When Priyanka Chopra Jonas met her friend Jennifer Salke, a long-time TV executive who had recently joined Amazon Studios, back in 2018 for lunch, she didn’t know how pivotal that meeting would turn out to be. While they were catching up, Salke told Chopra Jonas about a ridiculously ambitious idea for a new television franchise. What if they could create an international spy thriller about highly skilled agents who genuinely have the world’s best interests at heart that would then lead to countless spinoffs set and produced around the world following different spies working in their home countries? Just one thing went through Chopra Jonas’ mind as she listened to her friend’s vision for the series: “I want to do it.” 

There is, perhaps, no one better suited to help lead a massive project like this, considering that the 40-year-old actor started her career as (and remains) a major force in her home country of India before transitioning to Hollywood and finding global stardom. She eventually met with project executive producers Joe and Anthony Russo—the filmmaking brothers behind Marvel blockbusters like Avengers: Endgame—was blown away by their “audaciousness” and sealed the deal.

This years-long journey has led to Citadel, Prime Video’s flashy big-budget new series that debuts on April 28. Chopra Jonas—who has appeared in more than 50 Indian films as well as American projects like the 2015 FBI TV drama Quantico and, most recently, The Matrix Resurrections—stars in what’s being called this “mothership” or main English-language series as Citadel agency spy Nadia Sinh. Game of Thrones’ Richard Madden plays fellow agent Mason Kane. The premiere kicks off with an action-packed fight sequence set on a high-speed train that ultimately ends with both Nadia and Mason losing their memories, including any idea that they are spies who share a complicated romantic past. The pair reunites years later after the agency has fallen, leaving them trying to piece together their former identities—while trying to save the world, of course.

“To me, it is just so compelling—it’s an experiment,” the L.A.-based star says of the franchise, which already has spinoffs set in Italy and India (in which Chopra Jonas’ Nadia will factor) in production. “You couldn’t really do this with a theatrical release. Streaming has really changed entertainment in general—how and where entertainment is consumed. The global community has become so small and there’s just so much choice, which is why now is the time for a show like Citadel. It’s a great cross-pollination of cultures, and it’s so amazing to see a streamer really lean into the global nature of entertainment.”

But coming from Bollywood, where variety is the name of the game, Chopra Jonas doesn’t just thrive on wildly oscillating projects; she seeks them out.

Actually making Citadel was a major challenge for Chopra Jonas. They filmed for over a year, starting in 2021, when many pandemic restrictions were still in place. Having to keep to a small bubble was tough, and it was made even harder by how physically and emotionally demanding she found the role, not to mention having to stay in top shape the entire time while stunt training. But still, Chopra Jonas loves the duality of Nadia. “She is a woman who carries a lot of burdens with grace under fire,” she says. “Anything can happen, and Nadia will have it under control. But that takes a toll on your spirit, when you’re the one who always has to have it together or the one people turn to for answers. And being a spy allows you to wear so many masks. We [have] epic fight scenes and then suddenly it will be really tender and human.”

It’s starkly different from Chopra Jonas’ other starring role of the spring: Mira Ray in the emotional romantic drama Love Again, which also features Sam Heughan (Outlander) and Céline Dion. Whereas Nadia is bold and brash, confident bordering on arrogant, Mira is vulnerable, open, gentle and kind of broken. But coming from Bollywood, where variety is the name of the game, Chopra Jonas doesn’t just thrive on wildly oscillating projects; she seeks them out. She’s always looking for new ways to express herself and finds nothing more invigorating than that feeling of nervous anticipation when she’s stepping into the shoes of an unfamiliar character for the first time and not quite knowing what she’ll find. 

That fearless, try-anything attitude is what has driven Chopra Jonas throughout her career. Now a new mother to a one-year-old daughter, Malti Marie (with husband Nick Jonas), she has had to slow down a bit to think out logistics before jumping headfirst into whatever project piques her interest, but she’ll never stop seeking that creative adrenalin rush. “I feel even more excited to be able to do work that would make [Malti Marie] proud, that would make her say ‘She’s my mom,’” says Chopra Jonas. “I want to be able to leave behind that kind of legacy. That’s how I feel about my parents. They inspire me every day—the people they were, the work they did. All of my choices have sort of pivoted to coming from a lens of her.”

Trunk Archive/Xavi Gordo

Legacy is also something she’s thinking about at her production company, Purple Pebble Pictures. Chopra Jonas founded the production house almost a decade ago after a conversation with her mother, Madhu, when she was around 30. Knowing the harsh double standards of both the film industry and societal attitudes toward women as they get older, Madhu was worried that Chopra Jonas’ career onscreen wouldn’t last forever and was adamant that her daughter find another way to make money and become financially independent. Madhu helped Chopra Jonas set up the company, and now the star produces smaller-scale movies around India that are told in the country’s different regional dialects.

But for Chopra Jonas, the production company allows her to do something that Citadel also enables: doing things differently. She often chooses to work with exciting new talent or women who haven’t been granted equal opportunities, spotlighting other voices and marginalized stories in the process. “I’d love to see more movies like The Woman King; I’d love to see more movies with women playing the central roles do well at the box office,” she says. “I feel happy to be working at a time when these conversations are happening and more opportunities are becoming real—the generation of women who came before me fought for this to be our reality, and it’s our responsibility to fight for the next generation. The work that I’m now doing in my 40s is extremely exciting to me, and I feel like it’s the beginning of a new phase in my career.” 

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