Priyanka Chopra Jonas & Richard Madden on ‘Citadel’s Huge Action Sequences
Mar 12, 2023
From executive producers Joe & Anthony Russo and showrunner David Weil, the Amazon Studios global spy thriller series Citadel follows elite agents Mason Kane (Richard Madden) and Nadia Sinh (Priyanka Chopra Jonas), who had their memories wiped before escaping into new lives with new identities. When a former colleague (Stanley Tucci) comes calling eight years later, Mason must track down former partner Nadia, in order to stop a powerful shadow agency from destroying everything.
During a press conference to preview the new global production that will be expanding into different interconnected series around the world, the Russo brothers and Weil were joined by Madden and Chopra Jones to talk about how this unique idea came about, what viewers can expect from these episodes, finding the perfect cast, creating something new and original of this size and scope, balancing emotional drama with huge action sequences, the layers to these characters, and why this is the perfect format for a project like this.
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Question: How did this production come about?
JOE RUSSO: This is a really unique television event. That’s what excites Anthony and I the most about it. The concept was an idea that Jen Salke presented to us, a few years ago – the notion of telling a story that could be interwoven throughout the world, and that would have a flagship show and then regional shows, written, produced and directed by regional talent, that could interweave with the flagship show. We thought that was such a novel idea for a narrative and an amazing way to create a really diverse, global community of storytellers, to tell a giant mosaic of a narrative together. After our work on the Marvel films and spending so much time traveling the globe, this was an idea that was really exciting to Anthony and I, and ignitable for us. It seemed like an incredible challenge.
ANTHONY RUSSO: Joe and I had never heard a premise like this before. It’s a real credit to Jen Salke’s vision for what Amazon is capable of. She brought us an idea that was basically a model for a show that was so ambitious and wide-ranging and global in its nature. This is something that Joe and I have been working toward for many years now, as storytellers. We really love the engagement of the global film community. It was an incredible opportunity. We went to work trying to find the right story that could fulfill that ambition, and we’ve had amazing collaborators, in order to find that.
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David, what can we expect to see with this first season?
DAVID WEIL: Citadel is the story of two top spies. There’s Mason Kane, played by Richard Madden, and Nadia Sinh, played by Priyanka Chopra, Jonas, and they are top spies at the most powerful spy organization you’ve never heard of, called Citadel, which of course is by design. And the day we meet them is the day that Citadel falls. It’s brought down by this nefarious new spy syndicate called Manticore. We then cut to eight years later, where we pick up with Mason Kane, who’s living this quiet life in Oregon with his wife and his daughter, and he has no memory of who he was or what his past was, until one night when a gentleman by the name of Bernard Orlick, played by the one and only Stanley Tucci, knocks at his door and needs his help to take down Manticore before they create a new world order. Mason discovers that Nadia is still alive, and the two of them journey the world, taking down Manticore and unraveling the very dangerous secrets of their past. That’s just the first episode. There’s a lot more.
Why were Richard Madden and Priyanka Chopra Jonas perfect for these two characters?
JOE: We’re incredibly fortunate, the cast is just exceptional in this show. What Anthony and I really love about this is the high concept of it. Both Richard and Priyanka get to play multiple versions of themselves. This notion that their memories have been erased allows them to create new characters who then have to rediscover who they were. And then, their new personalities come in conflict with their old personalities. That was the idea that most excited us because I don’t know that I’d ever seen that before, where you have multiple characters dealing with a crisis of personality and a crisis of conscience. So, to have this cast that also includes Stanley Tucci and Lesley Manville, and to be able to portray these complex characters, this show doesn’t work without the elegant powerhouse performances that they all brought to the show.
David, what’s it like to keep all of this straight?
WEIL: There’s a lot going on. What’s so beautiful and ambitious about this entire spy universe that we’re creating is that we’re doing it in tandem with partners all around the world. We have announced the India series and the Italy series, and we get to work with these incredible writers, filmmakers, actors, and producers, truly from all around the world, and build this entire story together. It becomes this tapestry told in different languages and through different cultures, in a very authentic way. It’s not just a Western point of view that we’re viewing this story, but we really are doing something original, and we’re holding hands and building this, at the same time, with our fellow creators and producers.
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Where did you get to travel in these first six episodes?
JOE: We go to Spain. We go to London. We go all over the world. We go to Miami. Part of the fun of the show is this globetrotting aspect to it. It’s also essential to the core concept of the show, that we’re gonna be telling stories, all over the world. We have we have a production that just wrapped in Italy. We have another that’s about to start in India. You’re gonna travel to every corner of the world on Citadel.
This is brand-new IP that’s completely original and unique. How does that impact and enhance how you’re able to tell a story and make it all your own?
ANTHONY: That fact, right there, is another enormous credit to Amazon. They are the type of company, and they have the type of will and ambition, to attempt something this large that’s built on the backs of original IP. It’s a very unusual combination, to take a big swing like this with with new material that nobody is familiar with. For all of us, that was also a big thrill, creating the story from scratch and being able to go anywhere with it was.
WEIL: It gives you license to dream. It allows for the best idea to always win, wherever it comes from. You’re not necessarily tied to source material. So, if the creators in Italy or India have an idea in the middle of the night, and they call us and say, “Hey, what do you think about this, for a character in your series?” We can do it. We can really try and build together, in that way. It’s very unique.
JOE: And it’s fun for audiences to discover a new story. They’ll have no idea where this is going.
What can you say about the type of action audiences will see in this?
JOE: It’s very cutting edge. It’s very modern storytelling. True to the genre, there are some very, very large set pieces throughout the series, competitive with the cinematic exploration. That was the mission here, to bring large scale spy storytelling to Amazon and to digital distribution. The exciting part of it for us is the scale of the action sequences and the ambition it took to execute those.
ANTHONY: The technology we explore in the show is very forward-thinking. It is grounded in a world that we all know and recognize, but as you peel back the layers of the unknown, part of the unknown is the very sophisticated tools and systems that spies can use to to do things that most of us can’t.
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What is it about spy stories that we keep coming back to and that’s so attractive about that type of world?
JOE: We all wear masks in our lives. There are many depths and dimensions and facets to each of us. And so, to be able to see, on screen, characters who embody that spirit and give you that wish fulfillment is always exciting. This show allows the viewer to step into the world of Citadel and feel like they, too, are a spy within it.
Priyanka, what was the appeal of this series, for you?
PRIYANKA CHOPRA JONAS: This show has so many layers and complexities. There’s a word that we used, right from the beginning, which was duality, for every character. Don’t believe what you see. Everything is just conceptually crazy. It’s just so exciting to be able to share it with the world. It’s been a long time in the making because it’s so ambitious. I’m very excited about it.
Richard, who is Mason?
RICHARD MADDEN: Mason is a very complicated man. The joy of this has been being able to play these two very, very different characters, but both in the same body. They are both the same man in lots of different ways, but each version of him, you pull out different aspects of humanity and who we are, as people. One of them carries a lot of scars from the past and a lot of trauma, and the other one doesn’t carry any of that baggage. He just has a whole bunch of unknown to him. So, we end up having these two very different characters. What was exciting to explore about them is, how much of your character traits are built in, and how much are inherited through trauma and experience?
Did you just focus on one character at a time, as you were playing them, depending on what was required of you?
MADDEN: That’s a great question. It varied. Sometimes I couldn’t just focus on one of them. What David did so beautifully with the script is create these things that I could use to juxtapose against each other. What elements of each character gets pulled out, at what point? As we go on, during the journey of the show, you get to see what elements are built into both of them and that are actually in you, as a human being, rather than just because of your experience in life. It was a great challenge to have both of those things to pull out, at different times, and mirror each of them, when playing its character.
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Priyanka, who is Nadia? What is she about?
CHOPRA JONAS: I thought she’d be really simple, but no. Our characters have sides to them and their personalities. I feel like Nadia carries a lot of baggage. She has to navigate really thick waters and hold her head up high, while her character is changing and her life is changing, all around her. She has to stay centered because of the burdens that she carries. That makes her very juicy to play, as a character, because every choice that is made by her is burdened and laden by so much pressure, and she thrives in it. It was really wonderful. Richard and I had a great time. I love working with him. We danced really well together. This was just a really ambitious show. If we didn’t have each other, understanding what the other needed, this would have been hard to do.
MADDEN: Absolutely. And we kept each other in check. Sometimes you were like, “Okay, what character am I? What do I not know?”
CHOPRA JONAS: The show is completely non-linear, so you’re going back and forth. We had to remind each other of the story. It was like a big jigsaw puzzle that we had to remember. It was so much fun to do.
This series has intimate character development, but also heavy action. You’ve both done action sequences before, but how did this compare?
CHOPRA JONAS: I have a scar on my forehead, on my eyebrow, that’s courtesy of Citadel. I don’t even cover it anymore. But the stunts were amazing. Joe and Anthony brought the most incredible stunt team onto the show. They have worked with the best in the business, and we were really lucky to be able to work with people like that. Our stunt team was incredible. Nadia is a badass. She comes from a place of trusting her body and her instincts, and I got to explore a lot of that with the stunts that we did. Every time I would read new pages, the stunts would just get bigger and bigger and bigger. It was amazing to be able to imagine that, and then walk onto set and actually execute it. It was great.
MADDEN: There are huge set pieces in this, and that’s something that’s amazing to be a part of. Not only that, we often see shows that are 80% drama and 20% action, or vice versa. This show aimed to be 100% of both, and I think that’s what we’ve managed to pull off. In the middle of these huge sequences with explosions and cars blowing up, we have this really intimate drama between these two characters and how they dance together. For me, that’s what was so exciting about these huge action pieces. They are infused with heart and drama and storytelling. We get to see a lot about these characters and how they physically interact. It’s not just great action sequences, but there’s drama at the heart of each one of them.
CHOPRA JONAS: The choices in the action pieces are made because of what their characters are feeling. There’s a story interwoven in all the stunts, and that was just very cool and new for me.
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As the creative team, what’s it like to see your actors bring these characters to life?
JOE: We’re really blessed to be working with exceptional actors. Spies traffic in lies and deception and murder and betrayal. So, not only are they having to encapsulate characters who have spent a better part of their adult lives, trafficking those kinds of things, they’re also playing people who have zero connection to that world, and who are living a normal existence and have an emotional connection to what their current life is and the current individuals in their lives. When those two smash together, it’s as complicated an idea that I’ve heard, for actors to play.
WEIL: They make us better. Every day on set, they push us to be better storytellers, to ensure that there’s as much realism in these characters, and as much scope and scale in both the action storytelling as the emotional storytelling. It’s a dream. Joe and Anthony create this energy on set that is just fully collaborative. We all get together, we read through scripts, and we talk about ideas. It’s almost like a theater troupe. It’s a very, very special way to work.
CHOPRA JONAS: That’s one of my favorite things about this show, and I feel so invested in it. I was nervous. All of these guys have an insane filmography. You walk in with nerves about what to expect, but what I didn’t expect was the collaborative nature. We would sit down talk about it, and we had suggestions, ideas, and changes. It would be done immediately. It was always about putting the show first and what’s best for the show. Everyone came in with that intention, and it was just so easy and great.
ANTHONY: The roles that Priyanka and Richard are playing are the highest degree of difficulty, for the many reasons we’ve already talked about. They’re playing two different versions of themselves with different sets of memories, and how that processes, in terms of their behavior and their choices and their thoughts. But also, they’re playing something that has the highest degree of emotional complexity and, at the same time, the highest degree of physical challenge. For them to be able to do that and to pull that off, on a physical level, on an acting craft level, and on an emotional level, it’s something that Joe and I and David would just sit back and marvel at.
JOE: It’s exhausting to watch it.
MADDEN: But we have them getting us through it. It really is a brilliant family. The pace of it rolls together, and that’s what it’s like on set. It’s a lot of adrenaline, every day.
CHOPRA JONAS: It really is.
MADDEN: Everyone turns up at the top of their game, and we have to fire off each other and spark together and, and that’s what we managed to do, so beautifully and in a really creative way.
Would you shoot the action sequences over several days, and then get a couple days to rest? How did that work?
CHOPRA JONAS: Was that an option?
MADDEN: You were on your toes, the whole time, but that’s what was brilliant. It gave us the opportunity to not just do action stuff, and then go into drama. We would be in the middle of a fight sequence, and then go into a piece of drama together, and try to pat down the sweat a little bit, so that you look good in the close up, and then back into a fight sequence again. We got to really spin between it all, at all times.
CHOPRA JONAS: Yeah. There wasn’t any time off, ever.
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What makes this series the first of its kind and how might it impact the industry, being so globe-spanning?
JOE: What’s great and unique is that the reach of a company like Amazon and it’s a digital distribution network for storytelling is that each region is critically important to the storytelling of the show. Everyone that we invite into this has an equal level of weight and importance to the story, and that’s really unique. I’m not sure this is something that we could have done with a theatrical release, creating a world where different regions are fashioning stories around a flagship narrative like this. That’s something fresh and exciting about digital distribution and its reach. You haven’t seen anything like this before because the technology and the company behind it is new. It points towards where storytelling can go. Audiences are ready for something new. And so, for us, as storytellers, it’s exciting to have a new format that we can play in.
ANTHONY: The show is capitalizing on two very exciting trends that we’ve seen in storytelling, over the past several years. We’ve all been developing a strong passion for narrative universes that have a sprawling, years-long expression to them, where characters change and morph and move between different iterations. At the same time, we’ve seen this rise in global filmmaking and the ability of non-English language movies and shows to travel to other cultures. Typically, they’re the more English language dominated cultures. So, this show is almost taking those two trends and smashing them together, for the first time, which is exciting.
CHOPRA JONAS: As someone who worked for a very long time in non-English media, it’s so exciting to see the success of subtitled work in English language territories. The ambition of this show, which was so attractive to me, is like the social experiment of it. The flagship show is an English language production. You have an Indian show. You have an Italian show. And then, the characters and storylines blend into each other and intersect. Will that take a territory of people and have them watch another language? Are the audiences of the Italian show going to want to watch the Hindi language show, where they have no similarity in language? That’s so exciting and interesting to me, that cross-pollination of cultures, and how entertainment goes beyond borders and language now. It’s about storytelling, and Amazon, as a partner, is so great at that. Jen had the ambition to want to do something that had never been seen before. It’s so cool.
Citadel is available to stream at Prime Video on April 28, 2023. Watch the trailer below:
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