Justin Theroux, Melissa George, and Cast Tease The Mosquito Coast's Radical Family Life

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Paul Theroux's acclaimed novel, The Mosquito Coast, has already been made into a feature film starring Harrison Ford.

Now it's getting the series treatment, starring his nephew, Justin Theroux.

The TV show takes a different approach than the novel or the movie, attempting to add more gravity to what happens before the family ultimately settles down outside of the United States.

First Look at The Mosquito Coast

It's something of a prequel, and that sits well with all involved.

We had a chance to chat with the cast -- Justin Theroux, who plays Allie Fox, Melissa George, who plays his wife, Margot, and Logan Polish and Gabriel Bateman, who play their children, Dina and Charlie.

Theroux, who has a very strong connection to the material, isn't worried about comparisons between the film and the series or with his acting versus Ford's. As he says, Ford's portrayal of Fox is "unforgettable."

"They're working with different material altogether. The characters are the same, but what I'm doing in our story is different," the actor and series producer said.

He wouldn't be surprised to learn that he and Ford arrived at the same conclusion for Fox, though. "It's a bit like you could see two different actors play Hamlet, and I'm sure they do wildly different, but at the same time, with certain things, it is still Hamlet, you know?

"So it's, you know that you're gonna discover some similar things, perhaps cadence or, or things like that."

Off Into the Distance - The Mosquito Coast

George had no familiarity with the source material or the film. "Even when I got the role of Margot Fox, I did not watch the film or read the book. I'm going to when I feel like Margot is a little bit more attached to me and me attached to her. I think I will then let go a little bit and sit down and read the book.

For now, she's happy knowing that the series being a prequel allows her to wait a little bit and see what commonalities she can find afterward.

It was important to her not to allow what had already been to persuade her performance. "I did so much work before the casting that I finally ended up doing that if they accepted me in the casting, I had already done half the work, and my interpretation of Margot was the way I wanted to play her."

You might think adapting his uncle's work would be especially challenging for Theroux, but it was the opposite. "Lf anything, it gave me a kind of a comfort because all the ceremony that is usually stood on when you're having to meet the author of something that you might be doing and was obliterated or didn't exist in the first place."

Their relationship is the kind that allowed Theroux to ask anything at any time, which was really fun for both of them. It was made more intriguing for him that large elements of Allie Fox are from the family, an amalgamation of males in the lineage, including Paul.

Supporting Each Other - The Mosquito Coast

"So if there's any inside baseball, it's that I was able to just reach into my own memory of these people and pull out elements of them to the playing, which was really a luxury I've never had."

If Theroux could pull from his family archives for inspiration, George's interpretation of Margot is more personal. "The Margo that I'm playing is the way I wanted her to be was displaced, very silent mother bear, always observing her surroundings, always looking in corners, always looking left and right while protecting the family.

"And then I wanted to show certain cracks in her facade as the episodes go on to show the kids, like how did mommy know how to do that?

"And then slowly, we're going to see the Margo that we don't know yet. And why are they on the run? What's she hiding? What's going on with a couple?

She wanted her portrayal to feature all of the mundanities of family life to unfold in their unique existence, too. She wanted a moment when Margot talks with her kids about robbing a bank to be as routine as asking them to pass the salt at the dinner table.

"Everything that comes out of her mouth is because it's like that. and I need it, and this is what we're doing, and this is how we're going to get there."

Justin Theroux and Melissa George

That fits in well with how Theroux sees the tale unfolding. This is a story that's happening in reverse. It starts at an unusual place, and it could go anywhere. "Hopefully, we'll have a lot of runway to tell this story. Multiple episodes and hopefully seasons, and well, I don't know how it's going to end."

Theroux said, "It is the sort of a series of pricks and fractures that happens to them over the course of their travels, which is very similar to what happens in both the book and the movie.

"So that to me is actually the most compelling thing about it, or at least these relationships is that watching them splinter and watching Allie, who really ties himself to be the master of his own on convictions, whether this or the storm that is going to continue to unfold."

Those convictions make Allie a volatile character, especially when Theroux reveals that Paul was inspired to write the novel after the Jim Jones massacre.

Theroux said that his uncle was fascinated by the story and how a guy could go from being a relatively benevolent preacher to eventually leave the country for the deep jungle, taking his flock with him.

Theroux said, "He said, obviously, it's not a direct comparison of Allie Fox to Jim Jones, but he said there's absolutely several grains of that character in there."

Dina and Charlie In the Backseat - The Mosquito Coast

Allie isn't an easy character to like, and it doesn't seem that he's supposed to be. He indoctrinates his family toward his belief system, making them a cult of family versus a cult on the scale of Jim Jones.

"He thinks it's interesting, and you know, this is a family that like no other that I've met, where they are essentially living a monastic lifestyle cut off from television, phones, all the things that, of course, we think are absolute necessities and living off the grid.

"In breaking out of the US and sort of throwing a grenade over their shoulder, I think he's really living his dream, but it's exactly his dream. It's not necessarily everyone else's, so he's constantly trying to marshal the troops in his kids and his wife and keep them in alignment with his own beliefs."

If it's not easy to connect with Allie, that marshaling makes understanding Margot a little more difficult, as well, because she stands by her husband despite his oddities.

George said that Margot does what she does to save her kids but also to protect her husband. "I mean, it seems like he doesn't really have a lot of choice in that marriage, but that's just what I've seen in the early episodes.

"She doesn't have a lot of choice," George admitted, "but there's a bigger reason as to why she doesn't have any choice, and that will come out slowly over the course of the show. I think often they say that the things that you fall in love with are the things that will end up driving you crazy.

Paranoid Allie Fox - The Mosquito Coast

"And I think, in the beginning, Allie's ways must have just been so alluring and wonderful and optimistic and wow, what a man, and I think over the decade, you know, as it's getting them into deeper, deeper trouble, it's just been it's too much.

"You know, he's let them down a lot. His ideas are so larger than life that they never work out. And I think it's hard on the family. She would love to run away, but there are certain reasons why she cannot."

"But yeah," she said, "He's a tough one to be married to, I would say, but she's also a hard one to be married to. The conflict of how they parent the kids is what brings the -- you know, in every great story, even in a positive story, there's always a bit of conflict. And I think the fact that they parent differently is creating it."

Polish said Dina is a very strong-willed, persistent, and decisive girl way beyond her 15 years who acts on the same level as her parents if not above them.

"Ultimately, she's someone that now is becoming more like her crazy father, no matter how much she doesn't want to accept that she is him. We get to see her slowly, slowly become that."

Bateman says that by contrast, Charlie internalizes everything. "He's really observant. And he notices almost, almost everything that happens, even if he kind of misinterprets what it means. But everything that he sees, he takes in.

Gabriel Bateman of The Mosquito Coast

"I think it affects him in a really strong way because he's not fully developed. He's very trusting of his parents, especially his dad."

And if their parents are molding their children in their likeness, both of them are reacting differently. Charlie is willing to believe that everything that unfolds is best for the family. He's nervous about it, but he doesn't question his father, at first, at least.

Bateman said, "He starts to question things more and more, especially as he sees Dina question things. You'll see her say something, and it'll be something that he's never thought about before.

"And he'll start to think about that and think maybe his dad and his mom aren't perfect people, and they can make mistakes, and maybe they're in this situation because of the mistakes they've made. So he starts to change his perspective on them."

Dina initially believes that she'll get a normal childhood in return if she goes along with her parents. "I think she's really, really holding onto that," Polish said, "Even though deep down, she knows that that probably won't happen. And I think a part of her feels really, really bad.

"Like her dad relies on her for so much in that dynamic. He's very codependent on her, and it's definitely a reverse because, typically, when you're a parent, you're like, I don't want to leave my kid, and she's feeling that like, I don't want to leave my dad cause he's relying on me for so much.

"Yeah, I think throughout the series, there is a point when the PTSD of what they've gone through is so extreme that they definitely lose sight of a lot. She's there just sort of in the moment."

Dina Makes a Call - The Mosquito Coast

This is a family drama that incorporates a tremendous adventure, whether advantageous to the family or not. And if it looks grueling on screen, it wasn't the easiest to film, either.

Polish said, "I had so much fun. I loved working with special effects and remember there were two days when they were using fake guns and shooting blanks."

"It's not a part of the job that I ever think about," she said. "We're always so in our head that it's really fun to do something that gets physical and kind of gets our adrenaline going."

She loves putting on the knee pads and working with the choreographers on what action sequence lies ahead. "It was really hard, but it also really helped to go back and forth between those scenes of being very emotionally one way and then back to being physically active. And it was sort of the best of both worlds."

Bateman agreed, "I think it's hard not to have fun in those situations. I mean, at a certain point, you get tired, but I think it's definitely fun to be running as fast as you can, or, I'd be too, sorry to get tackled with knee pads on and be able to fake stumble or all of that stuff is very fun and very new to me. It's not something I normally get to do that often."

That kind of exertion really helped them get into their roles. Polish said they didn't have to act tired because they were tired, and there were certain advantages to that kind of realism. It also helped all of the actors grow closer together, to feel more like the family they were portraying on screen.

Smiling at Each Other - The Mosquito Coast

"I think it helped us bond even more as a family ‘cause we were like, ‘Oh, now we're all going through this together and under these intense situations and having to do these things,' Polish said.

I love when that stuff happens when it starts to become as hard as it would be in the story. It gives you even more to work off of."

George, a mother herself, said working with Polish and Bateman was a lovely experience, and she couldn't help but feel protective towards them. They spent a lot of time together on set, which worked to the show's benefit.

"The Fox journey was 24/7, but effortlessly, like you couldn't live without it. We couldn't live without each other. So this is wonderful. And lucky, and I think it's just luck, actually," George said of their camaraderie. "You can't make that happen. You can't rehearse that and fake it. It is what it is. And we were lucky that we just love each other."

Even though the book was written well before cell phones and sim cards were a part of our daily existence, Allie is familiar with and adept with technology. He just rejects it.

The Fox family is living a radical philosophy. Bringing up children in that scenario is even more challenging in light of the progress made since the novel was written. There is a lot more to this journey than a family undertaking, especially in light of recent tensions across the US. A lot of the story takes place on the US/Mexico border, and the parallels didn't escape Theroux.

"I mean, Allie' almost like an Uber American, you know? I mean, I don't think of him in political terms. I don't think of him as Republican, and Democrat, or Independent or anything like that. I think he's that classic kind of antihero, head West kind of pioneer, and with that comes an incredible amount of hubris," Theroux said of Allie's colonial mentality that he can bring wonderful things wherever he's going.

"In Ali's case, it's inventions. And as one character, I think really preciously, points out. You know you say you want to get American, get out of America because you hate it. But essentially, you are America, you know, like, and you're bringing that with you. You know, you can't leave your personality behind when you travel.

As far as the border crossing, Theroux said it wasn't lost on anyone that even crossing the border came from an act of privilege on his behalf. "He's essentially fleeing something that would impinge on his way of life, and it’s a choice for him. Whereas for the people that are going North in the opposite direction, it's a necessity to find a life for the first time, I would argue and, or flee very real danger."

Still, he said, they don't underscore it too much. "We let it be what it is, but it's obvious," He said, "It's not really necessary to underscore it."

Theroux finds Allie's mentality fascinating. "He's sort of like mix of like Jack London and Jack Kerouac, you know? And the way his convictions are so that he's so convinced that they're correct, you know?

"He's the kind of guy that I would probably love to have dinner with, but I certainly wouldn't want to live with him or, uh, or absolutely not be, you know?"

Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.

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