In 'Sugar' Colin Farrell unravels the mystery of the missing woman and himself: NPR

Colin Farrell patrols Los Angeles in style as private detective John Sugar in new series, Sugar.

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Colin Farrell patrols Los Angeles in style as private detective John Sugar in new series, Sugar.

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Colin Farrell has been in Hollywood long enough to know a few things. Like how to choose a role, what drives a character and even the city of Los Angeles itself. He navigates all that and more in the new series, Sugar on AppleTV+.

Farrell plays John Sugar, an LA private investigator with a passion for classic cinema and a talent for violence, albeit reluctantly. He tells NPR's Scott Simon that, like his character, “movies have been a visual accompaniment and a psychological and emotional accompaniment throughout his life.” The series leads him into an investigation into a missing woman from the royal family of Hollywood producers, which brings him close to the dark underside of the city and his own mysterious demons.

Colin Farrell spoke to Scott Simon Weekend edition Saturday about what makes Los Angeles an attractive setting, films that take place in his own head and humbly having a choice as an actor in Hollywood. Listen to their conversation via the audio link and read an edited transcript below.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Scott Simon: Why did you want to play John Sugar?

Colin Farrell: Initially because I heard it was being filmed in Los Angeles (laughs) and that was actually the first attraction. I spent a lot of time, Scott, on the road and anywhere from 5 to 8 months of the year. And I have kids and so it's getting a little… I feel a little long in the tooth spending so much time outdoors. So that was the first attraction. And when I read the material, I read the pilot and it became clear to me pretty quickly that it wasn't just set in Los Angeles, but if you've seen the show, Los Angeles is very prominent. It's very much a character and very much what John Sugar, the character, projects his idealism about the world and about movies and the kind of cultural importance of movies through the lens of Los Angeles as a living, breathing, undulating city.

Help us understand what amounts to the arthouse cinema he plays in his head, from classic film clips. And inevitably I wonder, as a child growing up in Castleknock, Ireland, did you also play movie clips in your head?

I did. They were slightly more contemporary clips that I played in my head. They were a little more in line with the Back to the future and the ETs and the early Spielberg stuff: Jaws And Close meetings. But films, like music for many of us, have been a visual accompaniment and a psychological and emotional accompaniment throughout my life. So you know, John Sugar, he has an innocence, a purity about him. And he leans on old movies as a kind of reference for how the world works. And he just loves it too. He's just enamored with the old world.

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Colin Farrell teaches his new furry friend Wiley about the classics Sugar.

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Colin Farrell teaches his new furry friend Wiley about the classics Sugar.

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Look, he's not Philip Marlowe or Sam Spade. John Sugar speaks Japanese, Arabic and Spanish in the space of 15 minutes. He dresses in stylish suits. He drinks a hundred dollar whiskey without blinking. And besides, he says he's metabolically incapable of getting drunk. He's throwing the Benjamins around, as we say, and he's battling some health challenge. Is he the real mystery here?

Yes, there are obviously, Scott, there are two mysteries at play. It's possible he is, you know, as often happens in stories that emerge from the genre this show explores. At the center of the show is a case that starts to get under the skin of the main character. And it's starting to become more and more threateningly personal to his well-being, his mental well-being, his emotional well-being and his physical life. And then there's this parallel mystery: who is this man and where does he come from? And why the statements he makes about not liking violence and not hurting people when he's so adept at it, apparently from the opening scene of the show, raises all those questions. He was both, when I read him, Scott, a very vague character with regard to the information I had about his background, and also very specific with regard to his tendencies, his abilities, and his behavior. So it was a bit of a mystery to me too because when we started filming, we really only had the first two episodes that were really defined and a lot of it was almost building an airplane in flight.

What was it like working with Fernando Meirelles? The great Brazilian director. I think City of God is probably still his best-known film.

Did he do that? The constant gardener also?

I believe he did, yes. Also one of my favorite films, yes.

Did he do that? God, such… Yeah. Fernando Meirelles was great. Astonishing. Conventional reasoning might say that this story is set in LA, LA is a prominent character in the story, and we should have someone who knows and understands the city. … We had the opposite. Fernando, through his experience as a filmmaker over the past 30 years, has occasionally visited LA and had a few screenings and a few interviews. He never lived in LA. He doesn't understand the city. I've lived in LA for 25 years and I don't understand the city, and I mean that as a compliment. But he came in with a child's eyes and he was very curious. And he was very curious about the kind of divide between those who have and those who don't, and the absolute kind of decadence and prosperity of certain parts of the city and the kind of more working-class, hard-boiled aspects of other parts of the city. . And I just felt like I was on a journey of discovery with him. But within the structure we had, it was as loose as it could be. And Fernando always said: he wanted it to feel like jazz, to feel as it did at that moment, as improvisational as possible. And that's what it felt like. So he was great, man. He was wonderful, playful. Playful.

Colin Farrell unravels the mystery in Hollywood and himself Sugar.

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You've gone back and forth between blockbusters and then artistic projects for much of your career. Like maybe The Banshees of Inisherin, for which you were nominated for an Oscar. How do you decide what to do?

Depends, really. I've done jobs over the years that were mainly for the money, of course, to be able to provide and all that. And I'm also lucky, like a kind of fortune with a very, very, very low percentile, which is to say that you just have a bit of choice. It's not like I can do everything I want. Of course, there are plenty of directors and scripts that go to other actors before they come to me, and that will always be the case. But I also have a very nice little choice. There are times when I have two or three things on the table, and that's quite unusual. And it's actually something that's indefinable, Scott. You read something and be honest with God based on wherever you are that day, the sleep you got last night, the relationships and how they are going in your life. No matter where you are in life, you will read something, but at first glance it may not seem like it is reflective of everything you are dealing with in the present. But something about it is going to annoy you, or provoke you, or please you, or make you insecure, or whatever it is. So it's that kind of thing, you know, it really is. And I just enjoy doing different things.

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