Priyanka Chopra Gets Candid About "Quantico" Dialogue: "The Way We Look at Women and Sexuality Needs to Change"
"Quantico" was in the headlines last week as it made its return to the ABC lineup, but there was something even bigger happening behind the scenes on the prime-time drama. When Priyanka Chopra was informed about a seduction storyline taking place between her character, Alex, and Owen (played by Blair Underwood), she worked diligently with the writers to make sure the dialogue was more reflective of modern issues.
The result was the following exchange between the two characters:
Owen: "You are not the first recruit to try to get ahead by going after the instructor."
Alex: "I'm pissed at your assumption. I just thought you're different. You think I want something from you, and the only way I can get it is to sleep with you? Like the only thing a woman has to offer is sex, and men are so dumb that they are gonna give up anything to get it. I can get whatever I want, without having to compromise myself…and if you couldn’t, then you weren’t a good operative."
Chopra has a great working relationship with the writers, which made brainstorming about the dialogue that much easier. But what happens when you want to have a discussion with those who don't share your views? And how do you do so effectively? Here, Chopra offers her advice—and explains how she hopes to be one of many to lead the change.
Glamour: What's your relationship like with the writing team on "Quantico"? Do you get a say in the storylines?
Priyanka Chopra: I think [creator-writer] Josh [Safran] and the writers’ room have kept a really open dialogue with me, and that’s happened from the beginning. He’s extremely respectful and open to points of view. The only thing the writers want with this show all the time is to make it topical and make it relevant. It’s so cool to be in a room with young people like that, and that’s how this scene happened as well. It was just a dialogue between me and Josh, and he was so open to it. He was like, "It’s such a great idea, and it’ll be such a great example for people." Because Alex is a hero; she’s a modern-day woman who’s unapologetic about being whoever she is. I think that [for] people who think sexuality is the only means to get what they want, it gives you another point of view. So, yeah, it’s always been great to have that creative dialogue work out.
Glamour: How did the changes in the dialogue with Alex and Owen come about?
PC: Well, it was a different point of view on the scene initially. Josh and I spoke about it, which he always does whenever an episode comes out. We discussed it, and he just really thought it was a really progressive way to close [the episode]. So it was different, but I think it became just a little bit more emphatic, the way it was said now.
Glamour: In the episode itself, it’s not just the women who are told to use their sexuality to defeat the enemy, but it’s the guys as well. Forgetting the seduction aspect for a second, it's interesting the writers decided to incorporate both genders.
PC: Absolutely. It’s so stupid, so archaic [to say that] men are so stupid they'd give anything for sex, and women are…that that's the only resort we have. [Alex] says, "Everyone doesn’t have to use their sexuality to get everything, and if you have to, you’re not a good enough operative."
Glamour: I love that you weren't afraid to speak up for your beliefs. That's not easy to do.
PC: It’s scary because women [are often told to] have to be a certain way, to speak a certain way. The "norm" has been defined for many, many years, so it is very scary, especially for girls around the world who don’t have the freedom and the opportunity to have a voice. That’s what I do — no matter where I'm at — I always advocate to young women that if we don’t do this for ourselves, no one else is going to. We have to have a voice. [With Alex's storyline on Quantico,] I had to speak to my writers for them to say, "Wow, this is a great point of view." So many people — family, boyfriends, bosses, whatever — [will] tell you, "That’s not how girls behave," or “That’s not what you should say," or "That’s not normal." So the more [we speak up], maybe someone, somewhere, will hear it.
Glamour: How do you do it so that people will actually listen though?
PC: Well, I’m not impractical, definitely. What I do is I weigh out the pros and cons. I [say to myself], "What’s the worst that could happen and what’s the best that could happen?" And then, if I don’t speak up, "What is the worst that could happen and the best that could happen?" Then I’m prepared. I’m very practical as a person as well, and I think that’s where I get confidence from. As impulsive and spontaneous as I am, I’m still very practical. I always have been. I work out my pros and cons, and then I make an informed decision on whether I should do something or not. I really believe if you’re going to do something, you have to do it 100 percent; otherwise it’s better not to do it.
Glamour: How you say it is crucial too.
PC: Yeah, it doesn’t have to come from a place of anger or confrontation or angst. It has to be a dialogue and a conversation, and just a peaceful point of view from another person. Eventually, there’s no right or wrong; it’s only perspective.
Glamour: You have such passionate fans. After this episode aired, what did they have to say?
PC: I did get an incredible response for that episode, especially that scene between Blair and me. Blair’s such a powerful actor. When you work with someone like that who's a sounding board, it's really easy to be able to deliver even a difficult point of view. It was such a good scene. I think that’s really important, [and] fans caught on to that.
Glamour: Quantico is a very sexy show, and you are so good at displaying both your femininity and your strength. Many find that empowering, while others debate whether it's feminist to show off your sexual side. Talk to me about that.
PC: First of all, feminism is not man-hating, not man-berating. It is not saying we are better. It is just saying we want the same opportunities, and we want to be able to make decisions on our own without being judged for them. We want the same freedom men have enjoyed over the years, so I think that’s the place where we are. And it’s completely not mutually exclusive at all for how you want to look, how you take care of yourself, how you want to be, what you want to look like. It has nothing to do with it. The fact that a woman has a choice to be how she wants, to do how she wants, without a guy to think, "because she’s pretty or because she’s in a dress, she’s asking for it or she wants it." I think those are the lines that are blurred that need to be addressed. Just like guys who buy their fancy cars and toys, women like to do it too, but that has nothing to do with our feminist point of view. The world, the way we look at women and sexuality, is what needs to change — not our behavior, not who we are, not what we say. It’s the intentions that should change. It’s the mind-set. Otherwise, we’re just going to be a completely confused society with not knowing what to say to one another. The mind-set of when you meet a woman is that you should try and get to know her.
Glamour: With Mary Tyler Moore's passing last week, we've seen the legacy she had, not only on TV, but for so many women. What do you want people to say about the character of Alex, decades from now?
PC: [Mary Tyler Moore] was incredible…the legacy she left behind, not just as an actor, [but] as a woman, an empowered being. I’m not even going to go with her gender, [but] as an empowered person. Those characters that she played, and those women who’ve come after her, have opened up the doors for us to be able to — or for me — to be able to play a leading lady today on television and have a character who is so progressive, ass-kicking, and a hero. And not just my character — there are so many incredible women on TV right now. Viola Davis, Kerry Washington, Ellen Pompeo. These are really incredible female leads that are on network TV. Hopefully, with what I do, and the generation of actors I’m working with, that’ll make the lives of other girls coming in after me even better. I hope to aim for that.
Glamour: And moving forward on "Quantico," will empowering speeches like the one from last week continue to be part of the narrative in the latter half of the season?
PC: The most important [thing] is the direction the characters are going. If the writers can slip in something like that, I’m sure they will because they’re always looking for opportunities to have a point of view on the show. It’s really cool that they actually look for that [in addition] to what's organic for the show.
"Quantico" airs Monday nights on ABC at 10pm EST.
More From Glamour:
• 10 Things You Didn't Know About Priyanka Chopra of "Quantico"
• 8 Times Celebrities Have Spoken Out About Being Ridiculously Photoshopped
• The Best New Show You're Not Watching Yet
• Watch Alex and Ryan Take Their Chemistry to the Next Level On "Quantico"
Photo Credit: BOB D'AMICO/ABC