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Colin Farrell and Kirby break down their soft-boiled noir series “Sugar”

Colin Farrell and Kirby break down their soft-boiled noir series “Sugar”

“Sugar’s philosophy and his perspective on life are so different from your usual noir detectives,” the “Banshees of Inisherin” star explains.

In film noir projects old and new, you typically know what to expect: moody voiceover narration, bursts of nauseating violence, shadowy cinematography, and a tangled criminal plot that leads its central detective to the darkest corners of its urban setting. While Apple TV+’s series Sugar boasts an abundance of all those characteristics, it’s set apart by one primary distinction: Its central character, John Sugar, is as far from a hard-boiled detective as you can find in a noir story. Sugar is lighthearted, kind, polite, and almost impossibly helpful to everyone he encounters, without the slightest hint of condescension or insincerity — yet he still finds himself at the center of a twisty mystery that highlights some of the grisliest sides of human nature.

The juxtaposition between the darkness of Sugar’s genre and the lightness of its protagonist is what first attracted star Colin Farrell to the streaming series, which premieres April 5. “I loved film noir, and I thought it was a unique approach to exploring that world through the lens of this guy who didn't seem to be in any way hard-boiled or jaded or cynical about his experiences in life in the way those characters so often are,” Farrell tells Entertainment Weekly. “He's so not of that genre, as far as his energy and as far as his outlook. Sugar’s philosophy and his perspective on life are so different from your usual noir detectives.”

<p>Apple TV+</p> Colin Farrell in 'Sugar'

Apple TV+

Colin Farrell in 'Sugar'

The series sees Sugar take one final case in the heart of Los Angeles: tracking down Olivia, a young woman who mysteriously vanishes without a word to her family. Sugar accepts the case because he’s a massive cinephile, and Amanda is the granddaughter of a renowned Hollywood producer, Jonathan Siegel (James Cromwell). To prepare for the role, Farrell re-familiarized himself with several quintessential film noirs, from ‘40s classics like The Big Sleep and The Maltese Falcon to ‘70s reimaginings like The Long Goodbye and Farewell, My Lovely. “I knew that the tone of what we were trying to create was represented so beautifully in these older films,” he says. “And Sugar as a character leans into these older films for comfort, for company, for a way to contextualize the human condition and human beings’ behaviors.”

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Sugar and one of his closest confidants, Ruby, maintain an outsider perspective in L.A. despite living there for what feels like years. Kirby Howell-Baptiste, who now goes by Kirby, is the actress behind Ruby, who functions as something between Sugar’s commanding officer and girl Friday. Kirby believes that outsider perspective is essential to the series, and is enhanced by filmmaker Fernando Meirelles, the Brazilian director behind City of God and The Two Popes who helmed five of the show’s eight episodes. “I think that the fact that Fernando and César [Charlone, his cinematographer] are not from Los Angeles and don't live in Los Angeles — you see that in the way the show is shot,” Kirby tells EW. “They are kind of discovering Los Angeles in it, and it feels so iconic but not typical. It's not the stuff that you've seen before.”

<p>Apple TV+</p> Kirby and Colin Farrell in 'Sugar'

Apple TV+

Kirby and Colin Farrell in 'Sugar'

Farrell thinks the outsider point-of-view aptly reflects the city itself. “A lot of people in Los Angeles, particularly in the music or the film industry, have outsider perspectives,” he explains. “So many people come to this city searching for things, and some people get lost in the mix, and some people don't. And so I think we were just leaning into what already exists here. Sugar’s a keen observer of human behavior, and not limited to any particular socioeconomic background or particular race or creed. The human being fascinates him. So L.A. is, there's nowhere really more fascinating in so many different ways in the world than this city. It's so kaleidoscopic.”

Despite the complexity of Sugar’s central mystery — which gradually peels back some of the detective’s closest-held secrets — the series was largely pieced together as it was shooting. “We only had two scripts that were fully completed when we started shooting,” Farrell says. “And the rest of it — in ways that were kind of thrilling and also really nerve wracking — was being constructed as we were going. I think it probably suited Fernando more than anyone because Fernando loves things on the fly.”

“He's quite improvisational,” Kirby confirms. “I think he's probably used to working in that way, so it doesn't feel daunting. The way Fernando and César shoot — it's almost like they're making music as they go along. It is very improvisational, and they also film very, very quickly.”

<p>Apple TV+</p> Amy Ryan and Colin Farrell in 'Sugar'

Apple TV+

Amy Ryan and Colin Farrell in 'Sugar'

In his pursuit of Olivia, Sugar investigates every corner of the city, leading him to interact with Angelenos from every walk of life. Whether he’s talking to unhoused characters on the street, powerful executives at the country club, or his alcoholic love interest Melanie (Amy Ryan), Sugar maintains an unflappable kindness — and although Sugar’s positive demeanor intrigued Farrell, it also frightened him from a performance standpoint. “In my shortsightedness, the concern for me when I read the character was that he was a nice guy,” he explains. “He almost felt kind of vanilla. I was like, ‘Where's the edge? Where's this? Where's that?’ Because you can't just play sincerity or earnestness. But everyone's got a story. Everyone's got a history. Everyone's got reasons why they think the way they do, why they feel the way they do, why they act the way they do.”

Farrell continues with a curiosity that beautifully reflects his character in the show. “I believe there's no such thing as a boring human being,” he says. “There are human beings I will bore, and that's more on them than it is on me. There are human beings that will bore me, and that's more about me than it is about them. It's impossible to have, in the nearly 8 billion people on this planet, one singular boring human being. It's just impossible. We are just too complex. We're too complicated. Our backstories are too convoluted, and it's just about getting to the core of whatever you're doing. And so it was fun to try and figure out.”

Sugar premieres Friday, April 5, on Apple TV+.

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