Justin Theroux stars in an engrossing new adventure that boasts a curious connection to his own family

Although the award-winning adventure novel about a man disgusted by consumerism who uproots his family to dramatic consequences was written by his own uncle Paul Theroux, Justin Theroux never imagined he was going to be the one bringing The Mosquito Coast to life. “I have a long history with the novel. I read it when I was a kid. I was only, probably, 12 or 13 when it came out,” says the now 49-year-old actor. “But it’s one of those things that you don’t know that you want to do until it’s presented to you and you get to do it.”

The Mosquito CoastApple TV+Paul Theroux’s version of the Fox family journey, which was adapted into a film in 1986 starring Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren, never attempted to make the idealistic family patriarch Allie Fox a sympathetic character, as he spirals into some particularly erratic behaviour. But in the hands of Justin Theroux, Allie’s flight to South America becomes not just one of compulsion but perhaps necessity. “I read the first script and I, obviously, knew the novel version of the character, and this is Allie seen through a slightly different prism,” says Theroux. “As with any great character, I think you’ll see an evolution in subsequent episodes. But I just really responded to the initial couple of scripts.”

The adaptation, by Luther creator Neil Cross, takes a different route from the book, asking the viewers and its lead characters, how far will you go to protect the ones you love? In the hands of Cross, the stubborn inventor thinks he’s providing his wife and two teenage children with shelter from the storm, but the questionable decisions they make as they try to outrun their past leads them towards unimaginable danger instead. “I think Neil was very smart to make some very bold moves and create a prequel to the book itself but stay very true to the Allie character and the way he operates,” says Theroux. “As long as that through-line was built in, [Paul] wasn’t going to be disappointed.”

The Mosquito CoastApple TV+Taking the well-known source material into the 21st century was a daunting task for the screenwriter. “To somehow confront Paul Theroux, the creator and a man that I profoundly respect and who’s been a huge influence on my life, was honestly one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever done,” says Cross. “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, I have to say. Much to my long-standing relief and abiding disbelief, he’s been a fantastic part of our team.”

Theroux, the actor, had no qualms about contacting his uncle when he took on the project as its star and executive producer. “It would be foolish not to dip my cup into the well of the source material and the man who wrote it,” he says. “I also, anecdotally, have an intimate knowledge of certain aspects of Allie Fox, because it’s my suspicion and it’s been corroborated, that it’s based loosely on certain members of our family—my grandfather, who had a certain thriftiness to him. So, I had several long conversations with Paul once I got the script, and I started preparing the character.”

The Mosquito CoastApple TV+What Theroux did not do was rewatch the movie. He didn’t have to, as he was already very familiar with Ford’s performance. “I’ve seen the movie many times from the age of 15 on, and [Ford] did such a fabulous job, but I wouldn’t ever try and create from him, really,” says the actor. “I had the good fortune of meeting him, actually, just by coincidence when we were in Mexico City, and we had a fabulous tequila-fuelled dinner eating and just talking, but we didn’t really talk so much about the character at all. We just talked about his experience in making the film, which he says was one of the most joyous experiences he’s ever had.”

While the expansion of the source material allows for certain characters—the female protagonists in particular—to become more pivotal within the narrative, what attracted Melissa George to the series was not just fleshing out the character of Allie’s wife, Margot. “Imagine going on an adventure like this,” the Australian actress muses. “I think it’s a lot of families’ dreams to uproot yourself and go on a journey to the Mosquito Coast and live by your own rules in search of this rugged idealism. It’s been a great journey.”

The Mosquito Coast debuts Friday, April 30th on Apple TV+