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Colin Farrell is a hard-boiled PI in neo-noir thriller Sugar

When viewers first meet private detective John Sugar, it quickly becomes clear that he is going through something beyond the struggles of his chosen profession. After returning to Los Angeles from a stint in Japan, the PI is hired to investigate the disappearance of the granddaughter of a famous Hollywood producer. But, as he unearths the unsavoury secrets of this wealthy family, the case appears to trigger something in the hardened detective.

A tortured PI is nothing new to the traditional noir setup, but Sugar, starring Colin Farrell (The Banshees of Inisherin) and created by Mark Protosevich (whose screenwriting credits include Oldboy and The Cell), offers up a twist that is not exactly old-school. It was the new take on a familiar vibe that drew producer Simon Kinberg (the Sherlock Holmes movies) in. “The intention was to create a throwback, really pulpy detective show and story that feels new and modern,” says Kinberg. “There was always the intention to twist the genre on its head a little bit. Anything that could do that in terms of the character and the story itself was exciting to us. And we want to take some bold swings.” Kinberg describes the show as a detective story about a PI who’s got more secrets than his case. “The detective isn’t usually the one with secrets,” says the showrunner. “I feel like part of what’s so exciting and different about this show is that the detective himself is perhaps the biggest mystery.”

Sugar on Apple TV+. Pictured: Ruby (played by Kirby, formerly known as Kirby Howell-Baptiste) is Sugar’s handler, who’s concerned about his mental and physical state as he embarks on a new case.
Apple TV+

The case itself is a doozy. Hollywood legend Jonathan Siegel (James Cromwell, L.A. Confidential) hires Sugar after his granddaughter Olivia (Sydney Chandler, Don’t Worry Darling) vanishes into thin air. Although Olivia is prone to disappearing, her grandfather is convinced that there is cause for concern. The trail leads Sugar to Melanie Mackie (Amy Ryan, Only Murders in the Building), a friend of Olivia’s that the detective finds himself drawn to, perhaps because her mysterious nature mirrors his own. “I think they’re on the same page in terms of two people who are a bit lost and have secrets in their past and in their present,” says Ryan. “I think these are two people who don’t trust people very easily, but somehow find that connection that allows them to trust each other, slowly. It’s earned. And she’s intrigued by him. She’d rather learn about other people’s secrets than expose her own.”

It wasn’t the idea of a stereotypical femme fatale that appealed to Ryan. In fact, the actress was drawn to Protosevich’s subversion of the trope. “I liked the idea of this feisty, no-nonsense single woman, ex-rocker, living her badass life in L.A.,” she says. “In terms of Sugar and Melanie, here’s a lonely woman, here’s a lonely guy. You expect that they must get together. But Colin and I both really dug our heels in, like, no, if there’s a real friendship built on mutual respect and admiration, and they can really help each other, there’ll be a bigger payoff, rather than just some hot little romp. That’s maybe the modern take, that these two individuals can be independent within this friendship and not meld into each other.”

Sugar on Apple TV+. Pictured: Amy Ryan is Melanie Mackie, an alluring woman that Sugar meets during the course of his investigation.
Apple TV+

Of course, there is no film noir with a leading man. “The luminous Colin Farrell,” muses Ryan. “The kindest, generous, quick thinker. His brain moves at a mile a minute, but it doesn’t rattle you. You get enveloped into his world and it’s energizing. He’s a fine, excellent actor. I feel like I’ve known Colin my whole life, there’s just an ease.” For Kinberg, it was imperative that whoever played Sugar had the ability to convey the complexities of the role. “There’s a muscular detective style that I think people are familiar with, and then, the way Colin plays Sugar is really gentle and human, and more complicated than we’re used to in these kinds of stories,” says Kinberg. “Colin has very much the same combination of strong and capable side to him with real vulnerability, gentleness and chivalry. There’s this duality to Colin as both a very strong leading man, but then also someone who can play these more interesting, weird, messed up characters in character actor roles.”

While the creators have made updates to a tried-and-true genre, what they do appreciate about a traditional noir, they worked hard to preserve. “What was most important was the way noir lives in black and white. Not literally, but the ways in which there’s good and evil, darkness and light. That duality was something that we wanted to hold onto and find a modern way of expressing,” says Kinberg. “Also, the classic detective trope of a guy on a case in a world where you can’t trust anyone. There’s something about being on a journey where you can’t trust anyone that probably a lot of us can relate to in today’s world, where the truth is hard to get a hold of. We love that.”

Sugar, streaming Friday, April 19 on Apple TV+

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