Eight years ago, Citadel fell. The independent global spy agency – tasked to uphold the safety and security of all people – was destroyed by operatives of Manticore, a powerful syndicate manipulating the world from the shadows. With Citadel's fall, elite agents Mason Kane (Richard Madden) and Nadia Sinh (Priyanka Chopra Jonas) had their memories wiped as they narrowly escaped with their lives.
They’ve remained hidden ever since, building new lives under new identities, unaware of their pasts. Until one night, when Mason is tracked down by his former Citadel colleague, Bernard Orlick (Stanley Tucci), who desperately needs his help to prevent Manticore from establishing a new world order.
The season finale arrived on Prime Video earlier today and we recently had the opportunity to speak with Stunt Coordinators Don Theerathada (Aquaman, Logan), and James Young (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Black Widow) about their epic work on the series.
Young has worked with the Russo Brothers for almost 10 years on some of the biggest and most action-packed movies ever made, including Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Endgame. He and Theerathada first met while collaborating on The Gray Man, and they came together here to create Citadel's gritty and visceral action sequences.
During our conversation, they break down the action-packed opening sequence, reflect on what it was like working with Madden and Jonas, and how everything from their respective superhero work to No Country for Old Men influenced what we see in Citadel.
Check out the full interview in the player below.
I loved the fight scene in the bathroom on the train, but what would you both say is the biggest challenge of putting together a sequence like that in such confined settings?
James: It is the confined setting that is the hardest part. How do you put cameras in there and how do you use the space to the best of its advantages when it’s so small? I think that was really the fun challenge we all attacked and, Don, I think you’d agree with me that the set design was fantastic. They allowed us to be able to pull a bit of wall away to shoot, so it was really all departments just working hand in hand to allow us to craft something fun in there and not be handcuffed with the way we accomplished it. It was a fun fight [Laughs].
Don: We have a good collaboration with the other departments, so when we design a sequence, it always helps when they understand what we need. We tell them, ‘Okay, we’re going to be climbing on the walls and doing all this, and we’ll need to use a rail,’ so we need to them reinforce it in order to make it for real as opposed to being set decoration where, if we hit it, it gets destroyed. I think the other biggest challenge that James will probably agree with me on is the casting. Most of the time, they would get another actor to fight against him and then we’d need to find a double and you don’t know what they can do…we were very lucky to get an awesome stunt performer to play that role and fight against Richard. That helped a lot and Spencer Mulligan was the guy who played the man in the suit with the glasses fighting him; he’s awesome. He’s a great actor too. We were very lucky to have that and it’s not very common [Laughs].
James: That’s true!
Don: We’re always fighting for it, and sometimes when we get it, we’re just like, ‘Yes!’
That entire train battle is pretty epic, but what did you guys enjoy most about working with Richard and Priyanka on that gunfight?
James: I think it’s just bringing what they’re great at to the table. With the characters as well, I think Mason in that sequence, he’s more of a bulldog, a street fighter, and very straightforward. With Pri playing Nadia, she’s more agile and circular. What was fun was being able to do that fight on a very linear, narrow path and keeping your two heroes on opposite ends before they meet. I think that’s some cool storytelling and foreshadowing that we hit in the sequence. It’s just mayhem at the beginning. When you’re doing gunfights in a small space, it’s absolute mayhem. It was playing to their strengths as characters in those little moments really helped when they come together at the bar and it’s like Mr. and Mrs. Smith because when they’re working together and not arguing or getting on each other’s nerves, they’re an absolute deadly force.
Don: And picking up on what James said, it’s fun because they’re both very aggressive at tackling the action sequences. It’s a human nature thing and there’s some competitiveness outside of the actual work. It matches the characters inside the show because they’re a little competitive against each other. It’s always cool when they don’t want to be outshined and they want to do their best part. In the end, it looks great. It’s beautiful at the end of the sequence when they’re actually working together and passing the shotgun and helping each other out. It makes it more fun as far as the characters go, but it’s up to them to bring it. James and I can only fix the action sequences and stunts. The acting is them [Laughs].
James: What they bring to the characters helps us so much when we design the action. It helps us make it more individualized to the characters themselves and we like to put as much of that into these fight sequences as we can.
Mason is a really interesting character in that he physically remembers his training, but mentally, it’s all a blank. How did that change your approach to the way his character handles action?
James: It does. With the way Mason is, it was the streets from him growing up in the rougher environments where he had to fight for everything he had and always had so much to prove. Whereas Nadia, on the flip side, is completely different. When Mason goes to Kyle, I think it’s so interesting that the one thing which is carried over is determination. If you think about it, Kyle just wants to know the truth and wants to go forward. I think that’s one thing David, our showrunner, really put so well into it. That characteristic with Richard and how Kyle and Mason have a dogged determination was always fun to play with and was a great basis with Kyle. He’s got the physical ability to react, but not act, so it makes it really fun for an actor like Richard to explore it with the character.
Don: The fun part about that also with the backstop is, we’re constantly talking about, ‘Okay, this person lost their memory, but what else did they lose?’ Is the fight skill they had still with them? Is it second nature? Is it like riding a bicycle where you just know? Those are questions we’re always constantly trying to ask and it’s where it becomes fun. When Mason goes into the building for the first time to steal back the case, Stanley Tucci’s character is telling him not to smile because spies don’t smile, and things like that you play on. Is it the same with action? From there, you start to see how much of a fish out of water he is as Mason and Kyle. That’s where the fun part happens and, as James says, David really made that exciting.
You’ve both got a fair bit of superhero movie experience, and as Citadel is quite heightened, but still very real, did your work on those projects come into play at all here?
James: I think with everything we do it does. I think the one benefit we have is Joe Russo. Joe loves this kind of action with a little superhero spice. The one thing we love is to keep it grounded, and the one thing I loved - and Don has heard me chirp on about this so much - is that in the script, David wrote that the action would be like History of Violence, Viggo Mortensen style. So, you’re using that superhero spice and a little less choreography with more grit and absolutely dogged fights. When you watch the restaurant sequence with Pri, they’re getting rag-dolled through the tables, and it’s playing with the actor’s performance with ranges of determination as opposed to straight bouts of choreography. I really enjoyed that the most. How much could we do and how far could we push the actors, particularly in the cabin with Pri. To do what she did in there was insanity!
Don: It’s like what we were saying before; I feel like every project we work on, even though it’s not exactly the same, you’re still bringing elements you learned from those back in. The constant thing about each of them, whether it’s superheroes, guns, or boxing, is always the feeling. That’s what we’re always trying to figure out when we’re choreographing or putting a sequence together. What do we want the audience to feel? For instance, if you want to compare Citadel to Avengers: Endgame, when everyone is getting their butt kicked by Thanos and it looks like they’re going to be destroyed when all of a sudden Doctor Strange comes back with the other superheroes and you get that feeling of ‘Oh, yes!’ that’s the feeling we want to get here too. So, when Nadia and Kyle are getting their butts kicked in the restaurant, all of a sudden you see her stand up and you say, ‘Oh shoot, she’s back! Now she’s going to kick some butt.’ It’s that same feeling even though it’s not the same kind of movie or show, we’re always trying to get those feelings across because it’s the one thing that’s consistent with whatever you watch: the audience’s feelings.
I have to highlight Priyanka as she’s such a badass in this series; you’ve both worked with the likes of Scarlett Johanssen and Ana de Armas, but what was this team-up like?
James: Pri is dynamite. She’s incredible. No matter what you throw at her, she can do it. All of her background has led to her being an absolutely excellent action star. That’s what I truly believe. She can do everything you throw at her. If it’s intricate choreography or intricate footwork, she’s just got this dogged driving force in her that she’ll do anything. Honestly, she does it all with intensity and great timing. I can’t talk enough about how good she was with the action and her doing what she did…she was absolutely phenomenal.
Don: She’s awesome. She picks up super quick. We’ll have a sequence set up and she’s a very busy person. During filming, she’ll have to fly last-minute to France or something like that to do whatever she’s doing over there and then comes back and we’re like, ‘Something has changed.’ She’ll say, ‘Okay, no problem. I’ve got this.’ She’ll pick it up after we teach her. Sometimes, we have to tell her to calm down a little bit [Laughs] and, ‘Save yourself because you don’t want to get killed. We’ve got lots more to do!’ Her attitude is awesome, she moves quickly, learns well, and looks awesome doing it. It’s everything you want.
I know actors like to do their own stunts where they can; was that something thing you encountered on this series a lot?
James: It’s a pretty good collaboration, for sure. They know there’s a line. With wire work and stuff like that, Priya and Richard will want to throw themselves on the ground in the fights…it’s fantastic for us and, as long as we do it safely, it allows us to do more. It’s a good collaboration. They’re really good with working with the stunt team and their doubles when needed to get what we need done.
Don: Like James said, they want to do everything. We know they can do it, but the thing is, we have to explain to them and say, ‘Look, you’ve got to do it more than once. How about, if you want to it, we’ll do it where we can see your face and if there’s another angle, we’ll throw a double in. You’re still doing it - just save yourself!’ They get it and it’s a good collaboration.
I’ve read that No Country for Old Men was a big inspiration for Citadel and know that’s a favourite of the Russos, so was wondering if you could elaborate on how that played into this movie’s action?
James: I think it was in the script from the beginning when David wrote it to be like that after talking with Joe and Ant about what they expected from these action scenes. There was less choreography and nitty fighting, and more performances, struggles, and realism in a sense. You look at the cabin piece where Priyanka is at such a disadvantage; she’s not throwing punches and combos. She’s struggling, being intuitive, and using the environment to do everything she can. We do it with the actors and it’s so much fun. We try to plot our action for the show in that direction and then, like you said, there’s the superhero element we inject in. Joe loves it more than anything. We’ll always try to find those moments and, again, it has a basis in realism with a sprinkle of a few other things around it to get the blend for what Joe and David want.
Don: It’s gritty too, so for the other departments, it’s a good reference. It’s not just us working on it, so the characters aren’t pristine looking and her hair isn’t always perfect. She’s bloody and her hair is a mess. They’re ugly! They’re hunters! It brings in that scary realism where it’s not Hollywood and glam. It bring another element to it.
All episodes of Citadel are now streaming on Prime Video!