“Interestingly, my first reaction was no f**king way.”
That was British novelist and scriptwriter Neil Cross’ answer when asked why he wanted to get involved with Apple TV+’s newest series based on the 1981 novel, ‘The Mosquito Coast.’ For Cross, the story—which was written by Paul Theroux decades ago and then turned into a feature-length film with Harrison Ford in the leading role—the plot holds a very dear place to his heart. That however made the opportunity of adaptation one that he was nervous about.
“I think the process of adaptation is easier if you don’t have an emotional connection to the source of the material,” explains Cross. “Because you’re able to read it with an objectivity where you can say that goes and that can stay. I’ve got a life-long relationship not just with this novel, but also with the oeuvre of Paul Theroux. [He’s] a very important writer to me for as long as I can remember and books are a big, big part of my life.”
Paul Theroux’s book follows the Fox family, and specifically, the written story is told from the point-of-view of 14-year-old Charlie, whose father, Allie—a brilliant inventor with a growing discontent for the U.S. government, consumerism and really, democracy—takes his family on a journey to La Mosquitia on the infamous Mosquito Coast of Honduras. Although the story has been made from the page to the screen before (as mentioned above, Peter Weir’s 1986 film,) Apple TV+’s adaptation takes the same characters, but puts them in different settings. For one, the Fox family travels to Mexico instead of Central America, and the family now has the added bonus or obstacle—however you want to see it—of technology.
For Cross, it was the character of Allie (played by Paul Theroux’s nephew Justin Theroux from ‘The Leftovers’), who has been called one of the greatest literary characters of all time that served as a compass to where to bring the newly formed story. Cross asked the question: Who would the guy from the book be if he were around today?
“Bizarrely, or counterintuitively, the film is what liberated me to be able to create the TV show,” he explains. “The Allie in the novel, is in some ways the great American archetype: He’s the American contrarian… You can trace that back to early 19th-century American literature and follow it through, but in other ways, the Allie of the novel was a very specific character in a very specific set of cultural, economic and political circumstances. A disillusioned polar-cataloged libertarian hippie. He came up through the revolutionary movements of the late 60s and saw Nixon and Vietnam and the oil shock and the shedding of American manufacturing jobs abroad and the first storm clouds of economics moving on the horizon—so, he was an archetype very specific to his time.”
It was also the character himself that was one of the draws for Theroux to sign on. Apart from the familial ties, the story works well for the 49-year-old actor. Theroux takes the complicated character of Allie Fox and adds another layer to him. Having insight into his journey, which takes his wife Margot (played by Melissa George), daughter Dina (Logan Polish) and son Charlie (Gabriel Bateman) across the border, to Mexico City and afar while withstanding obstacles in the form of vigilante border control, rattlesnakes, the Cartel, prison and beyond.
“There’s an unwinding that starts to happen for [Allie],” explains Theroux. “Interestingly, in my conversations with Paul [I asked] him who inspired [Allie] aside from family? He’s obviously a composite of many different people, but I said what’s the reason for creating this character? And at the time, when he wrote the book in the early 80s, it was two years after the Jim Jones massacre or mass suicide… He was fascinated about that story where a guy could go from a pretty benevolent preacher in the midwest to San Fransisco and by all counts had a very inclusive open-minded church that eventually had to leave the country, then eventually went deep into the jungle. He said obviously it’s not a direct comparison from Allie Fox to Jim Jones, but there are absolutely several grains of that character in there.”
The series isn’t one that follows the book exactly for obvious reasons, so it’s safe to say it will keep you guessing. Even with the exuberant amount of turmoil the family has to go through to reach their reverent destination, it’s the breakdown in the characters where the chaos truly lies.
“This is a family like no other…They are essentially living a monastic lifestyle cut off from television, phones and all the things that we think are of course necessities and living off of the grid. So, in the breaking out of the U.S. and throwing their grenade over their shoulder, I think he’s really living his dream. But it’s exactly his dream, it’s not necessarily everyone else. So he’s constantly trying to muster the troops, his kids and his wife and keep them in alignment with his own beliefs,” continues Theroux.
Overall, the series which spans over 7 episodes is called an adaptation. Ultimately, however, it’s a re-envisioned storyline with a central purpose: A character study on the rubik’s cube of a complicated human that is Allie Fox. The added layers of how his family then reacts to the explosion of situations is the drive that pushes audiences into watching more.
“There’s a certain kind of algebra in assembling a story around that kind of idea,” explains Cross. “Here is this guy living in this way with his family in a world where it is exponentially more difficult to live that way 10 years ago, let alone 40 years ago. So, one begins to construct stories by asking questions. How would this guy who is this clever, this adept, and this charismatic, how does he end up living off grid in this way? Every question begins the process of forming a narrative.”
Cross did end on a note of a basis for Allie Fox, one that shows the ironic side of wanting to break free.
“People who advocate for radical existential freedom ironically or otherwise end up dictating the circumstances of the movement around them,” he says. “The desire to be free is not an endeavor without consequences on other people.”
‘The Mosquito Coast’ drops on Apple TV+ April 30.