The Inverse Interview

Colin Farrell Cracks the Case in Sugar

The Apple TV+ series made a hardboiled noir without a hardboiled detective at the center.

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The Inverse Interview

Colin Farrell is no stranger to playing the grizzled detective. His Sonny Crockett in Michael Mann’s Miami Vice was a taciturn undercover detective, while Ray Velcoro in True Detective was a volatile corrupt cop. But he’s never played a character quite like John Sugar in Apple TV+’s genre-bending noir series Sugar.

“This guy is so pursuant, he's so consciously aware of what he feels, his own moral compass, and living a good, clean, decent life,” Farrell tells Inverse. “And that felt almost out of place for this world of neo-noir.”

Private detective John Sugar’s defining characteristic is that he’s a good guy. He immediately offers help to anyone he meets, whether it’s funding the medical bills of an ailing cab driver, rescuing a stray dog off the street, or giving a homeless junkie cash to stay in a hotel. He abhors guns and violence, though the nature of his job molds him in ways he doesn’t like.

Ruby (Kirby) warns Sugar against taking his latest case, for his own good.

Apple TV+

And there’s the fact Sugar is unquestionably a hardboiled noir. It’s got intrigue, femme fatales, and a tangled, seedy mystery that goes all the way to the top, not to mention a noir-inspired cinematic style supplied by director Fernando Meirelles (City of God). It’s the kind of story that, unlike Sugar, Farrell’s Velcoro and Crockett would navigate comfortably.

“Ray Velcoro and Sonny Crockett, they were both somewhat terminally affected by the 20-year, 25-year careers they'd had,” Farrell says. “They were suspicious of human behavior, and they were kind of moderately and understandably appalled. But, particularly more in True Detective, they were kind of blurring the lines between good and bad, right and wrong.”

Sugar, on the other hand, begins as a decent guy and wants to stay that way. But when a rich Hollywood producer hires Sugar to find his missing granddaughter, his righthand woman (Kirby, formerly billed as Kirby Howell-Baptiste) warns him that this could be the one to break him.

Farrell says John Sugar couldn’t be more different from his past detective roles.


“As the story begins to unfold, again, as happens in this genre quite often, his own moral compass begins to become a bit askew,” Farrell says. “He gets involved in things at a certain depth and with a certain behavioral consequence and psychological consequence that rattles him in a way he'd never been rattled before.”

This core conflict drew Farrell to the series as both star and executive producer. Farrell, according to fellow executive producer Simon Kinberg, was involved in the show “in every capacity,” down to the script building with creator Mark Protosevich and the hiring of director Fernando Meirelles. “The only thing that Colin didn't do is hire himself,” Kinberg tells Inverse. “He was an amazing partner, and his instincts for not just John Sugar as a character, but the show and the vibe and tone and look of it were brilliant. He is very much a filmmaker and storyteller who happens to become an actor.”

A Love Letter to Noirs

John Sugar’s love for movies spills into the show itself.

Apple TV+

Farrell’s love for filmmaking and cinema helps shape Sugar’s unique approach to the mystery show. John Sugar is a hardcore cinephile who collects film magazines and will only use a gun because it was a prop in a John Wayne movie. His love for movies spills over into the show: one particular shot of water circling a drain is a clear homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, while the show cuts to an image from Sunset Boulevard as Sugar stares morosely at a pool. It’s what makes the show’s central conflict so interesting. Sugar is a good, moral man, but he idolizes the gray heroes of film noirs to such an extent that it starts to bleed into his existence.

“Someone like John Sugar can be strong and formidable and tough and hardboiled, but he can also be sensitive and vulnerable and fragile and kind and sweet,” Kinberg says. “And you don't really imagine people like Robert Mitchum or Glenn Ford or Humphrey Bogart as kind and sweet. The biggest challenge of the show was balancing the nostalgia and love for those old film noir tropes with something really modern and bold.”

James Cromwell plays the famous Hollywood producer who hires Sugar to find his granddaughter.

Apple TV+

That Sugar’s love of classic movies shapes how he views and interacts with the world, and that the show’s homages are worked into the story itself, is Sugar’s most striking element. “John Sugar, as almost an outsider, uses cinema to make sense of the world,” fellow executive producer Audrey Chon tells Inverse. “And as you watch him go through his investigation, he processes information while kind of recalling certain moments in classic films. And so it's very literal in how he does that, but it's also a beautiful kind of influence in his life overall.”

That’s what makes Sugar stand out among all its other contemporary detective shows, according to co-star Kirby. “You can tell from watching that the creators of the show love the genre, they understand the genre, they know how to recreate it in a way that feels fresh and new,” she tells Inverse. “And I think for audience members, that feels really exciting when you get to see something you have never seen before, at least never seen in this way before.”

The Enigma of John Sugar

John Sugar plays the part of a hardened detective, but isn’t as cynical.

Apple TV+

Then there’s the mystery of John Sugar himself. Why is he this way? How is he still so good and so moral, even with all the death and violence he witnesses? What kind of reveal about its case and star is Sugar building towards? That was the great appeal of the show for executive producers Simon Kinberg and Audrey Chon.

“We were really fascinated by John Sugar as a character,” Chon tells Inverse. “[We want] to give audiences breadcrumbs along the way that would all kind of come together and make sense once you figured out that reveal was a real goal for us.”

It’s clear Sugar is building to some kind of reveal, but it’s one Kinberg, Chon, Farrell, and Kirby absolutely cannot talk about. The secrecy is predicated on creator Mark Protosevich’s scripts, which Kinberg and Chon praised as creating Sugar’s unique blueprint. “He had all the basic concepts of the mystery, the mystery of Sugar, the reveal of who Sugar is,” Kinberg tells Inverse. “All of that was already something he had conceived, and Audrey and I read it and flipped out and then just started to build it with him from there.”

No matter what revelations come about John Sugar, Farrell thinks audiences should realize how unusual he is as a character, not just for the hardboiled world of the noir, but for TV in general.

“He has a tenderness to him,” Farrell says. “He has a love for trees, birds, and human beings. And the brokenness of what it is to be human as well, that was something he seems keenly aware of. And that was a degree of sensitivity I haven't experienced much in similar genres.”

Sugar’s first two episodes are streaming on Apple TV+ now.

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