Priyanka Chopra's Memoir: What She Says About Nick Jonas, Racism and More
By Paige Gawley
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Priyanka Chopra Jonas is giving fans insight into her personal and professional parts of her life. The 38-year-old actress has penned her first book, Unfinished: A Memoir, and, in its pages, she doesn't shy away from discussing family, career, romance, racism and grief.
"I did not expect to be scratching beneath the surface as much as I did," Priyanka tells ET's Rachel Smith of the book, adding that writing for the first time was a "daunting" experience.
"I was terrified," she admits. "... I always like to push myself to do things that I have not done creatively."
It was her brother’s idea to enter her into the Miss India pageant
When Priyanka was a child, she "never dreamed" she'd be in the limelight, rather she was leaning toward a career as an aeronautical engineer. That all changed in 1999 when her brother, Siddharth "Sid" Chopra, suggested to their mom, Madhu, that they submit then-17-year-old Priyanka's photos to the Miss India pageant.
"Mom didn’t immediately agree to the plan, but Sid insisted," Priyanka writes. "... To quiet her persistent son and with no expectation that anything would come of it, mom finally filled out the application and they sent it and the photographs off the next day without telling dad -- and without bothering to mention anything to me."
While Sid's actions seemed to be a pure gesture at the time, Priyanka later learned of the then-10-year-old's hilarious motivation.
"Sid now says that he pushed mom to send in the application because when I’d moved back home about a year earlier after living with relatives and going to school in the U.S., he’d gotten kicked out of his room," Priyanka writes. "... This, apparently, was why he’d told mom to enter me into the Miss India pageant. He wanted his room back, and it was a way to get me out of the house. Perfectly logical, my brother, Siddharth."
Whatever Sid's motivations, Priyanka was accepted into the Miss India pageant, but thought any success there would be "a long shot." Much to her surprise, though, she was one of three winners and was chosen to represent India at the Miss World competition.
"I was in shock. My parents were in shock. None of us had a clue what to do next, because we hadn’t planned that far ahead. We’d assumed there was no need to," she writes. "Our heads were spinning that night and they continued to spin in the days to come."
That shock continued to the Miss World competition, where Priyanka was "stunned and thrilled" when she made it to the top five, before becoming the winner and feeling "ecstatic and dazed in equal measure." The teen, who had put her education on hold to compete, was brought back to reality a bit by her mom's first statement.
"'What will happen to your studies now?'" Priyanka recalls her mom asking immediately after her win. "Seriously? 'What will happen to your studies now?' To this day, I tease my mom about that. Here I had just won Miss World, the goal we had been working toward together for almost a year and that she had completely upended her life for, and she was worrying about whether I would ever take my board exams and finish school!"
From that moment on, "everything" about Priyanka and her family's life changed "in a huge, totally unforeseen way."
A doctor’s mistake during surgery left her "devastated and hopeless" amid media criticism
Less than a year after her Miss World win, Priyanka had to have a polyp surgically removed from her nasal cavity. What should have been a routine procedure hit a snag when the doctor accidentally shaved the bridge of her nose, which caused it to collapse and left Priyanka feeling "horrified."
"I felt devastated and hopeless," she writes. "Every time I looked in the mirror, a stranger looked back at me, and I didn’t think my sense of self or my self-esteem would ever recover from the blow."
The press was not kind about the situation, dubbing her "Plastic Chopra."
"I was dared to give an explanation for the obviously different nose, but I chose a course then that I’ve followed in all the years since. I decided that there was a line I was going to draw in my life," she writes. "I am an entertainer. That’s what I’ve signed on to do, and that’s what I love doing. I will say my lines, dance my dance, hit my mark. I’ll do my best to make you laugh, and I’ll do my best to make you cry, but just because I’m a public person doesn’t mean everything about my life has to be public knowledge. I get to choose what I share and when I share it."
Following the surgery, Priyanka was dropped from two of the first films she was signed on to make. Shortly thereafter, she was told by one producer that she needed to undergo loads of plastic surgery in order to have a successful film career.
"All the talk of body parts and skin tone collectively made me feel devalued and unseen and uncertain about my future. Having experienced the aftermath of a supposedly simple polyp removal, I knew I wasn’t willing to follow the course he’d laid out for me, even if he, as the highly successful expert, was right," she writes. "… My difference is my strength. If I looked like other 'classically beautiful' girls, then I wouldn’t stand out, and more important, I wouldn’t be me."
Priyanka went on to have "several corrective surgeries" and has now "gotten accustomed to this face."
"Now when I look in the mirror, I am no longer surprised; I’ve made peace with this slightly different me," she writes. "... I’m just like everyone else: I look at myself in the mirror and think maybe I can lose a little weight; I think maybe I can work out a little more. But I’m also content. This is my face. This is my body. I might be flawed, but I am me."
One of her most "profound regrets" is promoting brands that lightened her skin in ads
Since the time she was 13, Priyanka worked to lighten her skin tone, due in large part to the "premium put on light skin in Indian society." Her uncle, for instance, referred to her as "Kaalia," which means black, since she had darker skin than most of her family.
"I started making homemade 'fairness' concoctions, mixing talcum powder with various creams to try to change my skin tone," she writes.
When she attended high school in the U.S., Priyanka was bullied for her race, with students telling her to "go back to your country." She went back to India due to the experience, and, though she thrived in her new school, the want to lighten her skin continued.
As she became a successful actress and more confident about her appearance, Priyanka got an opportunity that she'd long dreamed of -- working with a beauty brand. Priyanka filmed commercials for one company, who ended up lightening her skin in the ads, despite her instance against such action.
"All I could think of was how I’d felt as a teenage girl using store-bought and homemade fairness concoctions because I believed my skin color made me unattractive," she writes. "I thought about how pained I’d felt when I was called kaali as a child. I was now promoting the destructive messages that had so eaten away at my sense of self-worth when I was growing up, and I knew the only person I could blame was myself."
Since then, though, Priyanka has taken "a definitive stance and distance myself from this archaic cultural norm" and hasn't done another Indian skincare campaign.
"Looking back, this was one of the biggest missteps of my career and is one of my most profound regrets," she writes. "I can’t go back and change what I did, but I can apologize, and I do so sincerely. To all the people who saw the harmful messaging that I contributed to, to all the people who still have to see commercials like these in every medium -- I am deeply sorry."
She first came to the U.S. for a music career -- and worked with some big names
Priyanka's first opportunity to work in the U.S. came in 2010 when a venture capitalist reached out about wanting to sign her to a record contract in the U.S. in an effort to take her career international.
She eventually signed on, working to make music with London and the U.S. while still shooting movies in India for much of that time.
"Between films in India, I’d fly to L.A. or New York to record, usually for a couple of weeks at a time, and there was always someone incredible for me to try out new things with," Priyanka writes. "will.i.am, who worked with me on the song 'In My City,' an energetic, feel-good pop tune about my travels around the world and how a city can give you an identity; Pitbull, who worked with me on 'Exotic'; The Chainsmokers, who worked with me on 'Erase'; Matt Koma, who worked with me on various songs that still reside somewhere on both of our computers; and a number of others."
In 2012, "In My City" became Priyanka's first single, and was chosen for a pregame promo during the NFL's Thursday Night Football. But the excitement from that "was completely destroyed by a storm of explicitly racist hate mail and tweets" she received in the promo's wake.
"The song is all about joy and belonging, and yet the barrage of xenophobic messages coming in felt like an endless series of punches to the gut," she writes. "The assault was shocking in its swiftness and brutality; I had not been prepared to be so publicly attacked on my very first artistic foray in America."
Two years later, Priyanka was still chasing after her musical dreams and released an EDM cover of Bonnie Raitt's "I Can't Make You Love Me," the music video for which starred Milo Ventimiglia.
Despite her scattered musical success, Priyanka feels as if she "never really cracked the code" on the type of music she wanted to make.
"After three years of trying my hardest to make my music career work, traveling tens of thousands of miles to record a couple of dozen songs in all styles and genres, I came to the difficult decision that it was time to move on," she writes. "I’m so grateful to everyone who invested in that part of my journey, and I’m sorry I let you down. Maybe someday."
She walled herself off emotionally after her dad’s death
In 2005, as Priyanka's Indian movie career was on the rise, her father, Ashok, was diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma, a rare form of cancer. After a surgical misstep and a six-month-long hospital stay, Ashok recovered, until 2011 when he started to "feel weak." A new mass was discovered and Ashok was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. Throughout all of this, all Priyanka's father wanted was for her to live her life.
"He was also determined not to let his illness get in the way of my career. Throughout most of my father’s hospitalizations -- and there were many during the two years that followed his remission -- my mother always said to me, 'Just go to work. He’ll be fine. He wants you to work,'" Priyanka recalls. "And I knew that was true. If I visited him in the middle of the day, he would say to me, 'Why are you here? Why aren’t you on set?'"
Not only did Ashok want to encourage Priyanka to work, he wanted to support her too. In fact, just two months before his death, Ashok accompanied his daughter to an awards ceremony and bragged about her onstage.
"When I think back on the final year of his life, I often regret not taking more time off to be with him," she writes. "But that’s not what he wanted. He wanted me to work, to focus on the career he’d helped me build. Neither he nor my mom wanted my life to be interrupted or halted by his illness. Now I wonder why I listened to them."
While Priyanka was "ready to let him go" by the time her dad died in 2013, his death left her with grief so intense that she "walled" herself off emotionally instead of processing the emotion.
"The hole my father’s absence left in our family, in my heart and in the hearts of my mother and my brother, was almost unbearable," she writes. "I was accustomed to always moving forward, always going on to the next thing rather than facing my feelings... I had no tools, no internal mechanism, no experience that could help me deal with such devastation."
The grief was "ever-present" and became a "never-ending slump, a long sigh of sadness, a sort of pause in my life that lasted almost two years." During that time, she gained 20 pounds, struggled to sleep, and spent all of her non-working time alone.
On New Year's Eve leading into 2018, Priyanka made "a conscious decision to start doing small things" to help her "reengage with the world" and, gradually, her "soul started to feel less heavy."
She received support from Kerry Washington and Ellen Pompeo ahead of Quantico’s premiere
Amid her period of grief, Priyanka booked the job that would shoot her into stardom in the U.S. -- that of Alex Parrish on Quantico. It felt like "a Hollywood dream come true," but it wasn't without difficulties.
"I felt such a sense of achievement, and gratitude, too. But I also felt a lot of pressure," she writes. "I was proud that I’d been cast in the role, but I worried that if the show didn’t do well, it would be a step back for South Asian actors in general, and the weight of that burden -- self-imposed, I know -- felt enormous."
While concerned about the job and its potential impact, Priyanka was shooting the show five or six days a week for 15 to 18 hours a day. Ahead of Quantico's premiere, Priyanka attended ABC's upfront presentation, where she met two of the network's other stars, Ellen Pompeo of Grey's Anatomy and Kerry Washington of Scandal, who welcomed her with open arms.
"Kerry [Washington] and Ellen Pompeo from Grey’s Anatomy were both incredibly kind to me," Priyanka writes. "As the lead actresses in their hugely successful respective network shows, maybe they saw how petrified I was and understood the rigor of my life that first year: ten months of shooting (most of which was yet to come), an endless succession of long days, and the weight of being '#1' on the call sheet."
"Having two of the biggest female stars in American television at that time sit me down, give me the 411, and take time for a pep talk helped ease my anxiety, and for that I’ll always be grateful. I felt like they entered my train compartment and calmed the course of my journey," she continues. "They probably don’t even realize the importance of what they did for me, but I, for one, will never forget how they so generously took me under their wings that night."
Even with the support Priyanka received, the show wasn't without controversy, a fact that ended up making Priyanka wary of social media.
"I loved the direct access to fans and well-wishers without anyone in the middle. I had a great time doing interactive sessions and talking to fans regularly," she writes. "After negativity and attacks came my way for multiple years, though, a relationship that had once been enjoyable and positive eventually transformed into one of mistrust and fear."
"... Once I felt that it was unsafe to show myself in all my vulnerable humanity, I pulled back. It was instinctive," Priyanka adds. "… I’ve come to see that there are times when you should speak up, and times when it’s better not to. So I’ve started picking my battles."
She thinks her mom "manifested" Nick Jonas into her life
All her life, Priyanka hoped for a relationship like that of her parents.
"Often at home and especially at parties, dad would put on the charm -- he would sing to mom, recite poetry for her, completely and utterly embarrass her," she writes. "He was creative and romantic and thoughtful, and I dreamed of having a relationship just like theirs, one of true partnership, and of romance, poetry, and music."
"Who could have known that all that childhood imprinting would actually manifest in reality, just like those self help books say it will?" she adds.
Her relationships thus far hadn't worked out, though, and Priyanka, dealing with the grief of her father's death, decided to take a "dating hiatus" in 2016. When she made her vow to begin moving forward two years later, she hoped to find a man who was honest, career-minded, creative, ambitious, and family-oriented.
Five months after making that list of non-negotiables, Priyanka found Nick Jonas, thanks, in large part, to her mom.
"Not much surprises me as much as Nick Jonas did. And in a weird way, I feel like my mom manifested him," she writes. "A year or two earlier, after my last disastrous relationship, she had said to me: 'My wish for you is that someone would just come in and sweep you off your feet.' She and my father had married only 10 days after their first date, after all. And that’s just what Nick did. He swept me off my feet."
"Once we started dating, I felt like I was being carried by a giant unstoppable wave. At times I had no idea where the wave was taking me, but I rode it anyway," she continues. "Have I mentioned that I love control? So you may understand how disorienting this was. But it was also thrilling."
The two had been messaging on and off for years at that point, with Nick first sending Priyanka a DM in 2015 after texting one of her co-stars, "Priyanka. Is. Wow.," and requesting an introduction. At this point, they had even hung out in person at events including the Met Gala and Vanity Fair's Oscar party, but nothing truly developed until mid-2018.
"I may have been a little reluctant to move things forward. As intriguing as I found him, I knew that when I was ready to be with someone again, I wanted to be with someone who wanted a family," she writes of Nick, who's 10 years her junior. "He was 25 and I was 35, and I assumed he didn’t, at least not anytime soon."
Once Priyanka gave in, though, their whirlwind romance took off. Nick went engagement ring shopping with his brothers, Kevin and Joe Jonas, while in London, and then asked Priyanka's mom for her blessing while in India. They got engaged on July 19, 2018.
"I simply could not believe that Nick was real, and that our relationship was as happy and healthy as it seemed," she writes. "Despite my disbelief, Nick was sure. He had been sure from date two or three. Once we were engaged, he even played me a version of a song that he’d written after we’d spent only a few days together, a song about our future that would later become the song 'I Believe.'"
They tied the knot in December of that same year with a "huge, insanely joyous celebration" in India. The couple incorporated both their Hindu and Christian traditions into the days-long extravaganza, even creating "Indian Weddings for Dummies" and "Western Weddings for Dummies" guidebooks for their guests.
What was otherwise a perfect experience was brought down a bit by the absence of Priyanka's father.
"The afternoon was perfect. And yet, I couldn’t help missing dad’s presence... It was one of his life’s dreams to see me happy like that, to see me with someone who understood, respected, and treasured me, someone who grounded me and made me laugh," she writes. "I can imagine dad taking his new son-in-law by the shoulders and saying, 'All right, come on, let’s sing a song!' and Nick, being his own understated self, nodding and smiling a little smile and just going with it. I would have loved to have seen that."
Now happily married and in their home together, Priyanka writes that she and Nick "hope to create" a family in the coming years.