Binge Guide

The Mosquito Coast Star Justin Theroux Plucked Elements of His Antihero from Family, Including the Book's Author

Theroux's character, brilliant but exhausting contrarian Allie Fox, resembles members of his family, the actor says. He is “an amalgam of several people," including, "more than he'd like to admit, probably elements of my uncle Paul.”

by | April 29, 2021 | Comments

Author Paul Theroux’s 1981 novel The Mosquito Coast was meant to be an attack on Reagan-era economics and its views toward consumerism and the environment.

Told from the viewpoint of a 14-year-old boy trying to understand his father, we find the frequently failing, yet brilliant, inventor Allie Fox leading his family of four away from modern civilization and deeper into Central America. Then things get complicated. The 1986 film adaptation, which was directed by Peter Weir, written by Paul Schrader and starred a grimy, stubbly Harrison Ford in horn-rimmed glasses, came away with mostly favorable reviews and has 76% Tomatometer score.

“The movie has been directed and acted so well, in fact,” wrote late  Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert in his review of the film, “that almost all my questions have to do with the script: Why was the hero made so uncompromisingly hateful?”


(Photo by Apple TV+)

This is also very much the issue in Apple TV+’s new series version of The Mosquito Coast. A prequel of sorts that’s set in the modern day, it stars actor (and nephew of Paul) Justin Theroux, as Allie – this time a mechanic working in a dusty border town. While determined to find ways to make renewable resources out of junk and get a patent for his work, he forces his teens – Gabriel Bateman as son Charlie and Logan Polish as daughter Dina – to eschew technology like cell phones as he and wife Margot (Melissa George) fuel their cars and air conditioners with leftover oil from fast-food restaurants.


Read Also: “125+ Books Becoming TV Series That We Cannot Wait to See


Things are going more-or-less fine until the feds come looking for Allie. Instead of skipping town by himself, it’s decided that the family is better protected if they stay together. Soon, they’re on the lam south of the border.

Actor Theroux is aware that this decision may make his hero seem unlikeable.

“As a person, I love it when a character has, you know, many facets and sides to them,” Theroux said during a recent Zoom call while his gray pit bull mix, Kuma, roamed in the background and occasionally barked her own commentary. “What I tried to do was make him, in turns, charismatic in some instances and frustrating in others. So I hope that people go hot and cold on him because it almost feels like it’s more of a real relationship. I think it’d be a bit boring if he just sort of had his chin to the wind and was doing everything beautifully for his family and everything was all perfect.”

Plus, Theroux reminded, “Tony Soprano was not the nicest guy in the world and The Great Santini was one of the most terrifying father figures ever, but yet, completely compelling.”


(Photo by Apple TV+)

What also makes Theroux’s Mosquito Coast character particularly compelling is what exactly he (or maybe he and his wife?) did to cause them to live on the edge and now go into hiding. It isn’t until episode four that fans get a potential clue as to the Foxes’ past.

“The truth is that I’m a cheap date,” series co-creator and showrunner Neil Cross said in a separate Zoom chat. “I like adventure stories. I like thrillers. I’ve got I’ve got the nervous hosts compulsion to entertain their guests.”

Cross, who is a devout fan of author Theroux’s books, said it was important to him that the series was “a character piece. And that, at its narrative heart, it is this kind of quite unique family dynamic. I want to tell that in the context of a show that was as exciting and intriguing as I could make it.”

“Allie is inspiring and he’s genuinely capable of great love and great enthusiasm,” Cross continued of his lead character. “He’s immensely clever. He’s a fantastic problem solver. And it would be exhausting to know him.”

This is also hinted at by the look of the show, which is rich with a feel of grime and sweat while also casting shadows that there might be something more sinister going on. During a phone interview, executive producer Rupert Wyatt, who directed the first two episodes, said he worked with director of photography Alex Disenhof on evoking “the colors of 21st century America [such as] neon [and] very strong blacks” for the early episodes.


(Photo by Apple TV+)

Wyatt said they looked at what he called the “strong palate” of places like Paris, Texas, and then “infuse it with a kind of Steinbeck; Northern California sort-of farmlands and the notion of the romanticism of that, but also the tragedy of it in terms of the Depression.” The palate softens as the characters head to the desert and then “as we go into the kind of more tropical climates of Mexico and, ultimately to the coast, we start to bring in the greens and the stronger primary colors and heat it up.”

He added that “the general thought, always for us, was that we were going to follow this family, we weren’t going to get ahead of them. So camera-wise, we’d always be on their backs where possible, and feel like we’re journeying through this landscape with them rather than getting jumping ahead and bringing them into scenes.”

So why a prequel? Co-creator Cross also wanted to make a point of distancing his work from that of the movie adaptation because “there was, to my mind, no point trying to revisit and kind of Xerox something that had already been done so very well.”

Plus, he said, “the Allie Fox who appears in a novel is, in some ways, a kind of an American archetype of the great American contrarians. But it’s also somebody who belongs very specifically to a very particular set of economic, political and cultural circumstances.” He said that “because that had been done, that kind of compelled me to think, OK, so who would that guy be now?

For star Theroux, there’s an added layer to nail the role. He said the character is “an amalgam of several people. There are definitely elements of my grandfather, elements of my uncles, and — more than he’d like to admit — probably elements of my uncle Paul.”


(Photo by Apple TV+)

That could make for some awkward family gatherings, especially since – as a recent Esquire profile recently attested – the family is good at joshing each other: “The only thing Justin’s known for,” Paul Theroux is quoted as saying in that story, “is that when he was a boy, he ate a Styrofoam cup. It’s family lore: Hey, s–t, Justin won an Emmy! Remember the time he ate a Styrofoam cup and then puked it onto his shoes?”

“It’s not overt,” actor Theroux told us about the resemblance between his character and his uncle. “I think all of them know what I’m describing. So I think no one’s shocked, you know, at this point.”

He said this is also less pressure than his work on another famous book adaptation, HBO’s The Leftovers. That was based on author Tom Perrotta’s novel about a rapture that wipes out a giant chunk of Earth’s population.

“With Tom and The Leftovers, I put [writers] on a very high pedestal. So, anytime you approach them with a question, you should do it with your hat in your hand,” Theroux said. “This one, the pressure was kind-of off because I have pre-existing relationship. I could just pick up the phone and say guess what, I’m playing Allie Fox in Mosquito Coast, let’s talk about the character. And it’s probably a little bit of proud uncle syndrome, where he’s happy to chat, not just about my questions, but just what’s going on in life.”

It’s probably fitting then that Cross said that in “one of my very last shots of the season, we see the emotional effect of what it is to love, and be loved, by Allie.”

The Mosquito Coast premieres April 30 on Apple TV+.

Tag Cloud

YouTube Premium Baby Yoda latino TruTV anthology monster movies golden globes American Society of Cinematographers ITV 2021 Netflix Christmas movies venice GIFs Infographic cats Oscars Legendary Mindy Kaling Reality toy story ratings superhero FX cars james bond golden globe awards stand-up comedy teaser Star Wars halloween TV renewals Academy Awards Masterpiece technology E! TCM FX on Hulu Paramount DC Comics singing competition Action dragons rt archives Comic Book classics TCA The Walking Dead Britbox Country boxoffice animated all-time SundanceTV Valentine's Day scorecard Emmys critics Musical based on movie Watching Series blockbusters TV Land Music Captain marvel MSNBC saw thriller Writers Guild of America blockbuster french BBC GoT Apple TV Plus Amazon Prime Video FOX TV Syfy Hulu supernatural TCA Awards Lifetime streaming Spectrum Originals ghosts Television Critics Association Spike YouTube Red Logo MCU Grammys nature Song of Ice and Fire 21st Century Fox Film disaster book adaptation Amazon Studios HBO Max CW Seed revenge TNT kong football adventure Shondaland A24 007 Ghostbusters Pirates Stephen King docudrama south america Family mutant Cosplay Rocky biography Reality Competition TV One spanish language news crime drama serial killer Turner Classic Movies franchise Fantasy sitcom breaking bad romance zero dark thirty ID spain indie The Walt Disney Company LGBTQ slashers Video Games trailers Martial Arts Bravo TCA Winter 2020 Podcast Marvel Television jamie lee curtis Marathons a nightmare on elm street crime Disney 45 Turner AMC FXX The Purge Disney Plus PlayStation king kong scary movies fresh Hear Us Out Dark Horse Comics Epix Lifetime Christmas movies Biopics MTV reboot A&E President concert Vudu Netflix blaxploitation Fox Searchlight documentary Disney streaming service true crime dogs prank award winner high school nbcuniversal Marvel Studios festival DC streaming service sag awards deadpool women cancelled TV series Fall TV australia best remakes elevated horror black movies Crunchyroll SXSW Musicals The Academy richard e. Grant mockumentary San Diego Comic-Con 2017 APB Crackle Animation Funimation Anna Paquin versus YouTube television comiccon children's TV medical drama Arrowverse 71st Emmy Awards jurassic park Showtime japanese comics Thanksgiving stoner Sundance canceled Superheroe kaiju hist justice league green book Awards Tour Tubi ViacomCBS Holidays hollywood X-Men Best and Worst Schedule HBO Go spanish The Arrangement facebook BAFTA historical drama Drama VICE Endgame politics 72 Emmy Awards Starz Broadway Character Guide ABC Family CNN werewolf game of thrones docuseries godzilla Sony Pictures Esquire Spring TV First Look 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards Film Festival History Mystery romantic comedy rotten movies we love laika hidden camera RT21 Extras Sundance TV Hallmark Christmas movies rom-coms political drama Premiere Dates Kids & Family video natural history die hard Heroines cartoon BBC One chucky Mudbound 2018 name the review Alien cancelled First Reviews Lucasfilm Holiday dramedy NBC sports Rom-Com Comedy Central worst movies series Tomatazos Superheroes NYCC Countdown WarnerMedia joker zombie New York Comic Con Disney+ Disney Plus vampires Polls and Games adaptation LGBT binge foreign pirates of the caribbean Avengers christmas movies italian IFC Films obituary Teen Trophy Talk science fiction Chernobyl Lionsgate WGN ESPN directors tv talk Travel Channel 2016 Sci-Fi Black Mirror 24 frames Comedy mission: impossible reviews kids spy thriller Trivia 2019 BBC America The CW witnail theme song TLC zombies telelvision fast and furious psycho Nat Geo aliens Red Carpet 20th Century Fox Rock book Amazon Prime Set visit game show Trailer new star wars movies renewed TV shows 2020 harry potter Disney Channel what to watch Amazon worst Universal Creative Arts Emmys asian-american Ovation CBS All Access Marvel IFC Winners sequels Year in Review Star Trek Apple TV+ Binge Guide PaleyFest ABC CBS BET Awards Elton John Sundance Now HBO spinoff Discovery Channel Box Office Horror Toys cults crime thriller twilight indiana jones RT History TCA 2017 Photos period drama E3 casting Certified Fresh parents Tumblr talk show canceled TV shows Columbia Pictures BET satire USA Network Comics on TV emmy awards 99% Hallmark Pop TV Pet Sematary Ellie Kemper See It Skip It Awards war Pride Month Cannes Emmy Nominations 4/20 comic Rocketman Calendar sequel archives Adult Swim free movies Mary Poppins Returns films USA halloween tv movie screen actors guild dceu independent criterion cancelled TV shows comedies razzies TIFF police drama Nominations superman Opinion Interview National Geographic VOD Election Black History Month unscripted Christmas Pop Classic Film nfl Brie Larson psychological thriller heist movie strong female leads Chilling Adventures of Sabrina dc Warner Bros. Western doctor who Cartoon Network spider-man Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt composers anime Mary Tyler Moore social media OneApp cinemax dark cops rotten batman boxing DC Universe Apple festivals comic books video on demand Paramount Network Tarantino 2015 PBS DGA cooking transformers Peacock quibi Walt Disney Pictures Nickelodeon GLAAD DirecTV 93rd Oscars popular OWN Summer Sneak Peek Food Network Super Bowl Shudder universal monsters crossover travel Television Academy Acorn TV stop motion CMT The Witch ABC Signature Fox News discovery toronto Quiz space Paramount Plus robots Women's History Month diversity miniseries finale SDCC YA TBS Mary poppins Pixar hispanic documentaries VH1 Freeform cancelled television screenings Exclusive Video El Rey child's play Winter TV