Richard Madden Breaks Down the Epic ‘Citadel’ Bathroom Fight
As we all know, there is a huge amount of TV in 2023. At any given time, there are a few dozen shows that you may feel required to watch just to keep up with culture—a volume that can feel oppressive. (In other words: this meme is real.) TV creators know that they are competing for your attention not only with countless other shows, but also with your phone, and sleep, and that it behooves them to seize your attention as quickly as they can.
This may be why, less than five minutes into the series premiere of Prime Video’s new spy drama Citadel, its hero shuts himself into the bathroom of a speeding train with an opponent, and proceeds to wreck him.
Said hero, Richard Madden’s Mason Kane, swiftly disarms his counterpart’s handgun, and the two attack each other with fists and feet and shards of broken mirror, and bounce one another off every surface in the very confined space. You better believe a toilet bowl is also put to non-standard use. Finally, Kane smashes his opponent halfway through the window—which has already been compromised by misdirected gunfire—before kicking him all the way out. All this, and we’re still less than 10 minutes into the episode!
Where did series creator David Weil (Hunters) get the idea for this scene? “Definitely personal experience,” Weil joked when The Daily Beast Obsessed spoke with him and Madden. “I only write what I know.”
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Not quite disagreeing when Madden suggested that Weil’s main project was to come up with “ways to torture [him],” Weil described the scene’s genesis. “It was in this bathroom for four days kicking ass,” he said. “It's just always fun, I think, to put your heroes in incredibly impossible situations. [Executive producers] Joe Russo and Anthony Russo are masters at that. So what was unique is, how do you put a character in a situation within confines that are so difficult to break out of?” The stakes naturally rise once a protagonist is “literally face to face” with the person who's trying to kill him, Weil said.
The prospect of working with action veterans like the Russos could be daunting, in theory: How does a creator conceive of a fight scene they haven’t already seen, or written themselves? “Every blank page is such an opportunity,” said Weil. “The most unique thing about Citadel is that with this great language of action, we're really just furthering character and story.” Drawing a line to another medium, Weil said, “I view it as one would musical theater, where the song is really used to transport a character emotionally.” In Citadel, Weil said, “using a big action set piece as a way to further character, and allow that character to evolve, is the ethos and ideology that I take.”
Writing the scene was just the first stage; then Madden had to put it on its feet (as it were; some moments required him to be on his back, or side, or flying through the air). “It felt like every day was part of the rehearsal, because we constantly change and adapt,” he said. Weil, and the rest of the team behind the camera, were open to collaboration. “We'd go in to learn choreography,” Madden said, “and I'd come out and call David and say, ‘There's a moment in here that we can tell a character story that's not just firing a gun or throwing a punch.’”
Supporting Mason through this altercation, at a remote location, is spymaster Bernard Orlick, played by Stanley Tucci. When Obsessed spoke with Tucci, we discussed how his role affords the best of both worlds: all the tension of performing an action scene, none of the wear and tear. “I don't mind doing some of the physical stuff, but I don't know that I'd want to do it all the time,” Tucci said. “That's hard.” With management comes the privilege of…chairs. “It's also never bad to be sitting in a room in front of a computer monitor on the telephone going, ‘Now do this.’ ‘Now, do that,’” Tucci agreed.
But the cold open isn’t just action: before the fight, we see Mason with his fellow agent, Nadia (Priyanka Chopra Jonas), and glean the nature of their previous relationship through their sexy banter. “We can connect the characters with their eyes,” Madden said. “We can have a moment of interaction that shows they've not been together for a long time, and they have so much history.” Madden worked to fill those first 10 minutes, “to use every second on screen to our advantage and not take anything for granted and ask the audience, ‘Please keep up with us. We're going to give you a lot at once.’”
Citadel isn’t the first time a Madden character has had a pivotal interaction in a train bathroom: there’s also the limited series Bodyguard, which dropped on Netflix in 2018; in the first episode, his character, Police Sergeant David Budd, opens the door to a train toilet and finds it already occupied by a young woman wearing a bomb vest. Neither Weil nor Madden had made the connection, but Madden joked, “We should cut them together.”
Other than the setting, though, the two scenes are about as different as train bathroom confrontations involving Richard Madden characters can be. “[The Bodyguard moment] was a dramatic scene where we just had dialogue to tell the story,” Madden said. “And then this is the opposite—we don't have any dialogue. We have to do it all physically.” Madden also had to face off against a full-time stunt performer. “I met the man I was fighting,” he said, “and I was like, ‘I can't pull this off.’ He's humongous.”
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This is how the limitations Weil imposed worked to Madden’s advantage in the shooting. “We've got to work out how to combat” the size differential, Madden said. “Okay, small floor space. Let's use the wall as a floor. Let's flip the room, and then I can gain the advantage.” After all, that is what someone with Mason’s skills would do. “Nothing's unachievable to him,” says Madden. “He's going to use everything at his disposal to get what he wants.”
Sometimes it works out, as when he’s kicking an opponent down an Alpine cliff. But, Madden warns, Mason isn’t always triumphant: sometimes he “runs away with himself and there's consequences.” Viewers will have to keep watching to see what happens to Mason when the odds are against him.
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