Justin Theroux knows his ‘Mosquito Coast’ character will be polarizing. He loves that

Justin Theroux, with a backpack, and Melissa George stand facing each other in the desert.
Justin Theroux and Melissa George star in a new imagining of the Paul Theroux novel “The Mosquito Coast.”
(Apple TV+)

When it was announced that Justin Theroux would star in a new televised adaption of Paul Theroux’s seminal novel “The Mosquito Coast,” it seemed fairly obvious how the project must have taken shape. Considering “The Leftovers” star’s background as a screenwriter and a producer, he must have been a key figure in developing a new version of his uncle’s book, right? Nope. It turns out Theroux became involved the old-fashioned way. He listened to a traditional industry pitch from Neil Cross, creator of BBC’s “Luther.”

“It was very organic. It wasn’t some grand plan,” Theroux notes. “I’d like to say I was smart and made it happen, but that was not the case.”

Initially released in 1981, Paul Theroux’s novel centered on Allie Fox, an inventor who decides to move his family to the coast of Honduras to protect them from an increasingly consumerist culture in the United States. It inspired a 1986 film starring Harrison Ford, Helen Mirren and River Phoenix, but the new Apple TV+ series is a different beast.

A majority of the first season finds Allie (Theroux) and his family on the run from the U.S. government as they race from Stockton through the California desert to Mexico City and beyond. Whether Allie’s actions were nefarious or honorable are unclear, but in many ways the contemporary series is a reimagined prequel to the novel while staying true to its thematic roots. Theroux, of course, wanted to get sign-off from his uncle, who was already involved in the project.

“It was one of those situations where I was able to just sort of secure the role and then call him and see if he opposed it,” Theroux says. “And he’s, like many family members, a big supporter of mine and he was thrilled that that was going to be the case. And so, it was just a happy accident in a way.”


Since “The Leftovers” ended four years ago, Theroux committed substantial time on-screen only to the Cary Joji Fukunaga-directed limited series “Maniac.” He admits he gets anxiety that a character he’s committed to long term may become “uninteresting or rote.”

“Characters can have a bad habit of falling into patterns on shows,” Theroux says. “So I really needed to look Neil in the eye and get him to promise me that it would not remain that way. And he convinced me of that. And so, I was thrilled to sign up for it.”

Theroux credits Cross with preserving his uncle’s original vision of Allie in a manner that makes him arguably even more relevant in 2021. A world where the internet and cellphones are ubiquitous makes his ideals seem both dated and forward-thinking at the same time. It’s a mind-set that increasingly frustrates his wife Margot (Melissa George) and their teenagers Dina (Logan Polish) and Charlie (Gabriel Bateman) as the season wears on.

“I mean, he’s not far off from a Jack Kerouac or a Jack London or a Hemingway or other frustrating American males,” Theroux says. “I don’t even see him on a political spectrum. I think we thought of him as an archetype, as opposed to a man placed in a period or a generation. I just see him as a man who probably, as a result of his IQ, has formed opinions that he can’t reconcile with the world around him. And I think that’s, at least for me, the fun in playing him.”

Many viewers may wonder why his children remain loyal to their father as the family’s circumstances become increasingly dire. By the end of the first season, the Foxes have not only had to avoid special agents from the U.S. government, but also an expert assassin hired by an angry Mexican mob boss. And that only hints at the dangers they face over the seven-episode series.

“I think the thing that’s unique about the Fox family is that they’re a bit of a closed circuit,” Theroux says. “They don’t socialize in the way that normal kids socialize. They’re home-schooled, which is rife for Allie being able to indoctrinate them with his belief system, of which he has many, and opinions. So it’s an interesting family, in that they’re self-sufficient in one way, and at least from the kids’ perspective, they’re a captive audience.”

While it’s never revealed what actions Allie took that forced his family into relative hiding, Theroux, who has a good idea where a second season will go, promises it isn’t a MacGuffin that will disappoint audiences. That said, he loves that Allie will be a polarizing figure to many viewers. That’s the sort of spark that makes him want to commit to a project of this stature.

“As I had with Damon Lindelof and [now] with Neil Cross, a handshake and a promise that we will keep these stories interesting and that the character will evolve, or devolve, or remain interesting,” Theroux says. “Because to me, that’s just my idea of hell, is playing a character that is stagnant and I usually also look for a complicated personality or someone who has a complicated inner life. It’s why villains are usually so much more fun to play, because they have a lot more going on psychologically usually than the hero. So, I usually look for characters that are 10% villain, 90% hero, or some version of that.”