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Stanley Tucci Takes Us Undercover To Detail His Work On The Intense Spy Series Citadel - Exclusive Interview

Prolific actor Stanley Tucci has been on many screen adventures in his lifetime, having amassed nearly 140 films and television series since his career kicked off in 1985. And while Tucci has been prominently featured in such films as "Big Night," "The Devil Wears Prada," "Captain America: The First Avenger," "Beauty and the Beast," and all four films in the "Hunger Games" saga, his latest role finds the actor operating deep undercover.

After all, a low profile is required of Tucci when he stars as someone like Bernard Orlick, a key member of the powerful global spy agency in "Citadel," which debuts on April 28 on Amazon Prime. The first episode of the series begins eight years in the past, when Citadel — an agency created to protect citizens all over the globe — is nearly destroyed by the malevolent worldwide crime syndicate Manticore.

Two of Citadel's top agents — Nadia Sinh (Priyanka Chopra Jonas) and Mason Kane (Richard Madden) — are thought to have perished in the failed operation involving Manticore, but they miraculously survive. Instead of being plugged back into service for the agency, however, Nadia's and Mason's memories are wiped clean and they are each given new lives and identities. Bernard knows of both Nadia's and Mason's locations, though, and holds the ability for each of them to get their memories back as Citadel tries to thwart Manticore's plans to plunge the world into chaos.

In an exclusive interview with Looper, Tucci talks about working with "Avengers" filmmakers Anthony and Joe Russo, who are executive producers on "Citadel," and gives his opinion about the existence of deep-state international organizations in real life. Tucci also contemplates whether he'd want to learn if he was a spy in the past and more.

Tucci and the Russo brothers have a similar sense of humor

"Citadel" is loaded with intense action and frightening endgames, but the dialogue, particularly for your character, Bernard, is brilliant. Was his dialogue — which is oftentimes laugh-out-loud funny — one of the main factors in getting you to sign onto the project? How often do you get to play a character who says their password is, "Why don't you f*** off"?

Right. Not often. I loved it. I loved the dialogue. We were also able to play with it a bit, which was really fun [and what] I really like to do. The Russo brothers have a great sense of humor — a very dark sense of humor sometimes, as do I — so it was a perfect match.

Did anybody ruin a scene [because of] you getting them to laugh in the middle? You can bring levity to a very serious scene, so there has to be times where your fellow cast members are going to break up laughing.

There's no question that happened. I worked with Richard, mostly, but there is no question that there were certain scenes that we had to struggle to get through.

Tucci says there's only one way to find out if he was a spy in his past

The series is a mind meld of sorts, with Nadia and Mason's memories wiped clean, and Bernard has the power to restore them. Let's say someone like Bernard approaches today you and tells you that you're an elite spy but you have no memory of it and they have the power to restore it. Are you going to be tempted to know more about that, or are you going to say, "Nah, I'm going to stick to acting"?

No. I would probably call the police and have them taken away!

Well, it's got to be a tantalizing thought, given how powerful Citadel and Manticore are in the series.

Yes, it would be cool to be a spy. I suppose the only way I would know is if he threw a knife directly at my face and I caught it with my bare hands, as Richard does in the show.

Yeah, you don't want to catch it with your face!


What's fascinating about Citadel is that it's a shadow organization. While it sounds like science fiction with the mind-wipe abilities they possess, conceivably these deep-state international organizations — including Citadel's enemy, Manticore — could really exist. Given the apocalyptic consequences that Citadel is trying to avert in the series, do you find the idea of these organizations existing unnerving?

Without question. I think there are so many organizations that exist that we don't know about that are orchestrating things behind the scenes for whatever reasons. [There are] maybe some for good, probably most not for good. So yes, I think it's very disconcerting. Especially nowadays, with technology ever-changing and becoming more and more sophisticated, I would imagine they'd be able to use those tools to their advantages.

Making acting look easy isn't as easy as it looks

One of the first things I thought watching "Citadel" was, "God, Stanley Tucci makes his action look so easy." But on the flip side, I also thought, "To bring humor and show grace in this very, very [pressure-filled] situation can't be easy." If citing dialogue is easy, then you are in danger of becoming complacent, which is exactly the thing you don't want to happen as an actor.

No, no, no. Complacency is death. The exposition stuff is not easy. That's hard, but you get through it. Exposition is a part of every movie that you make. Ultimately, what you have to do is there has to be an emotional connection to the words. Luckily, when you're working with filmmakers like the Russo brothers, you can play around with things. They're not dogmatic about the dialogue unless there's something that needs to be very clear so that the audience understands what's happening. There's a playfulness to them, and that allows you to bring it to yourself. 

Also, it's my job to make it look easy. That's my job. You don't want to watch something and see the work. When you look at a painting, [you] want to be assured that the artist knows what they're doing. If I see the work in it, as my father used to say as an artist, "It's tight" — meaning if it's tight, it's not fluid. The same holds true for acting or music or anything. It's all the same.

Created by David Weil and also starring Leslie Manville, "Citadel" kicks off on April 28 on Amazon Prime with two episodes, with new episodes premiering Fridays through May 26.

This interview has been edited for clarity.