PRIYANKA CHOPRA JONAS
ENTERS HER BEST SEASON YET
After settling into married life and welcoming daughter Malti, Priyanka tells TODAY’s Hoda Kotb she's primed to "conquer the world."
A conversation with Hoda Kotb
Written by Kavita Varma-White
Photography by Phylicia J.L. Munn
April 27, 2023
Hoda Kotb is running late for her interview with TODAY’s spring cover star Priyanka Chopra Jonas, but she has a bulletproof excuse.
“I love you, I love you, I love you,” Hoda says to her computer monitor. She’s breathless as she glides into her cozy, color-drenched office at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York City and joins a video call with Priyanka, who is seated in front of a stylish backdrop at a friend’s home in Mumbai, India.
While Hoda is clearly happy to see the global superstar, her affectionate greeting is actually a message she’s passing along from the person responsible for her tardiness: Nick Jonas, Priyanka’s husband of nearly five years. Hoda has arrived directly from a promotional shoot with Nick and his siblings – the Jonas Brothers – in the same building, ahead of their performance for TODAY's Citi Concert Series in May.
“Nick told me to convey this message: ‘Please tell her that I love her.’ I assume you already know that,” Hoda says. Priyanka’s face beams upon hearing her husband’s name. The jet-setting couple had been together in Mumbai earlier in the week promoting her new Prime Video action-spy series, “Citadel,” while also exposing 1-year-old daughter Malti to her mom’s home country for the first time.
“My husband is the kindest, most generous, gentle, thoughtful man — and also extremely intelligent and patient,” Priyanka tells Hoda. The effusive praise of Nick will become a recurring theme in their nearly hour-long conversation, which runs the gamut of emotions: laughter, introspection and even tears.
The virtual sit-down with Hoda comes two weeks after Priyanka's photo shoot for this story at Milk Studios in Los Angeles, during which she confidently offered suggestions on the aesthetic, poses and lighting. Less than 48 hours later, in London, she will post on Instagram as she gets her hair and makeup done while holding her baby girl Malti in her arms. And several days after that, her social media shows her in India, from where she shares glamorous portraits from several events with husband Nick.
As she traverses the globe balancing her roles as wife and mother while returning to acting, it’s clear Priyanka is embracing a new season of her life — and it looks good on her. At 40 and more than two decades into her storied, international career, she’s as world-renowned as ever, with nearly 87 million Instagram followers alone.
Now, as Hoda prepares to start their cover story interview, some technical difficulties arise on the video call. Priyanka, however, immediately takes control, deftly managing her team in India to make the necessary audio and lighting adjustments. Measured and cheerfully diplomatic, she knows how to diffuse chaos behind the camera. And then, just as naturally, she's ready to perform in front of it.
WHEN CONFIDENCE BLOOMED
“What you just did in that second explains to me why you are successful in your life,” Hoda observes, smiling. “You get stuff done…but it means you’ve got to be confident in your voice. When did that come to you?”
For the uninitiated, Priyanka stepped into the limelight nearly 23 years ago, when she was crowned Miss India World 2000 at age 17. Her accidental pageant career – the result of her then 10-year-old brother and mom entering her without her knowledge – culminated in a Miss World title the same year. That launched Priyanka into a decade-long film career in India, where she eventually became one of the country’s highest paid actors, appearing in nearly 70 movies.
American audiences, however, didn’t get to know Priyanka until she arrived in the U.S. in 2015 and landed the role of Alex Parrish in the ABC series “Quantico.” She went on to star in movies such as “Baywatch,” “Isn’t It Romantic,” and “The Matrix Resurrections.” But it was with “Quantico” that she made history as the first-ever South Asian to headline an American network drama. While the role was her debut in Hollywood, it was just one of many “reinventions” for Priyanka.
“I’m going to give it my hundred percent. I feel like that kind of attitude just leads to other people having confidence in you, and then that leads to you having self-worth.”
“(Confidence) is not something you are born with. It’s not something you will always have. There will be days where you’re completely under-confident and don’t feel the best,” Priyanka says. “I’ve been up since 6 a.m. It’s almost 9 at night, but I’m here talking to you, because I’m going to give it my hundred percent. I feel like that kind of attitude just leads to other people having confidence in you, and then that leads to you having self-worth.”
Coming to Hollywood to pursue acting in 2015 was not Priyanka’s first time in America. The daughter of parents who were both doctors in the Indian Army and moved a lot, at age 13, she moved to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to live with her aunt’s family and attend high school. She would go on to attend three other American high schools before moving back to India.
“You were 13, I mean…there’s no more awkward or insecure or scared time in your life than that,” Hoda points out. “You had the moxie to say, ‘I want to try this.’ That’s big confidence for a kid that age.”
Priyanka is quiet for a moment. “I don’t know if I had the confidence. I think I just didn’t know any better,” she tells Hoda. “I was just really excited about going to America...but I didn't think I ever fit. I was an immigrant kid. I spoke differently. I changed a lot of my identity to kind of fit in.”
Adapting to so many new environments as an outsider did, she says, make her nimble.
“I think in different phases of my life, I kind of taught myself or learned how to be my own hype girl. And it helped me navigate many crazy situations,” she says.
IN THE DEPTHS OF WINTER
As Priyanka speaks, she has a tendency to gesticulate with her hands. As they flash on the screen, Hoda notices the tattoo on her right wrist.
“You’ve got a tattoo I see that says, 'Daddy’s lil girl.' I was thinking about … what an impact your father has had on you in your lifetime,” Hoda says. “We have a lot in common. My dad passed away, too. I was in college when it happened to me…I asked myself this question: ‘What did you lose that day?’ So: What did you lose the day your father passed?”
Priyanka’s voice takes on a deeper tone as she recollects losing her father, Dr. Ashok Chopra, who died in 2013 after a years-long battle with cancer.
“I think I lost my greatest cheerleader. I felt like that for the longest time,” she says. “He used to get so excited if I ever won an award, if I signed a new movie…He would just want to be around to watch me do what I do.”
Initially “disoriented” after losing her father, Priyanka candidly wrote in her memoir “Unfinished” about how her grief manifested years later into depression in the spring of 2016. At the time, she was living in New York shooting “Quantico.”
Priyanka shares with Hoda that it was a dark chapter in her life, one where she felt a lack of friends and community and endured crippling sadness. The combination fueled an unhealthy period of emotional eating and drinking that, Priyanka says, greatly impacted her body image as well as her mental and physical health.
“The 30s were kind of tumultuous for me when it came to my body. I was going from this 20 years teen-like body, which is…metabolism is at its highest. And then you reach your mid-30s and you're like, 'Oh, I can't skip a meal and it'll just look great.' It was a really tough time for me to be able to say ‘I'm going to do what's good for my body’ because emotionally I wasn't there.”
She pauses for a moment, reflective.
“I’ve thought about that phase in my life a lot. And my body needed to mourn, my heart needed to mourn, and yeah, you know, I needed pizzas to do it,” she tells Hoda, balancing her vulnerability with a small laugh. “I allowed myself to do that…pizza and a bottle of wine and a s—— movie.”
“As soon as you choose what’s good for you and stop waiting for someone else to be that hand to pull you out of it, it’s a very powerful thing.”
“I reached a point where I knew that bottom had been hit. And now, the only way was up,” she says.
She continues: “I started choosing myself instead of the darkness that is seductive and that kind of reaches out for you sometimes. As soon as you choose what’s good for you and stop waiting for someone else to be that hand to pull you out of it, it’s a very powerful thing.”
THE SUN AFTER THE RAIN
The whirlwind romance of Priyanka and Nick Jonas is perhaps best described by the way she titled the chapter about their union in her memoir: “When you know, you know.”
The couple, who are 10 years apart in age, met via a direct message on social media in 2016 and walked the Met Gala red carpet together in 2017. But it wasn’t until 2018 that feelings heated up after an evening out with friends in Los Angeles. In the weeks afterward, the romance moved like a bullet train, with family introductions, a romantic engagement and wedding planning. The seven-month courtship culminated that December in an epic three-day celebration in India, where there were his (Christian) and hers (Hindu) wedding ceremonies.
“A lot of us go through life, and we always compare someone who we fall in love with, with our fathers. You need someone who measures up, somehow,” Hoda says to Priyanka. “Well, look at you: You found this wonderful man named Nick. What is it about your love story that you think makes this so magical?”
Priyanka’s smile returns. “I didn’t give it much of a chance because, I was like, ‘He’s 25 years old, he’s a rockstar. I want to get married, I want to settle down, I want to have a baby.’ I was 35 at the time,” she says. “I wanted stability, and I didn’t give Nick enough credit until I went out with him on our first date. We spent the whole evening together, and I realized my husband is just like an old soul. He’s stability in human form.”
After losing her father as her “cheerleader,” Priyanka says that finding Nick felt like fate. The way she describes her husband — her words brimming with adoration – sounds like dialogue from a romantic movie.
“He’s my cheerleader. He’s the most secure man I’ve ever been with. He gets extremely excited at my wins. He takes off my extensions at the end of the night,” Priyanka tells Hoda. “He fixes my dress when I walk off stage and makes sure it looks right when I’m on the carpet. He brings me my coffee first thing in the morning.”
“I feel safe with my husband. I wish that for everyone.”
“He’s just so even-tempered, can handle anything thrown at him. And also has the ability to be vulnerable with me,” she continues. “I feel safe with my husband. I wish that for everyone.”
Hoda sniffles. “I feel like sobbing right now,” she tells Priyanka. “You guys were like whirlwind city, and here you sit with a beautiful baby and beautiful relationship.”
HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL
Malti Marie Chopra Jonas came into the world on January 15, 2022. Carried by a surrogate, the baby was born prematurely and spent 110 days in the NICU, initially at Rady Children’s Hospital in La Jolla, California, and later at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles.
“I don’t know how you can improve on what looks like a beautiful, perfect life. That little baby…That baby tested you when (she) came into the world,” Hoda, a mom of two young daughters herself, says to Priyanka with tears in her eyes. “It was scary and the baby needed love, care, and all your prayers. What were those initial days like when Malti was born?”
It was a harrowing time, Priyanka says, sharing that when she first heard her daughter was coming early, she shut down. She credits her husband’s strength with helping her cope.
“I remember he just held me by my shoulders, and I said, ‘Just tell me what to do, because I don’t know what to do.’ And he’s like, ‘Just get into the car with me.’ And we drove to the hospital. She was born, and from the moment she took her first breath to now, she’s never been without one of us, ever.”
In those long days in the NICU, Priyanka says she and Nick divided the days so that someone was always with the baby, whether it was holding her skin-to-skin or watching the NICU nurses care for her.
“I don’t think it was our test. I think it was her test,” Priyanka tells Hoda about Malti’s battle for her life. “I realized very, very early that I did not have the luxury to be scared or to be weak, because she was scared and weak. And I had to be her strength as her mom. I needed to make her feel at every given moment that she’s not alone…that we’ve got her.”
“From the moment she took her first breath to now, she’s never been without one of us, ever.”
Bringing the baby to their Los Angeles home was difficult, Priyanka says, because in the NICU, “you know your child is alive, because you can see their heartbeat (on the monitor). I couldn’t sleep for days, because now suddenly she was home without a monitor. I used to put my ear on her chest. I would wake up every couple of minutes just to see if she was OK. For weeks, this went on.”
As she’s speaking with Hoda, Priyanka shares that Malti, now 1, is in India with her, currently sleeping in the next room with her mother, Dr. Madhu Chopra. (Priyanka later explains that Malti is Dr. Chopra’s middle name, while Marie is the middle name of Nick’s mom, Denise Jonas.) It was Malti’s inaugural visit to the country, and Priyanka says her daughter experienced all kinds of firsts, from going to a Hindu temple to eating spicy Indian food.
“She’s like, eating it with both her hands,” Priyanka laughs while mimicking the motions, “as if she’s eating ice cream!” Priyanka says she and Nick want their daughter to be bilingual in Hindi and English, and that the baby is still soothed by the Hindi lullabies that Priyanka sang to her in the NICU, the same songs her own mother used to serenade her with.
THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM
In “Citadel,” which premieres on April 28, Priyanka plays the character of Nadia Sinh. Nadia and another spy, played by Richard Madden, are former agents whose memories have been wiped and are now fighting a new world order, with a little help from an associate played by Stanley Tucci. Before the season has even been released, Amazon Studios has greenlit development of several spin-offs that will be produced in different languages in other countries, including Italy and India.
Back on the TV screen again, Priyanka sizzles in high-octane action scenes.
“It’s so crazy when I think about your life, because it has all the facets. You are a beautiful mom and a loving wife,” says Hoda. “And then, in this show, ‘Citadel,’ you’re kicking ass. Every woman is like, ‘Yes! I wanna have that kind of moxie.’ Is there a part of you who has that stuff inside you, like your character does in ‘Citadel?’”
“I’m from the land of Gandhi. I believe in nonviolence. But!” Priyanka says with a laugh, “I could take someone on, I’m pretty sure of that.”
Priyanka is also appearing in the upcoming romantic comedy “Love Again,” which co-stars Sam Heughan and Celine Dion as herself. (There’s also a delightful cameo from her husband, Nick.) Her character, Mira Ray, is a woman coping with the loss of her fiancé by texting her feelings to his old cell phone number…not realizing it was reassigned to Heughan’s character.
“You know those rom-coms like ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ and ‘Jerry Maguire,’ those kind of movies that … make you cry a little bit, and then make you want to just eat a tub of ice cream? This is one of those feel-good, amazing movies — with original music from Celine! It just warms your heart,” Priyanka tells Hoda.
While it seems fitting that she has managed to find adventure and romance both professionally and personally, Priyanka says the stability she now enjoys is a result of finally embracing what she never focused on in the first part of her career: balance.
“I used to burn the candle on both ends. I’d never even taken a vacation for 10 years because I was greedy. I was like, ‘I want to do everything. I don’t want someone else to have this part.’ Slowly I realized that just chipped away at my soul,” she tells Hoda.
Now, Priyanka has a crystal-clear understanding of what “work-life balance” means. There’s a new, non-negotiable hard stop to her work day: Malti’s bath time.
“After that, I’m not available. We do bath time, story time, bedtime,” she says. “And then it’s our time (for me and Nick), whether we … have friends over or just sit together and watch a movie.”
Having left behind the “all work-no play” mantra she used to live by, Priyanka says family is now the fuel that inspires her to work hard.
“It just makes me want to conquer the world. When I wake up and do a million things, I can do them really well, because I know that I come back home to my family,” she says. “And that’s such a priority to me now.”
And so, until she jets off to her next premiere or press engagement or photo shoot or movie set, you will probably find Priyanka — in this new season of her life – wherever Nick and Malti are. In love. Fulfilled. Balanced...and fully bloomed.
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