Priyanka Chopra Jonas has been acting for two decades, yet she says her new Amazon Prime Video series “Citadel” represents the first time she’s had pay parity with a male co-star. Chopra Jonas stars with Richard Madden in the new series, which launches next month.
Chopra Jonas was at Austin’s South by Southwest Festival in a keynote conversation with Amazon Studios head Jennifer Salke about her upcoming action spy series for the streamer. She said on stage that she wondered whether the pay parity came out of the fact that Amazon Studios is led by a woman.
“I’ve been working in the entertainment industry for now 22 years and I have done about almost 70-plus features,” she said. “I’ve done two TV shows. But when I did ‘Citadel,’ it was the first time in my career that I had pay parity with my male co-actor. The first time in 22 years. And I wonder that did that happen?
“It’s kind of nuts, I put in the same amount of service time I put in the same amount of investment and work but I get paid much less,” she continued. “So, I want to talk a little bit about issues that women have in entertainment, the glass ceilings that we have to work much harder to break, whether it’s something as real as your salary, whether it’s something as real as decision making, having women in front of the camera and behind the camera and in high positions.”
Chopra Jonas said she was curious why it took having a female executive in a top spot, like Salke at Amazon, to make it happen.
“There was just no question to me that that was the absolute right thing to do,” Salke said. “Whether that would have happened or not had I’ve been there I can’t speak to that. I have great male and female allies who are at our company who’ve been working for me and with me, who know now to make space and to stop and think and do the gut check. I see that happening, I see that change and I find it really encouraging and inspiring.”
“Citadel” is the start of a franchise that will include companion series produced in local markets — with local stars and in local languages — across the globe. (Spin-off series set in Italy and India are already in the works.) Chopra Jonas told the Austin crowd that she had been waiting for this moment all her life.
“I always wanted to be part of English language entertainment, but I just never saw the Hindi language medium translating,” she said. But then “streamers came in and people from across the world are watching entertainment from across the world. I’ve watched Iranian shows I’ve watched Korean shows. I’ve watched shows from around the world. Italian shows. French. The acceptance of being able to watch entertainment with subtitles is such a joy for me.”
Chopra Jonas shared her memory of the moment when TV had gone global: Her mom would disappear for hours to binge Korean dramas in her bedroom. “I was like, ‘What are you doing?’ And she’d say, ‘I’m going to Korea’ — and she’d be gone for hours.”
She added: “I feel like in America, we talk about diversity and inclusion, we’re always talking about what diversity looks like, and how everyone should be seen. But I think true global diversity also matters. Everyone also needs to be heard. It’s not just about the way you look in entertainment. Diversity is about how you sound — the words that come out of your mouth, the language that you use.” The remark drew widespread applause from the audience.
Salke said the idea for “Citadel” came out of a brainstorm she had to make a global series with interconnected parts; she partnered with AGBO, the production company created by Joe and Anthony Russo, to produce the show. “That was really the thing that kept me up at night,” she said. “A tentpole kind of big show that commands the attention of the global audience. The first thing we did after the Russos was start to talk to some of our most prolific creators in India. We’re creating our biggest hits there, and also in in Italy and getting them really excited about this idea.”
During their wide-ranging conversation, Salke and Chopra Jonas also discussed work-life balance — an issue Salke described as her “New Year’s resolution.” Said Chopra Jonas, “I think our culture and our society needs to talk a little bit about mental health. We need to normalize the fact that the brain is an organ, just like everything else in your body. Your tummy hurts, you call the doctor… But no one thinks about what’s happening in our minds, when our mind is what controls literally everything we do.”
Chopra Jonas noted that as recently as yesterday, she was struck by an insensitive comment someone made to her about her body. “I arrived here feeling crappy because somebody told me yesterday that I wasn’t ‘sample size.’ I was hurt and I discussed it with my family and I cried to my husband and my team and I felt really bad about the fact that I’m not sample size. Most of us are not… I’ve had times where I may have said something and it’s been misconstrued. And you see people saying the meanest and the nastiest things not just about me, but about my child, about my family members. I can’t explain to you how it feels when you’re sitting down on your couch and you just feel the world coming at you because people have forgotten that you’re human.”
Chopra Jonas has a first-look deal with Amazon Studios through her Purple Pebble shingle. Salke hinted that an announcement is forthcoming on a major piece of casting on one of Purple Pebble’s projects. “We have two writers’ rooms going for two different series and multiple movies that we’re developing which are absolutely diverse,” she said. “It’s very exciting as an actor too. I’ve never produced anything that stars me yet, but I’m working with [Amazon] for the first time on a few vehicles for myself.”
“Citadel” focuses on an independent global spy agency that falls after it’s destroyed by a powerful syndicate. Elite agents Mason Kane (Richard Madden) and Nadia Sinh (Priyanka Chopra Jonas) have been in hiding since then, with their memories wiped and living under new identities. But when another former Citadel colleague, Bernard Orlick (Stanley Tucci), finds them, they set out to make things right.
Madden, Chopra Jonas and Tucci star alongside Lesley Manville as Dahlia Archer, Osy Ikhile as Carter Spence, Ashleigh Cummings as Abby Conroy, Roland Møller as Anders Silje and Davik Silje and Caoilinn Springall as Hendrix Conroy.
“Citadel” is executive produced by the Russo brothers, Mike Larocca, Angela Russo-Otstot, and Scott Nemes for AGBO, with David Weil serving as showrunner and executive producer. Josh Appelbaum, André Nemec, Jeff Pinkner, and Scott Rosenberg serve as executive producers for Midnight Radio. Newton Thomas Sigel and Patrick Moran also serve as executive producers.
Here’s a new look at the series, in a clip that was shown at SXSW: