When 31-year-old actress Deepika Padukone was cast in XXX: The Return of Xander Cage, it wasn't just the prospect of being in a Hollywood action movie that intrigued her. It was also the idea of relocating to Toronto, 7,755 miles away from her mod duplex in a Mumbai skyscraper. "I was anxious before I left to start filming," she recalls. "But I wanted to move out of my comfort zone and start over."
It's not as though she needed to reinvent herself—back in India, Padukone is as big as they come. A former model with 30-plus Bollywood films on her résumé, Padukone made Forbes's 2016 list of the 10 highest-paid actresses in the world, outranking fellow Indian superstar Priyanka Chopra.
At home, she's not only among the wealthiest actresses but also one of the most popular, with a Kardashian-like social following nearly 30 million strong. But don't come to her feed for makeup-free selfies: Her highly posed fashion shots and film stills attract hundreds of thousands of likes apiece, yet they reveal very little about her personal life.
"I think my fans understand that I'm very private and I like to keep a lot of things to myself," she speculates. "I connect with them over work and about my projects, but I don't feel the need to share every detail of my life. Who really cares what I had for breakfast or what I'm wearing today?"
If Instagram comments are evidence (and, yes, she reads them), it turns out people not only care—they're obsessed. Witness the raging debate over the wide-belted Monisha Jaising ensemble she wore to the MTV Europe Music Awards. Feedback ranged from loving appreciation to angry calls for her stylist's head. "Look, I'm aware that it was a departure for me, but part of the red-carpet game is to take risks," Padukone says. "Sometimes people love it, and sometimes people hate it. In this case, I felt like a million bucks, so it didn't matter how anyone else reacted."
In some ways, it was a relief for her to hide out in an extended-stay hotel apartment in Toronto while filming Xander Cage. There, Padukone found a level of anonymity that doesn't exist for her in Mumbai—at first, anyway. "Initially, Canada's Indian community knew I was there, but over time that number increased," she says. She doesn't mind being recognized, as long as it doesn't put anyone else out. "Sometimes fan encounters can be an inconvenience for the people around me, unless, of course, the people around me are more famous," she says, referencing outings with her Xander Cage co-stars Vin Diesel and Nina Dobrev.
With her move to Toronto, Padukone left behind perks like an entourage and a security team and now focuses on the basics herself: making her own scrambled eggs and ordering Indian takeout. "I received an allowance and had to find my own accommodations while we were filming," she says. "I had never even been to Canada before, so I spent the first two weeks settling in and learning to do my own laundry."
Along with Diesel's colossal muscles, Padukone's international profile helped make Xander Cage one of this year's most anticipated action films. The story follows a government operative, played by Diesel, and his thrill-seeking cohort, Padukone, on a mission to save the world from deadly weapons. The trailer alone got a record-breaking 100 million views in just two days.
None of it intimidates Padukone, who rejects the oft-touted notion that Bollywood films are less relevant than Hollywood ones. In fact, India's film industry has become the second-highest-grossing in the world, right after ours. "The content of the job was exactly the same in both countries," she says. "That says a lot about how much Indian cinema has evolved."
Other common ground she's discovered between Eastern and Western cultures: the emphasis on personal style. "The way people view fashion is identical," Padukone says. "Indian designers may embrace ethnic-inspired designs more than American designers do, but ultimately, women use fashion as a vehicle for self-expression in both places. And as important as it is for me to push the envelope with how I dress every so often, I'll always feel most comfortable in a sari."