You kind of expect Justin Theroux to be well-read.
His mom is a novelist. His dad is merely a lawyer, but four paternal uncles have written novels.
And his link to “The Mosquito Coast” – by Paul Theroux, one of those uncles – is especially strong. “I have a long history with the novel,” he told the Television Critics Association.
He was 10 when it was published, 15 when it became a movie, with Harrison Ford and River Phoenix. And now, at 50, he stars in a seven-hour mini-series (shown here) that starts Friday (April 30) on Apple TV+.
Theroux plays Allie Fox, a character he knows well. “It’s based loosely on … my grandfather, who had a certain thriftiness to him,”
In the original version, Allie berates consumerism and takes his family on a grand adventure, living on the Honduran coast. In the mini-series, there’s a crucial difference: “This is a family that, perhaps, is not making this journey voluntarily,” said producer Rupert Wyatt.
Allie is on the run, for reasons known to his wife, but not to their kids … or to viewers. It’s a situation so tense that reverse migration (from the U.S. to Mexico) can be deadly.
“Imagine going on an adventure like this,” said Melissa George, who plays Allie’s wife, Margot. “I think it’s a lot of families’ dreams, to uproot yourself and go on a journey to Mosquito Coast and live by your own rules, in search of this rugged idealism.”
Except, of course, that most people wouldn’t want it to be this rugged, complete with chases, gunfire, dehydration and ethical dilemmas.
Theroux is already known to TV viewers as star of HBO’s “The Leftovers” … to movie buffs as the male lead in David Lynch’s “Mulholland Drive” … and to pop-culture folks as Jennifer Aniston’s husband. (They married in 2015, after a three-year engagement, and separated two years later.) He’s go-written movies – “Tropic Thunder,” “Iron Man 2,” “Rock of Ages” – and even co-produced the live specials that used “All in the Family” scripts.
He read “Mosquito Coast” when it came out, he said, and saw the movie. When this project emerged, “I had several long conversations with Paul,” now 80, who seemed happy with the project, despite the drastic changes.
The novel was narrated by Allie’s son, 14 (played by River Phoenix in the movie). The series gives him an older teen sister … hesitant at first, then emerging as a strong figure. In the fourth episode, their mom gets the same transformation. It’s a chance, George said, “to sort of make Margot a little bit more of a pivotal character than what she was in the book and in the film.”
Still, the key remains Allie Fox – smart, confident, opinionated, a guy who’s very sure of himself …. even when he turns out to be wrong. It’s a meaty role that two men – Ford and Theroux – have played.
And by coincidence, Theroux said, they met during filming in Mexico City:
“We had a fabulous sort of tequila-fueled dinner … We didn’t really talk so much about the character at all. We just sort of talked about his experience in making the film, which he says was one of the most joyous experiences he’s ever had, as far as location and things like that.”