Priyanka Chopra reveals how childhood bullying prepared her to play a sexy and badass FBI agent in Quantico

Priyanka Chopra takes no prisoners in Quantico—that is, unless the job requires it.

The same can be said for the Bollywood beauty in real life. The actress’ personal experiences helped prepare Chopra to play rookie FBI agent Alex Parrish on the hit ABC series. Framed for a bombing at Grand Central Station, her character enlists former classmates to help clear her own name and track down the real terrorists.

Though Chopra is a megastar in her native country, she has a lot to prove as the first-ever South Asian woman to headline an American network drama. “I come from a really small town called Bareilly in India. If I can sit here today doing this interview, talking about an international TV show and almost 50 Hindi movies behind me, it can happen for anyone. I had major self-esteem issues growing up and was always very nervous and scared as a kid. I was bullied in school. But I got up one day and said, ‘Enough,'” she says in the Winter issue of NEW YOU magazine, on newsstands now. “The color of my skin, the hair I have—there are so many things about me that may not be conventional. But as soon as I chose to own it and walk out the door wearing confidence, people looked at me differently.”

Chopra wasn’t always so confident in her own skin. After she moved to the United States at age 13 to live with her aunt and uncle in New York and later Massachusetts, she was bullied because of her Indian heritage. “There was this bunch of girls who were just mean to me. When you are 14 and 15, it’s a big deal to be called ‘brownie’ and hear, ‘Go back to your country.’ At the time, I was really scared,” she recalls. “I felt I could not deal with it and thought I should go home.”

That’s exactly what she did, and in hindsight, it was the best move for her career.

“Ultimately, I am glad I went home, because at 17 I went on to win Miss India and Miss World. Then, the movies happened,” says Chopra, who has starred in over 50 Bollywood films. “Now I am back [in the U.S.] with a little more confidence.”

Today, the qualities that once made Chopra a target for childhood bullying are the qualities she loves most about herself. “Our flaws make us unique,” the 33-year-old actress tells NEW YOU magazine. “As soon as you find and identify your flaws, there’s no one who can be like you. From that you can take your confidence.”

Chopra hopes that sharing her story will help young girls in similar situations. “I feel extremely passionate about girls being able to be independent. My parents taught me that; I was raised like that. My parents never differentiated my brother and me,” she says. “We were raised equally. We were taught to have opinions, make decisions, and have the courage of conviction. I believe girls all over the world [have been] raised to believe that we need to be protected, or need someone else to feel validated and strong. Now we are in a time where we are enough.”