Actress and Global Icon Priyanka Chopra Makes Her Stern Show Debut

“Citadel” star opens up about everything from her Bollywood career and winning Miss World to marrying Nick Jonas

May 2, 2023

Actress, producer, and worldwide star Priyanka Chopra Jonas made her Stern Show debut Monday morning, sitting down with Howard for an illuminating conversation that covered her unusual upbringing, fascinating love connection with pop star Nick Jonas, and astonishing career. The two tackled her unusual childhood — which saw her father put bars on the windows to keep young men at bay — being crowned Miss World 2000, becoming one of Bollywood’s biggest stars, and her eventual Hollywood takeover, which began with a starring role on “Quantico” and continues on with her explosive new spy series, “Citadel.”

Executive produced by Joe and Anthony Russo of “Avengers: Endgame” fame, “Citadel” throws Priyanka and her co-star Richard Madden into a transcontinental adventure filled with espionage, danger, and romance. Howard told Priyanka he was a big fan of the Amazon Prime series and her work on it, though copped to being nervous on her behalf after learning she performed such a high percentage of her character’s death-defying stunts. “Why do your own stunts?” he asked.

“Because I’m good at them,” the-40-year-old superstar told Howard.

Despite never receiving any formal stunt training in Bollywood, Priyanka learned plenty on the job. “In my Bollywood movies, when stunts were being performed, we didn’t even have a female stunt guy. Sometimes it was a little man in a wig, his arms shaved … [pretending] to be me,” she told Howard. “Over time, just so that my characters would look more convincing, I kind of learned how to do it myself.”

She did receive extensive weapons and combat training while preparing for “Citadel,” a massive project which reportedly cost over $200 million to make and already has spinoff shows in the works in India and Italy. “[The Russo brothers] said, ‘Your characters are not superheroes. This is not a Marvel universe … We want to be able to see your characters bleed. The viewer has to feel a visceral reaction,’” she said.

Priyanka found additional motivation in being one of only a handful of female action heroes to star on a project as massive as “Citadel.” “I really wanted to show up for my character because [in] the spy genre … the spies have been guys,” she told Howard.

Bars on the Windows

To say Priyanka had an atypical childhood would be putting it mildly. Born in India, she moved to the United States at the age of 12 where she lived in places like Queens and Iowa for a few years and evolved in ways her parents could not predict. After moving back to a small town in India at the age of 16, Priyanka said it wasn’t long before her father literally needed to install bars on her bedroom windows to keep her safe from her many male suitors.

“My dad was super paranoid because he sent to America a 12-year-old with braids … and I come back, you know, a little bit more woman than my dad would’ve anticipated,” she said, adding, “I had boys follow me home and one of them jumped onto my balcony at night. That’s why my dad was like, ‘Fuck this! You [get] bars, and all your jeans are confiscated, you’re gonna wear Indian suits.’”

Her father was so concerned for his daughter’s wellbeing he even hired a driver to take her to and from school. “He was freaked out. I get it,” Priyanka said of her dad before conceding she had become a bit of an Americanized wild child back then, wearing FUBU and sunglasses to school and thinking she could get away with anything. “I thought I was invincible,” she said.

Miss World 2000

Even bars on her windows couldn’t keep stardom at bay for long. At 16, a passport picture photographer recommended she spice up her wardrobe, snap a few glamour shots, and give modeling a try. He parents allowed it, so long as her mother could supervise the entire photoshoot.

“You gotta let your kids do dangerous things, carefully,” Priyanka said of both her and her mom’s parenting philosophies.

The photoshoot went so well that her parents secretly submitted the pictures to the Miss India contest. It wasn’t long before Priyanka got a call. “They were like, ‘Oh, [it’s the] Miss India pageant … You have to be in Delhi in three days. Bring a bathing suit, don’t wear makeup, and bring heels,’” she told Howard.

The pageant industry was unfamiliar to Priyanka, but her intelligence and competitive streak gave her several advantages. “We had about 30 days to prep,” she recalled. “I observed and learned and absorbed as much as I could, and I was just like, the one thing I can do is be smart up there. I know in India they look for that. You want the person representing the country to be well-spoken, presentable, traditional — a good ambassador for your country.”

Priyanka won, and it wasn’t long before she was competing for Miss World 2000 on the international stage against women from 95 other countries. “Jerry Springer, R.I.P., was our host that year,” she recalled of the event, which she went on to win. “It was called the millennium year, so I’m the millennium Miss World.”

How a Botched Surgery Almost Prematurely Ended Her Career

Bollywood courted Priyanka soon after she was crowned Miss World 2000, and it didn’t take long for her to become one of India’s fastest rising movie stars. But her career was threatened after a botched nose surgery drastically altered her face.

“It was a dark phase,” she told Howard, explaining that it all began after doctors recommend she get a polyp in her nasal cavity removed. Unfortunately, the surgeons made mistake during the procedure. “This thing happens, and my face looks completely different, and I went into a deep, deep depression,” she continued. Priyanka said she was fired from three different movies after that, and she truly believed her acting career “was over before it started.”

The situation got so bad she didn’t want to leave the house, but that’s when Priyanka’s dad — a doctor himself — helped her find the courage to go back under the knife and get corrective surgery. “I was terrified of that, but he was like, ‘I will be in the room with you,’” she recalled. “He held my hands through it and helped me build back my confidence.”

Priyanka also credited Bollywood film director Anil Sharma with helping her bounce back. “I was supposed to play this lead, and I was shifted to a supporting character. That filmmaker was very kind,” she told Howard. “He, while the tide was against me, said, ‘It will be a small part but give it your all.’ And I did.’”

Married to Jonas

After starring in some of the highest grossing Bollywood films ever, Priyanka returned to the States and started her Hollywood takeover. In 2015, she starred on ABC’s “Quantico” as a rookie F.B.I. agent who becomes a suspect in a devastating terrorist attack at Grand Central Station. Not only did the role help her become a household name in America, but it also caught the eye of musician Kevin Jonas — who just happened to be looking to set up his brother.

“He told Nick [Jonas] that he should meet me. It’s so crazy,” she told Howard, saying one of her co-stars encouraged her to go through with it, too.

Howard wondered if she was at all turned off by the thought of dating a musician.

“I thought it was hot … I love musicians,” Priyanka countered. “I think musicians have people wrapped around their fingers, live, for two hours … That’s an insane power. I have to spend 90 days on a set and work with 300 people editing a movie to get that,” she added with a laugh.

She didn’t immediately pursue Nick for a variety of reasons, not the least of which she’d just been in a serious relationship. He eventually upped the ante, getting down on one knee as she was leaving a Hollywood party so he could profess his feelings for her. “It was such a Prince Charming moment. It was like time stopped. And also, he was like so hot,” she recalled, explaining she was on her way to grab In-N-Out before flying off to Zimbabwe for a charitable endeavor. “It was really like a meet-cute from a movie … It was all slow motion.”

There were sparks again about a year later when they ran into each other at the Met Gala. Nick asked her on a date to the White House, but again she declined. “I was afraid of getting my heart broken. I’d just been through the ringer,” she said, saying he eventually wore her down with a casual invite to go see “Beauty and the Beast” at L.A.’s Hollywood Bowl. “He asked me the next day to go to a Dodgers game — and I don’t know my baseball from my football … but I was very excited to go have alone time with him. And I felt butterflies,” Priyanka recalled.

The romance was worth the wait, and before long they’d fallen so hard for each other that he was writing songs about her. “The first time he did that, Howard – now, that was a good night for him,” Chopra Jonas said with a laugh.

“Citadel” is streaming now on Amazon Prime Video with weekly new episodes dropping on Fridays.

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