Priyanka Chopra in The Matrix Resurrections. Photo: Warner Bros Pictures
“Whether it was in India or whether it was in the States, I think The Matrix was a global shift in culture,” says Priyanka Chopra, movie star, India’s most followed women on Instagram and, according to Time magazine, one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
Priyanka was 16 when the first Matrix was released. The child of doctors in the Indian army, she moved around a lot in her youth, including living in America for a time in her teens.
All the while, she was picking up the multicultural influences that are starting to make her an internationally bankable star.
Back in India by 1999, she watched the cultural wave started by the Wachowskis’ sci-fi creation wash across the planet. “I remember Halloween being about Matrix, the leather coat and those sunglasses,” she says. “Definitely, it was a global phenomenon.”
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This Christmas, Priyanka takes her place in the Matrix universe when the franchise returns to cinema following an 18-year absence. Her role in The Matrix Resurrections, opposite original stars Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss, is heavily shrouded in secrecy.
While Priyanka could not reveal more about whether online fans are right to speculate that she might be playing the new Oracle, she did speak openly about her struggles as an Indian woman in Hollywood, the fear she felt working through Covid and how she and her husband, Nick Jonas, honour each other’s cultures.
The Big Issue: How did it feel to enter the Matrix?
Priyanka Chopra: I had a moment on set when I saw Keanu and Carrie and Jada [Pinkett Smith] standing across from me. And I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh! Can I take a selfie?’ My teenage self was very excited in that moment. It’s so cool to be a part of the movie and a part of its legacy.
You’ve posted some lovely selfies with the cast to your Instagram. Did you make friends?
I think that always happens in movies: you make friends, you take a few people with you on the journey. And that definitely happened on this one. We only had each other because all of us were in bubbles. We couldn’t really do much because we shot the movie during the pandemic. I think that brought us closer to each other. Knowing that you’re all in this thing, in this mission, together.
It was it was hard, you know? It was scary to be out there on a set, because as an actor, you’re the only department that’s required to take off your mask. That, in the middle of a pandemic, is terrifying. But it meant you feel a sense of kinship with the cast, because you did this thing together.
How was Keanu? Is he really as nice as everyone says?
He is definitely an icon. But he’s such a nice guy. And he’s kind, and he’s astute and aware. I remember I was having a tough day and he just very sweetly came up to me, and acknowledged that – it was a hard day, and you did a great job. Sometimes having your co-actors just see it and give a little bit of encouragement, makes it so much better. I can tell you, he is a really humble, kind person.
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When the Matrix first arrived, we could scarcely have imagined how digital our lives would become. Is it even more relevant today than it was back in 1999?
When the first movie came out, it was the turn of the millennium. The internet had just blown up. We were all on AOL and grappling with Y2K. I think that made the first Matrix so pivotal to where we were as humanity.
It was also ahead of its time. So I absolutely agree with you that the movie and the franchise is a lot more relevant now. I think the questions that it raises, and the themes that it talks about in terms of consciousness, etc… as we are in this pandemic, and we are living in isolated digital worlds, these are good questions to ask yourself.
With 71 million followers on Instagram, you’re massively influential online. Is that a sort of Matrix-style alternate digital world?
Social media for me, is a part of my life. It’s a chapter, but it’s not the entire book, right? It’s like, some people like to golf and I like to be on social sometimes. I enjoy the same joy that social media gives to everyone else. I get to talk to people who are curious about my world, directly. And I like having that voice. So I enjoy it, but it’s not my entire life. It’s not my career. It doesn’t feel like a digital alternate life, and that takes away the pressure. Instagram is never anyone’s real life!
There’s a lot of rumours swirling about your character in The Matrix Resurrections. What can you tell us?
I think the only thing I can tell you is: my character is familiar in the universe. I love reading the speculations of the fans. That’s what I do before I go to bed – I check out Matrix theories. Some of them are actually really right… and some fans have got it so wrong.
In a globalised film world, does your background help you tap into different traditions?
I think more and more people now in the world are interested in culture and the cross pollination of culture. I want to do a lot of mainstream work. And there’s not a lot of Indian, female actors who get that opportunity.
No matter which country you go to you meet people from so many different countries, right? Entertainment needs to reflect that.
Do you still face challenges in terms of the number of roles available to you as an Indian woman in Hollywood?
Definitely. I don’t think there are enough roles that are written for an Indian woman. I think entertainment is at a place where people are demanding diversity, and I’ve never been shy of that. You have to help re-educate and create opportunity. I’m someone who’s willing to go into uncharted territory and say, ‘Let me try this’. I’ve only been working in Hollywood for about five years but I feel like, I’ve got really interesting opportunities. It wasn’t easy.
I’m excited about the fact that the industry is willing to be open to diversity and inclusion. There’s still miles to go. But the conversation is beginning and that’s great.
As a beautiful woman – a former Miss World – do you think people have underestimated you?
I think just being a woman in this world, you’re underestimated every day. You have to constantly prove your worth in every single thing you do.
The women that have come before me have given me the ability to have a voice and opinions. I take that responsibility very seriously.
I think it is up to every woman who has a voice, who has the gift of the freedom of opinion. We know there’s so many women around the world that don’t have that. It is our responsibility to make sure that we’re walking forward and we become the example of change.
You recently shared pictures of you and your husband celebrating Diwali together. Is it important to you to share each other’s traditions?
It’s very important to both of us to learn and honour each other’s traditions and culture. Because whatever is important to the other person becomes important to you. And I think that’s a very healthy relationship.
The Matrix Resurrections is in cinemas from December 22.