In the two versions of “The Mosquito Coast” that came before the Apple TV Plus drama (the 1981 novel and the 1986 film adaptation), the character of Allie Fox’s wife and mother to his children was just that and that alone: a wife and mother. But the series, which is being treated as a prequel to the events in the novel, rather than a straight adaptation, puts her in the driver’s seat.
For one thing, the character (portrayed by Melissa George) now has a name (Margot). More notably, though, she exhibits real agency in her relationship with Allie (Justin Theroux), deciding just how far she will go to keep her kids safe.
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“She’s the reason they’re on the run. She’s done something so major,” George says.
While there are hints of this sprinkled throughout the first few episodes, Margot’s first real power move comes in the fourth episode, directed by Natalia Beristáin. In it, her family has fled to Mexico and her son is being held hostage. During a nine-page scene that was filmed during what Beristáin calls a “major Olympic acting day” of 10 to 12 hours, Margot calmly but firmly takes control of the situation, proving she has been out-thinking everyone, especially her supposedly “genius” husband, this entire time.
“What I wanted to show was she’s a loving mother, but also this woman can do absolutely everything and what you see is not necessarily all you get,” George says.
But, she notes, “when you’re doing such a big scene like that and nobody’s really talking but you, it’s hard. The worst thing you want to do is show too much. It’s so tight, it’s so small, it’s so driven by thoughts.”
Naturally, this meant leaning on her director. “I was looking for her approval on every take — looking for her to approve certain facial expressions to see if they were the right thing,” George says. “Sometimes when you feel something so deeply, the camera photographs thought, so you’re hoping what you’re thinking the camera sees, but you have to look to your director to say, ‘Did you notice…?’ So, the communication becomes, ‘I’m giving you this, if you don’t see it, let’s come in closer.’”
This episode was Beristáin’s first one for the show, but she says she and George instantly bonded and developed a rapport “over the fact that we’re both single moms.” While the character of Margot is not a single mother, “I do believe she has to act like that, in a way, because Allie is not really that reliable,” she continues.
They began rehearsals for this scene early, while George was in production on a previous episode, to ensure they were on the right path. Beristáin says she thought of Margot as kintsugi, the Japanese art of filling the cracks of broken pottery with gold lacquer. “That was the image for Margot there,” she explains. “There’s this beautiful base that just sits there and everybody takes [her] for granted, but this is the time the cracks open and everybody sees what she is. Now she’s going to take complete control of the scene and be the one that makes everything happen and makes everyone able to escape this horrible situation.”
And in doing so, Margot had to be “really powerful, but contained. I didn’t want to go for the obvious strong energy [of] shouting,” Beristáin says. “It was to open the door to what is coming without revealing too much.”
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