TIFF 2014 Interview: Priyanka Chopra on Double Bacon Cheeseburgers and ‘Mary Kom’

Priyanka Chopra was thrust to the forefront of the Bollywood sound stages after winning Miss India and Miss World. Now she’s one of India’s most in-demand actresses. But for her biggest foray into the global film market, Chopra took on a big challenge: the life story of five-time amateur boxing champion and Bronze Olympic medalist Mary Kom.

Chopra was in Toronto to promote the biopic the day before it debuted all across India (on Teacher’s Day), and within select markets internationally. CraveOnline was told that the Bollywood mega-star had bodyguards, but she ditched them in the Toronto traffic because after a daylong flight and a press conference the filmmaking team was late to her individual press day and she didn’t want to make people wait. The traveling (and, of course, the discussion of a role that she was very proud to portray) left her hungry, though. And when we sat down with her, Chopra had a fancy hotel napkin draped across her lap and a local fast food double-bacon cheeseburger (with jalapeños on the side) in her hands. But while she enjoyed it, she was disappointed that there wasn’t a Burger King nearby.

What’d you order?

I just asked them to not get me a gourmet burger.

So you just wanted real junk food?

Anything that’s not good for you is amaaazing.

Well, you’ve earned it. What was your knowledge of boxing before shooting Mary Kom?

Rocky. That’s all. I had zero knowledge of boxing. I knew it as a sport that was shown in many movies and I was amazed at how little I actually knew about the sport. In fact, amateur boxing, which is what Mary does, is a scoring game. The goal is not a knockout, so it’s not like Rocky at all. It’s all about defense and hits to the body. So I couldn’t act like Rocky. I couldn’t act like a boxer. I had to become one.

So how long of training did you have?

I only had three months of training. So I would train with actual boxing about two hours a day and a gym routine two hours every day and for seven days a week, because we had to really crunch in my time.

And now do you feel like you could beat up anyone?

Yeah, actually I’m really tough now [laughs]. Super-tough. But something cool is that if you put me into a ring I may not be able to beat another boxer but I can put up a good fight. I know the game now, which is completely cool because I was never athletic before. I never did any sports in school.

And you spent a lot of time with Mary Kom?

Yeah, Mary was tremendously important in the movie. She sat with our writers and myself and most of the film was directly told to us. Which was very personal and very cool. And I went and visited her in Manipur and where she grew up as a kid and the church where she got married and the school and gym she grew up in. I looked in her cupboards and her drawers. Everything.

[she references a post on her Twitter]

We just drove around and she took me shopping. My version of shadowboxing was just shadowing her.

Now she has her own gym in India …

An academy. She’s started an academy for upcoming female boxers. She wants to give back because it’s so hard to become a female boxer in India. Or anywhere, really.

I’d read that she also started that academy because she’s an advocate of self-defense training in India for women against sexual assault, given current laws and societal norms.

She does say that, but as far as what’s been told directly to me, it’s for boxing training.

As a woman, do you see that those are different types of training?

I do see it as two different things. Boxing is a sport. But yes it does make you confident enough to get into a space where you can protect yourself. But self-defense is always self-defense.

You said before that the only reference point that you had for boxing was Rocky so how do you see this film in comparison to American boxing films? Because they are a subgenre here.

The difference is that this is not a boxing movie. It is a movie about a girl and her life. She comes from a hard background. She is a rice farmer’s daughter. She comes from a small village. She comes from a house where they didn’t even have a roof, but instead just had plastic hanging over the top so that it would keep the rain out. And she fought through those circumstances and got into a male-dominated field after being told over and over that she couldn’t be a boxer because she’s a girl. And she went on to win five world championships in a row. She had two babies and then she went back and trained again and won another championship and in the Olympics. And still after having a third child is representing India in the Asian games. And boxing happens to be the sport that she’s in within this very accomplished personal story. And it’s amateur boxing which has entirely different rules from Rocky.

I read that she gave you tips about parenting and marriage.

Yeah, that was the one part of the movie that I had no experience with. The day before we’d shoot a family scene I would call her and I’d speak to her about what she felt with certain situations and just make sure I was following the right intuition in the scenes.

And what is her favorite cheeseburger?

[laughs] I don’t know.

But I feel like you should eat yours. You’ve only had a bite.

Oh no, I never eat when someone is taking pictures [references someone in the room].

Oh, I’m done taking pictures! Please eat!

I heard you like Burger King. What’s your favorite item on the menu?

[very serious] Double bacon cheeseburger. Favorite.

Brian Formo is a featured contributor on the CraveOnline Film Channel. You can follow him on Twitter at @BrianEmilFormo.