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Joe Russo, Richard Madden, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, David Weil and Stanley Tucci Talk Prime Video’s Action-Packed Spy Series Citadel (The FH Interview)

10 min read

Amazon Prime Video

The -packed spy series from executive producers the (Avengers Infinity War, Endgame) starring (Bodyguard) and (Quantico) premieres on Prime Video on April 28th with two episodes before arriving weekly after that. The groundbreaking new show is set to have multiple spin-off shows in different countries and languages including Italian and Indian versions already in production.

FILMHOUNDS sat down with the cast including Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Richard Madden, , executive producer , and writer to hear more about the making of Prime Video's latest action spectacle.

I just wanted to say thank you for talking to me now but also well done on the show, I'm really enjoying what I've been allowed to watch so far.

Joe Russo: Awesome

Priyanka Chopra Jonas: Yay!

 

Why do you think Citadel is suited so well to the small screen, especially given how often spy stories like this get shown on big cinema screens as films. Why do you think it works well as a TV show? 

JR: It's just a longer story with a more complex amount of storytelling. You're limited theatrically by a two hour runtime and that's a very specific structure that's required to tell a two hour story. We felt like the world was rich enough to go swimming in a much longer narrative, and then one that also splintered off into the regional shows that we're also working on.

There's one set in Italy and in India, so the mission here was to build a very rich, complex spy universe that the audience could immerse themselves in, and we felt like a long form series was going to be the best way to do that. And the hope was to bring a cinematic scale to a series and a show.

Prime Video

You've both been involved in quite a few action projects before. How does the physicality of the action scenes in Citadel differ to the Avengers films and other things that you both might have worked on?

 JR: I mean, it's grounded, obviously. We don't have people on wires against a green screen and we're not handing off the physical fights to CG teams to create visual effects. Everything that you see in the show from start to finish was Priyanka or Richard working with stunt teams and highly physical, dangerous stunt sequences that required an incredible amount of training. And I think that's part of the fun is that when you have actors that are committed that way.

PCJ: Yeah.

JR: It's like a magician, you don't want the audience to see the trick, so when you really have the actors in there doing that work it helps keep the illusion stronger for the audience and I think that we're proud of all the work that the two of them put into training properly for those sequences.

 

Why is it that you think people like spy stories so much and why we're always attracted to these sorts of films and TV shows?

Stanley Tucci: I think people are fascinated by secrets, by espionage, by intrigue, and everybody wants to be a spy. To a certain extent, there's a part of that in everybody. I think that's why the James Bond franchise is still going strong, because it's such an interesting character and the idea of kind of being removed from life in a way is I think very interesting to everyone, because life can be overwhelming.

If you're a spy, you're not really a part of life, you're just pretending to be a part of life when you're doing all that sort of stuff. In the movies that we've seen and in the books that we read, the lead character, the protagonist, the spy, always lives.

 

You've done a lot of franchises before such as Marvel, The Hunger Games, and Transformers, but what's it like to be part of such a large-scale high-stakes show like Citadel but for it to be not to based on an existing IP or franchise and for it to be something completely original?

ST: I loved it. I think it's really interesting. I love things like this, I love this genre. I think these guys have taken the genre and just sort of exploded it. And I think that's really cool and I'm happy to be a part of it. I think franchises, when they work, they're good, they're great, and they're fun to do but they're also fun for audiences.

 

The show is full of action set pieces and there's a lot going on, but what was one of the biggest challenges of making it? 

ST: I think just, the plots are complex and the technical aspect of the language. I think that for me was the hardest bit. Because a lot of it is a world that we're sort of making up in a way. But no matter what it is, you have to make it as natural as possible. Because it is a whole new world that we've never seen before. There are ideas here that we've never seen before, and it's just a matter of keeping all that straight in your head as you're shooting over an extended period of time.

 

Yeah, even just watching it over an hour trying to keep track of it is hard enough but doing it over a few months of shooting must be a lot harder.

ST: Yeah, because you go “Wait, is this the scene before the scene with the thing with the…” It's a lot!

 

Often these sorts of stories are reserved for the big screen, why do you think Citadel is so suited to the small screen and suits a TV show?

 ST: Well I think it's really just about — I don't know, I could be wrong — but I would assume that because this is a very complex world and complex storyline that you need more time to tell it and I think in order to do that and also these are the formats now that we're really getting used to and so many people can see it immediately in their own homes. And I think that's not a bad thing at all.

The crossover between television and film is so blurred now that so much of television is much more cinematic than it ever was. It's more cinematic than movies sometimes. So I think that the complexity of the storyline lends itself more to this format. And again, with Citadel in other countries, India, and Italy, I think you need to have that. It needs to be in this form.

Amazon Prime Video

What was it like working on a show with the Russo Brothers. They've done the biggest films from Avengers and then working on a large-scale TV show, what was that like for you working with them?

ST: It was amazing. I said to them, “How come I didn't meet you years ago?” I've been doing this for 40 years and it took me 40 years to meet them. Now I'm thrilled, I think they're amazing. They're very nice, they're very funny, they're very relaxed, they're incredibly smart and they understand the language of cinema. Not only the new technical language of cinema but they understand relationships and they understand the more subtle aspects of character and character's relationships and then they also have that vision of “Okay, so this is how this thing's going to explode and this is going to be this and then we're going to take this here and don't worry about that, we're going to fix that,” and they'll do something technically that I don't understand and they can make it work. Also the fact that it's two brothers, these brothers working together, it's very unusual.

You've mentioned a bit before about this balance of character and action, what's it like trying to make sure that you get the right amount of your character and that the show revolves around the characters and the people in it, and it's not just action scenes and explosions?

ST: Yeah, I mean, again, that's not up to me, that's up to the writers and the producers and the directors but, I think any actor, if they look at a script, they'll go “Where's the meat of it?” Do you know what I mean? There is a lot of meat, emotional meat, here. That sounds disgusting [laughs]. So like I say, any actor who looks at something might say “There are too many fight scenes,” or “There's too much talk, at this point we need somebody to punch somebody.” It's a fine line but I think that the show has found the right balance.

So is that something you're always looking for in new shows and films, you're looking for that emotional meat?

ST: Yeah, otherwise it just becomes uninteresting. There has to be something that's going to tether you emotionally to the character and to the world otherwise it's just information and fighting so who cares?

Amazon Prime Video

Because there are just so many different spy stories across books, film and TV, what sets Citadel apart from the others?

Richard Madden: For me, I think it's about how we tell this story. And technically a lot of spy films are kind of less on the drama side and more on the big action side. Or we could do the other side with heavy drama and a little action. And what we tried to do was 100% of both. And I think that's what we've achieved.

In making it we take every opportunity to make it a drama. In the middle of these fight sequences, you have moments of connection between characters that are important and indicative of who they are and their relationship. And equally in these drama, quiet, talking scenes your heart should be racing at the same rate as it does during an action scene. So I think for me, that's what separates it from other spy things I've seen of this genre. It's that we're really connecting the drama and the action together and using them both as tools to tell the story.

 

We're currently in a landscape where there's so many franchises and series based on existing IP, what's it like for you to be involved in such a high-budget and big scale TV show like this that's not based on something? From a writing perspective David and getting to do something new but also Richard getting to approach a character that isn't based on books or comic books, what was that like?

David Weil: The canvas is gigantic on this series which makes it so liberating as a writer to be able to write for such a big scale. It's not only the action set pieces but also the emotional storytelling, how the tapestry of the drama can be as grand as the set pieces themselves. What sets it all apart is that we're working with creators from around the world to tell a very global story.

So, we're following in the US series the top American agents of Citadel, but we also have an Italian series that will be coming out next year and the Indian series that's in production right now. And so I think what makes this “franchise” so unique is that it's not just a white western point of view in the spy genre, it's actually a very global and diverse approach to storytelling and so every other week we have this beautiful global writers room with creators from India, creators from Italy and some other places around the world and we piece together this incredible narrative thread, all together. We learn from them, they learn from us and it's just been this incredible exchange of ideas and I think you're going to feel that authenticity in the storytelling as you watch the rest of the series.

RM: What I'm going to say, and it's not just flattering David here, but something about having this new IP and it being from scratch is a wonderful thing for me to not be restricted in a way by basing it off of some other story or character that we know but more so, that David pushes me as a performer and the character and writes in ways that are challenging and bringing out the best in me and seeing where it can go that I think sometimes, if you have original books, or comics it's based on you can sometimes be tied to something and David is very much living and breathing with us and that's terrifying in a way because we've not got something to rely on of ‘oh, people love this story and we know these characters and we want to watch them'.

We're trying to do something completely brand new and that takes David to be as he was, on set every day, constantly mining, constantly working out how these characters speak, who they are. And not only that, but they're all liars as well, they all lie to each other and keep secrets and they change and literally keep secrets from themselves. So that's what's joyous about this. We're not restrained and it just makes everyone have to work a bit harder because we want to create a real world, we want to create something that allows for all these other shows to be engaging and for you to believe in every country that Citadel exists.

Citadel premieres on 28th April, with new episodes released every Friday through 26th May, exclusively on Prime Video.