Considering his uncle wrote “The Mosquito Coast,” actor Justin Theroux had more than cursory knowledge of the work.
But starring in it after there had already been a film with Harrison Ford? All bets seemed off.
“It’s one of those things that you don’t know what you want to do until it’s presented to you and you get to do it,” Theroux says. “I have a long history with the novel only insofar as that I read it when I was a kid. This was just one of those happy accidents that the stars aligned and we were able to do it.”
In the Apple TV+ series, producers provide plenty of backstory before a family leaves the United States and moves to Central America for what it thinks is going to be a happier life.
Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren starred in the 1986 film version. Now, Theroux plays Allie Fox, an inventor who believes a nuclear war is ahead, largely due to greed and corruption. Melissa George plays his wife, Margot.
“This is Allie seen through a slightly different prism,” Theroux says.
Margot, says executive producer Neil Cross, is more pivotal in this adaptation than she was in the book or the film.
Naturally, Theroux talked with his uncle Paul about the seven-part series because “it would be foolish not to sort of dip my cup into the well of the source material and the man who wrote it.”
Theroux had often suspected that it was loosely based on his grandfather “who had a certain thriftiness to him. I had several long conversations with Paul once I got the script.”
Interestingly, he also talked with Ford, who just happened to be in Mexico City while they were shooting. “We had a fabulous sort of tequila-fueled dinner, but we didn’t really talk so much about the character at all. We just sort of talked about his experience in making the film, which he says was one of the most joyous experiences he’s ever had.”
Once Paul Theroux got to see some of the finished Apple TV+ version, he indicated he was pleased with the changes that had been made.
“I think Neil was very smart to take some very bold moves and sort of create a prequel to the book itself, but stay true to the Allie character and the way he operates,” Justin Theroux says. “As long as that through line was there…he wasn’t going to be disappointed.”
For George, it was comforting to see her character as more of a participant. “I think it’s a lot of families’ dreams to uproot yourself and go on a journey to Mosquito Coast and live by your own rules in search of this rugged idealism,” she says. “It’s been nice to make Margot a little bit more of a pivotal character…and have more of a purpose with Allie.”
Cross, who adapted the book for the series, always viewed Paul Theroux as a “huge influence” on his life. To confront him, “was honestly one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever done. And then that was kind of compounded by meeting Justin, because of (his) relationship with the text because it’s more profound than mine.
“Although Paul is portrayed in the press somewhat inaccurately as kind of being very ornery, I was very anxious as to what his reaction would be because it’s not an easy thing for a novelist to see their own work reinvented and transformed. But he was an absolute gentleman," Cross says. "He’s been a fantastic part of our team.”
“The Mosquito Coast” begins April 30 on Apple TV+.