The actor-writer-producer talks about starring in the Apple TV+ adaptation of ‘The Mosquito Coast,’ the underlying relevance of the series, and why he feels his career is bizarre
Justin Theroux really is Hollywood’s man for every occasion.
Need a Marvel blockbuster? Call Justin to write the screenplay. A lead star for an experimental supernatural series? Call Justin. Someone to direct a romantic drama? Call Justin.
Over the last decade and half, the multi-hyphenate has hit gold with most projects he’s been a part of; from acting in The Leftovers which has been hailed as one of television’s all-time great dramas, to writing the screenplay for Robert Downey Jr. super hits like Tropic Thunder and Iron Man 2.
Yet, Justin calls his career quite “bizarre,” in the sense he tries his hand at everything, and whatever clicks, clicks.
Now, he attempts to bring to life the story of The Mosquito Coast, a 1981 best-selling novel by great American author Paul Theroux, who is none other than Justin’s uncle.
Already having been adapted into a 1986 film that starred Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren, the new Apple TV+ series promises a new take on the the dangerous journey of a radical idealist and brilliant inventor, Allie Fox (played by Justin), who uproots his family for Mexico when they suddenly find themselves on the run from the US government. But what happens when their family’s adventure transitions from paradise into dystopia, as their father’s mind unravels?
Also starring Melissa George, Logan Polish and Gabriel Bateman, The Mosquito Coast, that has Neil Cross as the showrunner, is currently streaming on Apple TV+ with new episodes out weekly.
On a Zoom call from the U.S, Justin talks to us about taking on such a multi-layered character, what his interpretation of the novel’s themes are, and more. Excerpts from an interview:
Your uncle is the writer of the book from which the series was adapted; did it make the process easier in some way, or was there extra pressure on you?
It didn’t add any pressure because he’s just extremely happy that I’m doing this show, and very proud that there’s sort of a family connection to it.
For me, as an actor, it’s fabulous, as I get to just pick up the phone and call whenever I want without feeling awkward, or having the enormous intimidation that comes when you want to impress a writer of something you’re working on. You have to sort of warm up to them, get to know them.. but all that was already gone and dealt with. I already knew how to talk to my uncle! (laughs)
I absolutely loved playing the character of Allie, there’s no simpler way of saying it. What I like about him is that he is so complex. Whenever you’re doing a series, if you have a boring character that you have to play for, possibly years, there’s nothing worse. So I’m very cautious before choosing to do something that’s a TV show. And Allie is.. there’s no shortage of complexity when it comes to that character. He’s a kind of a fascinating mind, you know?
Did you feel intimidated at all playing a character made popular by Harrison Ford earlier?
He’s so good in that movie! I have never read a review of it, so I couldn’t say whether it’s underrated or overrated. But I know it didn’t do well financially at the time, and I think that’s a shame.
Justin Theroux in ‘The Mosquito Coast’
It was hard to kind of erase his performance from my head, but I really just focused on the material that I was given, which was different from the material that he was given. But I do think we’ve probably arrived at some of the same conclusions, like he is a very forward-leaning character. So I didn’t feel intimidated at all, but I definitely felt a sort of reverence to what he (Ford) had done.
One of the resonant themes portrayed in the show (and in the novel) is how Allie puts his family above everything else, and that they are the most important thing. Does your off-screen persona share the same opinion?
I actually don’t. I mean, there are many family members that I love. But family is also the friends you are forced to have, as the expression goes, you know?
I do find myself incredibly loyal to the friendships that I have and some family members too. But Allie is a particular kind of character in that it’s not enough for him to just be the patriarch of the family. He really wants to instil his beliefs into them, and for his ideology to carry on. The fact that his kids are home-schooled is no accident, because when you have a captive audience, they’re forced to listen to you.
At one point in the series, the character of Dina (his daughter) says to him, “We’re not your family, we are your audience.” And I don’t think she’s wrong; he is essentially a zealot for himself. So no, I wouldn’t share that belief system with Allie.
How do you feel this series holds a mirror to the gluttonous indulgences of contemporary culture, that was a focal point in the novel?
As it’s a series, we have the luxury of having many more hours of telling that story. It’s not the central focus of the story, nor was it in the book, but it’s really sort of more a finger on the hand of the story.
Justin Theroux, Melissa George, Logan Polish and Gabriel Bateman in a still from the show
Allie, I would argue, is one of the most opinionated characters I’ve ever played. He loves to pontificate and jab a finger at people who he thinks are not necessarily beneath him, but who are doing things wrong. He’s sort of a demented Henry David Thoreau! I don’t even know if he’s holding a mirror up to anything, but he is, for better or worse, making you think in those moments, of your own habits, and the way in which you consume. There’s a great monologue, in fact, where he talks about homeless people being broken consumers. Whether you agree with it or not, it’s an interesting take.
After going through the pandemic, how do you think audiences will relate to the characters in this show?
I couldn’t possibly predict how they react. But if the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that we can do more with less. You don’t need all the stuff! I think everyone realised, oh my god, I have too much stuff in my closet. The flipside of that is, Amazon probably had one of the best years of their existence, and we all relied so much on technology; we’re using it right now to communicate.
So I don’t know, there could be some crazy consumer boom that happens once everyone gets vaccinated, and we start going back to life as normal. But I definitely think everyone got put into a big old time-out, and did some reflecting on what’s important in life. I know I did. And as painful as it was, it was also an inspiring time.
You have starred in acclaimed shows like ‘The Leftovers,’ and written blockbusters like ‘Iron Man 2.’ How do you diversify your mind to work in such different genres?
All through, it’s usually opportunities that present themselves based on past opportunities. I’ve had a very bizarre career, in fact, a very bizarre life. Sometimes I’m writing comedy scripts, sometimes it’s action, otherwise I’m acting in them… I am a big believer in using your gut and choosing things that may not be the most financially rewarding, but are fulfilling
As far as characters go, I usually just ask myself if playing a certain role would be interesting, fun or if I’d grow a little as an actor playing that part?
My idea of hell is playing the same character over and over again, so I usually try and diversify. Once I’ve finished something, I don’t really want to return to it. That just makes my life more interesting, whether it’s writing or acting.
The Mosquito Coast is currently streaming on Apple TV+