Citadel: Amazon’s Big Bet for a Global TV Franchise

Richard Madden and Priyanka Chopra Jonas star in Amazon’s ambitious action spy series that will premiere on Amazon on April 28, with planned spin-offs around the world.


When head of Amazon Studios Jen Salke came to Joe and Anthony Russo with an unusual idea for a TV show, they were intrigued by the potential to do something brand-new.

Salke imagined an action spy show that was the first-ever global TV series, with a main show and then local offshoots around the world, starring local talent. It had never been done before, but that’s what the Russo brothers liked about it from the start. “Anthony and I have reached a point in our careers where the ambition is the compelling part of the approach for us,” Joe Russo tells Vanity Fair. “We’re looking for new ways to tell stories.”

‘Citadel Amazons Big Bet for a Global TV Franchise

Through their production company, AGBO, the Russos embarked on a years-long journey to bring Citadel to life. The Amazon series stars Richard Madden and Priyanka Chopra Jonas as elite spies who work for Citadel, a spy organization that has no allegiance to any country. As seen in Vanity Fair’s exclusive first-look images, the high-concept, action-packed spy thriller is set after the fall of the spy organization, when the two agents must attempt to piece together what happened. One of the main problems: Their memories have been wiped. “This is secrets on steroids,” showrunner David Weil says. 

With standout supporting performances by Stanley Tucci and Lesley Manville, this ambitious new series will premiere its first two episodes on Prime Video on April 28. It’s a big, bold swing—and it’s actually just the beginning, with spin-off series already deep into production around the world. “We’re not just creating a story, we’re creating this world that’s spanning countries and continents,” Madden says. “That can be daunting, but also super exciting.” 

‘Citadel Amazons Big Bet for a Global TV Franchise

Chopra Jonas’s Nadia Sinh is the first character we meet in Citadel. A well-dressed confident woman making her way through a train compartment, Nadia clearly has a mission, and plenty of secrets. The role required that Chopra Jonas not only capture Nadia’s ice-cold demeanor as a spy (“I’m a goofball, so what was the biggest challenge for me was to be really cool,” she says), but it was also a very physical role, with the actress doing many of her own stunts. “This was physically demanding, emotionally demanding, but it’s such a fun show to be a part of,” Chopra Jonas says.

Given her massive fan following in India, Chopra Jonas is well aware of the importance of a global audience. When she first heard Salke’s pitch for Citadel, she says, “It kind of blew my mind. This is something that’s never been attempted on television before, and just the social experiment and the audacity of it was just so exciting to me.”

Chopra Jonas, the Russos, and Weil set out to make the series a true two-hander, with Chopra Jonas and Madden’s characters on an equal playing field as elite spies. “Look, the genre is generally dominated by male leads,” Anthony Russo says. “So, as we were crafting the story and casting and all the way through production, it was very much us figuring out how we keep those two characters competing with one another in terms of their sort of experiences within the narrative.”

‘Citadel Amazons Big Bet for a Global TV Franchise

Madden plays Mason Kane, who has a deep and complicated history with Nadia. When the story jumps forward eight years, we learn that Citadel, the global spy agency, has been destroyed by a shadowy organization called Manticore. Mason and Nadia, who each had their memories wiped, have been living separate lives, but are soon reunited and set out on a wild journey. The six-episode first season will reveal secrets from the spies’ pasts along with following them as they attempt to piece together their present. “The show jumps between timelines and the more you dig, the more you find out about these people, the more that unravels,” Madden says.


For Madden, portraying Mason meant actually playing two characters—elite spy Mason and mild-mannered Kyle Conroy, who was living a normal life without any memory of being a spy. The Game of Thrones and Bodyguard actor says he was interested in “this concept of duality and playing these two very, very different men, but in the same body.”

‘Citadel Amazons Big Bet for a Global TV Franchise

The duality of the characters was a running theme for everyone who worked on the series. “That idea that a single person could have two different identities that have staked a claim on their life and that those identities come into conflict with each other was a really ignitable concept,” Joe Russo says.

Weil says both actors had to navigate playing characters who were often not who they seemed or were withholding information—one of a top spy’s best skills. “Their ability to navigate multiple characters at the same moment was really extraordinary to watch,” he says. “I haven’t seen anything like that before.”

‘Citadel Amazons Big Bet for a Global TV Franchise

The series is also anchored by two veteran actors who get to play with the duality of characters as well. Tucci stars as Bernard Orlick, a former Citadel colleague who recruits the spies for a mission to stop Manticore. “Stanley Tucci is just such a wonderful, inventive, playful, intelligent actor that he really pushes their buttons in fun ways, and he makes the most of the dramatic relationship these characters have,” Anthony Russo says.

Manville has a delicious role as Dahlia Archer, a powerful character who will stop at nothing to get what she—and the dark forces who employ her—wants. Her character is also shrouded in mystery, but the Oscar-nominated actress, most recently seen on The Crown, is able to capture both complicated sides of Dahlia. “She’s the villain of the story, but—certainly as all the best villains are—she’s the heroine of her own story,” Weil says. “So, we needed an actor who could achieve both: to be both bone-chilling and elegant.”

‘Citadel Amazons Big Bet for a Global TV Franchise

Citadel has many of the spy genre’s staple ingredients, from incredible spy gadgets and technology to intense action scenes set at unique locations around the globe. The main series filmed for much of 2021, with a range of locations around the country and the world, including Atlanta, London, Morocco, and Valencia. With ambitions on the scale of one of the Russos’ Marvel movies, it required a long shoot at a time when COVID-19 was still very much a hurdle for productions. “The world was going through a tough time when we shot it,” Chopra Jonas remembers. “So, it was tough, it was exceptionally tough.”

“We’re dealing with a very big show,” Anthony Russo says. “Moving it and morphing it and changing it and evolving it can be difficult because there’s so many people involved. It was a massive amount of time because of the scale of it and the complexity of it.”

‘Citadel Amazons Big Bet for a Global TV Franchise

But directing two Captain America movies as well as the final two Avengers movies taught the Russos how to manage a massive shoot as well as the value of global storytelling. Bringing an interconnected franchise to life on television felt like the next frontier. “There are so many great stories to be told in different parts of the world that are under-serviced,” Joe Russo says.

The six-episode first season of Citadel’s first series—which the people involved called the “mothership”—is just the jumping-off point. The Italian series, starring Matilda De Angelis, has finished production on its first season. And the Indian series, which will tie into Chopra Jonas’s character Nadia and stars Varun Dhawan and Samantha Ruth Prabhu, is currently in production. Weil, who serves as the “creative spymaster” or creative director of the larger Citadel universe, worked with the Russos on a series bible that would be referenced for all the local spin-off series as they came together. And the creative influence goes both ways: While Weil and the team were working on the main series, they would tweak the story based on input from the teams behind the spin-offs.

It’s a feat that has never been successfully attempted on television. “It’s been a really delicate but lovely process, and one of the more rewarding of our careers because of the ambition of it,” Joe Russo says. “This show has given us the ability to build a new family around the world to tell a giant story in a way that has never been told before.”

‘Citadel Amazons Big Bet for a Global TV Franchise