In an alternate reality, Melissa George may not have been cast in The Mosquito Coast, the new Apple TV+ adaptation of Paul Theroux’s novel from creator Neil Cross. Not because she wouldn’t have been right for the role, but because she very nearly didn’t even audition.
When I sat down to speak with the actress about her part in the series she began by telling me that she held onto the script for four months, only sending in her audition tape after aggressive urging from Justin Theroux, her Mulholland Drive co-star who was set to play her husband in the series. They play Allie (Theroux) and Margot (George), a fugitive couple on the run from the government for mysterious reasons who must abandon their life in Stockton, California when their cover is blown and head down to Mexico.
The duo pack up their bags with their children Dina (Logan Polish) and Charlie (Gabriel Bateman), embarking on an adventure through gorgeous locations that are a visual splendor for the audience but were at times quite treacherous for the cast. The elements only served to help keep them in character and bond them as a family unit, something that George elaborates on in the following interview.
Mitchell Beaupre: When you first saw the script for The Mosquito Coast what was it that drew you to this character and this story?
Melissa George: When I read the script I didn’t know it was based on a book or a previous film. I must’ve missed that part of my life. I loved the fact that it was an intimate sort of character piece. There were a lot of fantastic moments that were just one-on-one. Actors often like that because it doesn’t get upstaged by certain genres or effects or whatever. It just brings acting back to its purest home. It was also exciting that it was going to be on Apple, because it meant that the work can be seen by the masses, which ultimately when you’re proud of something is what you really want.
I kept the script for four months, not wanting to go for it because I was too afraid not to win the part. After about four months of checking in, Justin called my agent and said “we’ve been waiting months for her casting, and we haven’t found Margot and we really want to see her, her interpretation.” I got that call at 10 o’clock at night on a Friday and my agent said that I had half an hour to audition. I did one scene, one take, and sent it off. 24 hours later, after four months of holding onto the script, I got the call saying that I got the part.
MB: Where was that fear coming from that made you reluctant to want to go for the part?
MG: I lacked confidence, you know? I worked with Sean Penn the year before, and I just worked with Catherine Deneuve in France. I was getting these beautiful parts, but America seemed like such a distant memory. I had been working before, doing all of these great parts like In Treatment and then personal life took over and I was forced to take breaks that felt unnatural to me. So when you read a part and as an actor you know that you’re the one for the role but you don’t know how to project that belief to the director or the studio of your agents, it’s hard to create that confidence.
By holding onto the script for four months I was able to read it 3,000 times and pretty much live with the role. By the time I was able to get it out of my head and to physically play Margot, I felt like the same person as her. I know her, I’ve had her next to me for four months. It’s funny, I had no one to read with me at the time because I was in Paris and it was late at night. I recorded the dialogue of the other part and then played it back to myself with a different voice so that I had something to react off. So it was a whole production in my living room, and that went very well.
MB: You and Justin go back 20 years to Mulholland Drive together. How was it reuniting with him after all this time to play wife and husband?
MG: It was just a dream. I like the fact that I think for Justin I maybe wasn’t overexposed, if that makes sense. I think by kind of staying put the way I have you don’t get overexposed as an actor to the point where people are just like “oh there she is again”. You create a bit of a mystery. With Justin I think there was the perfect balance there, with him really bringing me back to work after my two sons were born and I’m not so overused. I’ve got some life left in me.
MB: Margot really is the female lead of the series. In a lot of other series it would really just be on Allie the whole time and everything would orbit around him, but Margot gets to have this whole arc where she starts off very internalized and slowly we start to see those layers of her get peeled back more and more. Was that exciting for you to get to play as an actor?
MG: Absolutely. It comes with a lot of background study and talking with Neil about where she was going. I knew that Margot would be the equal protagonist to Allie, and that at some point you will see a turn in Margot where you start to understand who she really is. That was fantastic. A lot of time dialogue can get in the way of a good scene, so by staying silent there was a lot more power and weight I think. A lot of what we see with her is in her eyes and her head. We talked a lot about the fact that she’s kind of been brainwashed by Allie. We see even in the first episode how she acts differently when she’s on her own and then when she’s with Allie she has this kind of glazed look on her eyes. You see this change with her throughout the season where she starts to find her strengths, which was a wonderful gift to play.
MB: The series has a lot of high stakes drama and a ton of narrative to work through, but you also can really find the characters in the smaller moments and that’s where we do get to see how this family has formed a bond that feels real. How was the relationship between the four of you on set?
MG: Like with any relationship it’s all about time, right? Often the rule is you need 90 days to really know somebody. In my case it’s often five to ten years (laughing). In this case though, the four of us actors didn’t leave each other’s side. It was honestly an attraction that was so natural that we would finish filming or rehearsing and just be like, “Okay, I’ll see you downstairs in five minutes”. That’s what built this rapport, was the fact that we never left each other’s side. We would even go and cross over into Palm Springs together as a family and just get In-N-Out Burger and lay by the pool for two days. We just absorbed each other to the point where it felt effortless. So then when you come to a day where we have to do an emotional scene, we can really support each other because we know each other so well.
MB: Location is such a crucial element of the series, which benefited you as actors since you shot everything on real locations. How did that impact your process of getting into these characters?
MG: Oh, it was unbelievable. There were moments where I myself was thinking “I don’t know if I’m going to make it through this”. You can see it. It’s like there’s no acting required. We get into these locations and it’s just this real world that the characters are feeling. You walk into a hostel in Mexico City and it’s really there, and you find yourself in the room and you can just be the character. It’s a production nightmare, but they did that because they weren’t going to let that expense prevent us from having such a visual feast for the audience as well.
MB: I’d love to speak a little bit about some of your earlier work. You’ve been in some modern classics like Mulholland Drive and The Limey, but there are also some really excellent under the radar gems in your canon, like Triangle and A Lonely Place to Die. Is there a project from your career that stands out to you as one that maybe got overlooked a little bit that you wish more people would check out?
MG: I think you’ve mentioned the two, honestly. I mean, in Triangle I played five versions of the same woman. That was Liam Hemsworth’s first film! That showed up on some of the lists of critics’ top films, which I loved to see. I don’t mind being part of films like that because when you make a movie you really don’t know the outcome but you’re just doing them to hopefully make a good one. I was in this Australian series called The Slap and they did an American remake of it where they couldn’t find the right actress to play Rosie, my character, so they ended up casting me again and I was one of the first actresses to play the same part twice. I don’t think people really put that link together. I also really loved doing In Treatment, getting to do this concept of two actors in one room doing 45 minutes of talking without ever leaving the sofa. I got that part because I went above and beyond. I did the entire show as a monologue. I worked with Sean Penn last year doing The First, and I’ve just worked with my idol Catherine Deneuve. A career is always strange, there’s always ebbs and flows.
[This interview has been edited for length and clarity]