The former Miss World has become a global smash as Alex Parrish in the fast-paced US thriller Quantico. The first series of the drama saw the FBI trainee proving her innocence when she was accused of being a terrorist. In the second series, she’s recruited by the CIA and has another terror plot to thwart. Here, the 34-year-old reveals what we can expect to see – and the secrets behind her fabulous hair…
Returning for a second season, do you feel more responsibility? Or do you feel like you’ve set the ground and proven yourself?
I felt more of a responsibility last year, because it was so new for me. I’m not even from America so I didn’t know what people would expect of me. Every week I had to convince America that I’m American, which scared me a little bit so last year I felt the pressure. Now we’re in around 216 territories around the world, and there’s a loyal fan base.
What can people expect?
The show has got darker, a little more mature, a little bit slower so you can follow the pace of it. I think that you have to keep up with it, it doesn’t take your intelligence for granted, we don’t spoon feed you, we want you to keep up with us and that’s what people like about the show. Whatever you do, you can’t miss the last minute because there will always be something for you to hold onto your seat and go, ‘Huh?! Wait, what? I’ve got to wait another week for this!’ That’s the point, you guys. Welcome toQuantico. It’s what we do!
As well as some returning cast, there are also some new faces?
Yes, and every character is a mystery to Alex, and obviously the audience is watching the show through her. So what she discovers is what you’re discovering. They’re all new for her and she has to figure them out because everyone’s keeping their cards close to their chest.
And what about Alex and Ryan (Jake McLoughlin)?
They’re star-crossed! They love each other but they hate each other. That’s what makes it interesting for an audience. You don’t know what to expect. I’m sure a lot of people have relationships that are completely unstable and this is one of those.
If Ryan was out of the picture, who would you like to have as Alex’s love interest?
I don’t know, I’m really bad at casting. I think Tom Hardy.
You threw a huge party at your house when the first episode of the second series went out…
By then, we’d filmed about seven episodes and worked 16 hours a day so I just wanted to bring everyone together, so we could let our hair down one night and just be ourselves. The cast and crew never usually get to be together.
As the lead of the show, do you feel it’s your responsibility to make everyone feel like family?
It’s my nature, but I don’t come onto a set thinking that I’m responsible for everyone. I believe that as a lead actor, you help set the tone of what the environment will be like. It’s a really difficult show, we do almost 100 page scripts in eight days, and we see each other more than we see our families – me for sure because I’m from Mumbai. So I would like everyone to feel like they can depend on each other. It’s the atmosphere I like to work in, so I try to create it.
It must be a joy every time you get a script…
Yes, it is because we’re so on our toes every time. It’s a lot of fun because the writers really push the envelope.
And it’s a very physical role…
It’s exhausting. I never have time to work out because I work on the weekends promoting the show or I’m doing all my Indian work, which is my commercials or photoshoots. During the week, I’m pretty much working 15 or16 hour days. Thankfully I have a metabolism that helps and I’m naturally agile. I’ve done a lot of action movies but my body gets really tired and I don’t have the luxury of being able to fall ill. Me not coming to work means 300 people don’t work so that can’t happen. I have a lot of vitamins and drink a lot of water.
Did you kick the arses of the boys on set?
I really did, and I did it without rehearsals sometimes because we shot so often and I’m in almost every scene so that I never have time to shoot sequences the way I would like to. So I’m always thrown on set and I have to learn it like choreography. I literally have so many scars from all my action, my filmography is on my body. I wear my bruises like medals. They’re a badge of honour.
You’ve talked in the past about your self-esteem issues, and didn’t like the way you looked when you were growing up…
I was a gawky teenager and I was dusky by Indian standards. When I was in school [in America as a teenager], I was really made to feel bad about being Indian. I was called Brownie, Curry and told to, ‘Go back on the elephant you came on.’
It’s so cruel, but I bet they’re now all tweeting you saying, ‘Hey, remember me from school?’
I’d probably still be scared of them, but I don’t think they’ve reached out to me at all. I’ve been friends with my school friends up until now. One of my oldest friends is from when I was in 4th grade and when I was 16. Most of them are outside the movie business because I don’t have time to make consistent relationships.
I have to ask – us girls are in awe of your fabulous hair. What’s your secret?
It’s just great Indian genes and I’m not kidding. My grandmother made me use her coconut oil when I was a kid. I used to hate it because it makes your hair sticky and oily. She’d tie it into tight braids and I use to yell and say, 'I don’t want to do it'. But thank goodness she did, because now I have the hair that I do – despite the fact I get a blow out almost every day! But genetically I’m really blessed, although I do try and take care of it. I condition and shampoo and keep it as moist as I can whenever I can but that’s probably the only thing I do to take care of it.