Justin Theroux relies on family knowledge to reboot his uncle’s ‘Mosquito Coast’

Justin Theroux plays Allie Fox in the new Apple TV+ drama series “The Mosquito Coast,” which premieres April 30. Photo: AppleTV+

Justin Theroux calls it a “happy accident” that his latest project, the Apple TV+ drama series “The Mosquito Coast,” which premiered Friday, April 30, ended up being a Theroux family collaboration.

In the tense adventure thriller about a Stockton family on the run, Theroux stars as brilliant but selfish inventor Allie Fox. It is an updated version of the central character from the best-selling 1981 novel by Theroux’s uncle, master writer and travel novelist Paul Theroux.

Theroux’s two men, the 80-year-old author and his famous 49-year-old nephew (HBO’s “The Leftovers”), are executive producers of the new series.

Paul Theroux originally created the character of iconoclast Allie Fox in response to late 1970s disillusionment with American energy and economic policy. Harrison Ford starred as Fox in the popular 1986 film version of Theroux’s novel, in which he drags his family to Central America to live a utopian off-grid existence.

Justin Theroux and Melissa George play parents fleeing the U.S. government with their children (Logan Polish, front, and Gabriel Bateman) in an effort to start a new life outside the country in “The Mosquito Coast.” Photo: AppleTV+

In the seven-episode first season of the Apple TV+ reboot, Theroux’s Fox is convinced that slavish consumerism — and, now, addiction to technology — limits American ingenuity. He files lunar patent applications, such as for a fire-powered ice cream machine, and obsessively keeps his son (Gabriel Bateman) and teenage daughter (Logan Polish) away from mind-numbing distractions. No televisions, cell phones or video games in the Fox house.

Allie and his wife, Margot (a terrific Melissa George, who worked with Theroux on “Mulholland Dr.” 20 years ago) are unconventional parents and fugitives on the run from the US government for an undisclosed crime years earlier. early.

Justin Theroux and Melissa George as Allie and Margot Fox in the Apple TV+ drama series “The Mosquito Coast,” which premieres April 30. Photo: AppleTV+

When the family flies to Mexico, sneaking south across the treacherous Arizona-Mexico border where most migrants head in the opposite direction, “The Mosquito Coast” becomes an adventure story. with dark “Ozark” type vibes.

Theroux knows people will assume his family connection to the source material inspired the project, but he told The Chronicle in a video call from his New York home that “what is surprising is that I heard about the project through normal channels. Paul was already taking the (development) path with Apple. I don’t even know if I was the first choice. If I have a head start, it’s having intimate knowledge of some of the family members that Paul relied on.

Theroux describes his paternal grandfather, his uncle Paul’s father, as “in many ways a lot like Allie Fox, especially in his economy”. In one scene from the show’s first episode, for example, the family goes to a junkyard, which Theroux says “was a common thing growing up.”

“Most grandparents took their children to the park. My grandfather used to take us to the West Dennis dump on Cape Cod,” he recalls. “He would get everything from shoes to books to spare parts. He has always been flabbergasted by what people throw away.

Likewise, the fictional Ally rails against materialism and is convinced that America has sold its soul to corporations. (“Consumers. Have you ever thought how disgusting it is to reduce a human being to a word like that?” he says in a typical rant.)

Theroux says he enjoyed leaning into the dark side of his character, portraying the boldness and narcissism of a man “who is so full of paradoxes, who is basically a very charismatic anti-hero.”

American novelist and travel writer Paul Theroux, seen in Madrid in 2002. Photo: Francis Tsang/Getty Images 2002

His uncle told Theroux that he remembered news of Jim Jones and the Jonestown Massacre circulating when he was writing “The Mosquito Coast”. (More than 900 people, mostly San Franciscans, died in the summer of 1978 at a compound in Guyana run by cult leader Jones.)

“I’m not drawing a straight line between Allie Fox and Jim Jones,” says Theroux, “but we are definitely exploring how people can be attached to their own beliefs in a way that, if they don’t stray from them, (it) can be unhealthy – not just for themselves but for everyone involved.

“Allie is one of those people who is both cursed and gifted with the feeling of waking up in the morning and knowing he’s absolutely right,” adds British writer and showrunner Neil Cross, who created “Luther.” the BBC via video call from his home in New Zealand.

“Justin and I went through each script and debated how Allie was going to be a jerk at some point. What’s really interesting is that Justin always wanted to kiss Allie’s jerk, to push him as far as he could. That’s a pretty brave thing for an actor to do.

“The Mosquito Coast” (TV-MA) premieres Friday, April 30 on Apple TV+.

Donald E. Patel