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P
Pa
April 21, 2021

‘Allie Fox is an amalgam of several characters and personalities in our immediate family’

Sports

P
Pa
April 21, 2021

Justin Theroux has a very personal connection to his new TV series. The Mosquito Coast is based on the 1981 novel of the same name, which was written by the actor’s uncle, Paul Theroux (who also happens to be the dad of documentary maker Louis Theroux).

A gripping adventure story, which examines American society, it was published to global acclaim, and was previously adapted for the silver screen with Harrison Ford starring as the protagonist, Allie Fox. And now a seven-part drama has been developed for Apple TV+ (Luther creator Neil Cross is showrunner), which star Melissa George describes as a prequel to the book and film.

Not only do we follow radical idealist and brilliant inventor Allie (played by Theroux) as he suddenly uproots his family for Mexico, but we also learn more about the circumstances that have led to them going on the run.

“Allie Fox is an amalgam of several characters and personalities in our immediate family — Paul being one of them, for that matter,” suggests 49-year-old Theroux, who was born and raised in Washington, DC.

“It’s not a secret that Paul is an extensive traveller; he likes to find himself in very far-flung places, and comment on them. And then there are just certain quirks that are particularly my grandfather, who was a very thrifty, industrious guy.

“There are little nods to things, like going to the dump; that was a favourite place of my grandfather’s to go and collect and get things that he didn’t need to buy. He’d go there for shoes, books, screws, and nuts and hardware.”

Even though the material is seemingly very meaningful to Theroux, he felt “less pressure” than with other projects, “because anytime you have more knowledge of the subject, it is a little less intimidating.

“And I had — at the end of my phone — the ability to just call up the author, in a quite cordial way, without any oddness, and be able to ask very direct questions about the character,” continues the charming actor, who is famous for his work with director David Lynch for films Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire.

Allie — who is trying to change the planet by seeking a patent on a machine that can turn fire into ice — is living off the grid in the farmland of Stockton, California, with his wife Margot (George) and their teenage children Dina (Logan Polish) and Charlie (Gabriel Bateman).

But as well as believing it’s a more meaningful way for their family to live, as they feel pervasive consumerism is choking America, there’s another motive for the Fox family’s low-profile existence; because of an incident that happened years ago, the US government is looking for them.

When Allie decides they need to flee, they end up in the Tinajas Altas Mountains on the US-Mexico border — one of the most hostile environments on the planet. And there are plenty more challenges to come; their trust in each other is questioned, they find themselves in near-death situations, and even once they’ve made it across the border into Mexico, there are complications.

Australian star George, 44, sums up the series as a “fugitive family drama”, where each of the four main characters has something they’re hiding. She says the role appealed because it was “a great concept”. But having worked with Theroux back in 2001 on Mulholland Drive, she also saw this project as “an incredible way to get back together”.

Having begun her acting career on the Australian soap opera Home And Away, George went on to star in US TV series such as The Slap and In Treatment. Now, following a break from working, she “wanted a job where it was character-driven” and where she really had “something to do”.

“If I’m going to go back to work after this many years of taking a lovely pause, I would like to make it something worthwhile,” she confides. “When you’re in your trailer and you’re nervous to go out, because you know it’s a big scene coming — that’s the feeling I wanted.”

She liked the way Cross and Rupert Wyatt (director and executive producer) had created Margot as a force in the story. “She’s keeping the pieces together of the family, and she has this duality with Allie,” she explains. Indeed, their relationship seems like a bit of a Bonnie and Clyde situation.

“You notice after all those episodes that they work very well together. Sometimes in life, you can’t live with them and you can’t live without them — I think that sort of applies to these two really.”

Meanwhile, it’s interesting to see how Dina and Charlie have been robbed of living a life as normal kids; there have been no mobile phones for them growing up, for example. Now, dragged on this crazy adventure by their father — the aim of which is to get them to the utopia of the Mosquito Coast — the question is, is he really able to protect them and keep them safe?

Discussing what drew her to the script, Polish, 19, loved how mature Dina and Charlie seemed, rather than being portrayed as, say, typical ‘tweens’ who have tantrums. “These kids were wise,” she elaborates. “Throughout the series, they really come into their own, and we start to see the kids become the parents, and the parents sort of digress and become more and more like the kids, and I think that’s something a lot of people can relate to. There’s always that turning point where you start feeling a little bit older than your parents. I felt like it was very accurate.”

How was it getting to work so closely with Theroux — especially considering the family ties he has with the story? “I think anyone on set could really tell that he obviously had a lot of passion for this project,” notes 16-year-old Bateman who then, smiling and chuckling, follows: “Working with him was just, in general, really fun. He would crack jokes all the time, he would make us laugh — mid-take sometimes. That wasn’t the best!

“It was hard to stay light sometimes, with (filming) such serious situations, so it was really helpful to have someone who could really lighten the mood at any time for everyone.” “He was just the funniest person,” echoes Polish. “I don’t think I’ve ever worked with someone who made me laugh about something new every single day, and he’d have skits and sort of break out into these little characters when we were in the most extreme moments of shooting.” The Mosquito Coast launches on Apple TV+ on Friday, April 30.