Paul Theroux published his best-selling novel The Mosquito Coast in 1981. It told the story of Allie Fox, a radial idealist, who uproots his family, taking them on a dangerous journey to the Mosquito Coast in Honduras.
In its 40th anniversary year, Paul’s nephew, Justin Theroux (The Leftovers) is taking on the role of Allie for a new Apple TV+ series of the same name. In this iteration, the family is headed for Mexico when they find themselves on the run from the US government.
Written and produced by Neil Cross (Luther) the seven episode series premieres on April 30, 2021.
Neil, how do you decide what you want to write?
Neil Cross: I’ve got a very long-standing, lifelong relationship with Paul Theroux who I’ve never met. I’ve met him and know him through his books. Being offered the opportunity to adapt The Mosquito Coast was really something I didn’t know I wanted to do.
The intention of the show is not just to honor what Paul did with Allie Fox. (It’s) to engage in some way with Paul Theroux’s entire world view, both with the novels and travel literature he’s written. All of which I’m very familiar.
So I choose to write, I guess, what excites, thrills, frightens and challenges me.
In the two episodes we saw so far, they haven’t made it out of the country yet. It was described as a prequel. How much of the first season is them getting to the Mosquito Coast?
Neil: I don’t think I can answer that question specifically without giving stuff away. But what we’re seeing from the first couple of episodes is the beginning of the adventure. I think that’s the easiest way to answer that.
How did Paul Theroux feel about letting go of his material to other creative hands?
Neil: It’s not an easy thing for a novelist to see their own work reinvented and transformed. I thought we needed to take Allie and put him into the modern day.
Paul is portrayed in the press somewhat inaccurately as being ornery. I was very anxious to [see] his reaction. But he was an absolute gentleman. Much to my long-standing relief he’s been a fantastic part of our team.
Justin, had it always been a thought that someday you would love to do The Mosquito Coast?
Justin Theroux: It’s one of those things that you don’t know what you want to do until it’s presented to you. [Then] you get to do it.
I have a long history with the novel [and] I read it when I was a kid. I was only 12 or 13 when it came out. There’s been a movie made of it [with Harrison Ford in 1986]. I’ve obviously seen many iterations of it. This was just one of those happy accidents that the stars aligned and we were able to do it.
Justin Theroux‘s intimate knowledge
Did you consult with your uncle at all about this material?
Justin: Yes, I absolutely called my Uncle Paul. It would be foolish not to dip my cup into the well of the source material and the man who wrote it.
I also, anecdotally, have an intimate knowledge of certain aspects of Allie Fox. It’s my suspicion, and it’s been corroborated, that it’s based loosely on certain members of our family. My grandfather 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.
What was the nature of your conversation with him in terms of how he felt about your involvement with it?
Justin: Honestly, I think he was thrilled. If it were another author that perhaps wasn’t a family member I would be far more intimidated, [I’ve] been in the past in previous roles.
I think he’s at the stage in his career where he was just chuffed by it and thought it was fabulous.
I think Neil was very smart to take 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. I think as long as that through line was there and that was built in [Paul] wasn’t going to be disappointed.
We haven’t talked about my performance necessarily, but he did call me quite thrilled after he saw several episodes.
Harrison Ford’s Mosquito Coast
Have you re-watched the old movie with Harrison Ford? Was it daunting at all to reimagine, reinterpret this man in a little bit of a different setting?
Justin: I’ve seen the movie many times from the age of 15-on. He did such a fabulous job. I wouldn’t ever try and create from him. The character side, I can’t help but think that there’s probably some similar things that maybe we found on our own.
I had the good fortune of meeting (Harrison) by coincidence while we were shooting in Mexico City. We had a fabulous tequila-fueled dinner eating and talking. But we didn’t really talk so much about the character at all. We just talked about his experience in making the film. He says it was one of the most joyous experiences he’s ever had as far as location and things like that.
Neil, Allie Fox has strong feelings about commercialism and the industrial waste of modern technology. Give me a sense of how you feel Allie would respond to this show being on an Apple TV platform.
Neil: That’s such a good question. I do not have an answer prepared for you. In our version of Allie he is not a man who espouses any particular philosophy. Whatever you’ve got, he’s going to reject it.
Allie would reject to seeing himself portrayed in a high school play or on Apple TV+ or on a Vista Vision screen in 1953. Whatever you’ve got, Allie rejects it. It doesn’t matter what it is.