbringing and accidental career (at 17 she was in school to be an engineer when her mother secretly sent in photos of her for a Miss India contest). She kept apologizing and promising to be back, asking if anyone would like any tea or coffee in the meantime before disappearing back to set with her personal assistant in tow.
“We tease her about having an assistant and all that, but she’s actually pretty down-to-earth,” said her co-star and main love interest on the show, Jake McLaughlin (“Believe”). “That’s just what she’s used to.”
McLaughlin and fellow co-star Graham Rogers revealed that part of their on-set antics included stealing Chopra’s segway board — a gift from her
boyfriend best male friend — until he eventually bought them their own. Unfortunately, that day on set McLaughlin’s had taken a spill into the Saint Lawrence during a little tumble. Rogers caught the whole thing on video.
Even Chopra’s older castmates, like Aunjanue Ellis (“The Book of Negros”), have felt the Chopra effect. As Alex’s onscreen mentor, Miranda Shaw, she’s experienced it first hand and believes it’s another exciting step for women of color on television.
“She can’t even walk down the streets in New York without people screaming her name,” Ellis said. “I hope she’ll have the same experience here, that America will embrace her the way the rest of the world has. Someone said that Priyanka Chopra could be America’s sweetheart. I was like, ‘Yes. Priyanka Chopra can be America’s sweetheart.'”
“Quantico” airs Sundays at 10pm on ABC and CTV in Canada. NOTE: A reference to someone misnamed as Chopra’s boyfriend has been updated.
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