Interview: Melissa George gets maternal in ‘The Mosquito Coast’
Melissa George is an Australian actress that initially made a name for herself by being a national rollerskating champion before she turned to acting, beginning her career on the Australian soap opera Home and Away from 1993-19966. She moved to the United States after and got roles in movies such as The Limey (1999) and Mulholland Drive (2001). Later, she could be found in such dramas such as The Good Wife and Grey’s Anatomy in recurring roles. She even earned a Golden Globe nomination for her role in HBO’s In Treatment. Currently, George can be found starring opposite Justin Theroux in Apple+’s The Mosquito Coast, a series that follows a family’s flee to Mexico.
George sat down with AwardsWatch to discuss the first season of the show, how she got involved in the series and the maternal part of her character that felt familiar.
Tyler Doster: How did you get involved with the show?
Melissa George: I received the script, just typed script in my inbox. I saw it was called Mosquito Coast and I was like, “Oh, that sounds interesting.” I read it. I fell in love with it so much. I read the script and I was like, “Wow this is great.” And then I was talking to some friends and they’re like, “Oh, it’s a book,” I thought, “Oh, okay.” And then they said that there was a show and I was like “What?” I was like, “Oh, okay.” I remember I loved it so much, the script that I left it next to my bedside this whole month and I had a new agent and she said, “They keep calling for months and saying, ‘You haven’t done your casting for Mosquito Coast.'” And I said, “I can’t cast for it because I love it too much. And if I don’t win it, I’m not going to make it.” I won’t be an actress anymore. I was so in love with the part and my agent said, “Well, you have to read for it because otherwise you have no chance at all.” And Justin [Theroux] called and said, “Where’s Melissa’s casting?” And that’s when I said, “Okay, I’ll do it fast.” I did three scenes and 24 hours later, I got a call from Rupert [Wyatt] and Neil [Cross] the writer, saying, “She’s got it. But is she fully aware what this is going to do physically and mentally and how hard this journey is going to be? And is she ready for it?” And I said, “I’ll do it.” And then in a week’s time I was on set. I was on set, it was unbelievable. It just happened like that but for months just meditating on it so that by the time I did the casting it just fell… It’s like I got lucky, I got lucky.
TD: Wow. That sounds very interesting. So what attracted you when you read the script? What attracted you to the role of Margot?
MG: To me, it’s super simple. When I read a script I see one or two scenes that when I read it, if I’m not scared, meaning, oh my God, when the date comes I have to shoot that scene, I want to be so nervous because it’s so good and so well written that I want to not leave my trailer kind of feeling. And if I feel that, in one or two scenes in a script, I will take the job. Or it would be my favorite script and that’s what happened to me. There was a fun, cool scene that I loved. There was the fact that it was a fugitive family on the run, and then they throw it to Apple and I’m like, “Oh wow. For the first time, your work can be seen immediately throughout the world instead of waiting for it to roll out.” So there was a lot of reasons, but for me, it was just a few scenes that I knew that acting-wise would make me fall in love with acting all over again.
TD: So a little bit of fear brings you to the table.
MG: Fear, yes, but I was fearful anyway because I wouldn’t read for it. So I knew that I already loved it that much, as you know, I wasn’t going to read for it and that’s where it stands. Sometimes you read scripts and the attraction might be the location that you’re shooting in, but for me, I hadn’t worked in years because I’ve been raising my son and I just felt like if I’m going back to work, it has to be something that makes me just fearful that I’m not going to succeed in that part you know? And that means I’m going to work extra hard.
TD: After you were cast and you heard about the book, did you end up reading the book?
MG: No, because I had then heard it was a prequel to the book and Margot’s role was so different to the role of mother that I thought if I’m going to read it and get caught in the head space of somebody that really is being recreated, especially for this particular… To make Margot more of a protagonist and an equal part to [her husband] Allie, I thought, “I’m not going to,” but I know that when I’m not reading books to my son, I’m going to sit down and read it. But I can only read or rewatch performance if somebody has already done it before, once I feel like she’s in the bag. I feel like she’s mine, she’s close to me, I really have a handle on this because otherwise it sways you from the role and the script.
TD: I was going to ask you because this is a very intense show. How are the vibes on the set? Do you guys try to keep it serious or is it more lighthearted when the cameras aren’t rolling?
MG: We had such a chemistry, between the children and Justin and I, that I even remember, it was like Logan, we would sit there just holding hands or if I finished work, I would leave set and I would say to her, “So 10 minutes we’ll see you downstairs for dinner?” It was so fun and warm and comfortable and I’ve lived with these four people my whole life, these three people, that it was a joyous period. One was falling asleep in the sand, in the desert, which we all were, we were destroyed. We would laugh at each other, we’d take videos. It was a very happy set because the characters were going through such a mess.
TD: You mentioned the sand of the desert, speaking of that, you guys filmed a lot in Mexico, right? How was that?
MG: I mean, it was an experience. We changed the pace, we did an episode in the sands but there was a rainfall and it turned green. So you couldn’t be fighting for your life in a desert that’s green all of a sudden. So we had to change locations at the last minute. So, there was a structured up spot, but production actually skid the roll because the Foxes were disrupted too, but all these kind of last minute changes really made us feel the journey that these characters were going through. So we were in Mexicali and then we moved to Puebla, which was incredible. I think it was a little bit of a gift from the producers to say sorry for the month in the desert, we had so much fun and we got the shoot in there and just the food and the people and the experience. Look we really lived the life in Mexico and then Mexico city was unbelievable, what a great city. I mean, it was unbelievable, so much, just so great.
TD: I was gonna ask you, it was in episode three, Margot’s tells Allie that “a decent guy put in a dangerous situation, becomes a dangerous guy,” which he’s talking about Chuy. How is it as an actor to work with such good dialogue like that?
MG: That’s exactly what it is. You wake up in the morning, you get dialogue like that, your day is going to be joyous. Absolutely joyous. Every line has a metaphor and every line made you realize things about your own life. So it was like a spiritual journey. But yeah, that line is incredible, but Neil is full of those fantastic lines. My favorite thing about Neil is the emails he sends me the night before I’m about to shoot about Margot. They’re unbelievable. They’re written like the most in depth that if I could just read those email prints before I go to set, my job is done. So inspiring and that’s to get an idea as to where she’d gone, where she’s going and.
TD: Did being a mother yourself, did that help with the maternal part of Margot? Did that resonate with you?
Melissa George: Oh yeah. I know what it’s like to do whatever it takes to feed your kids, to give you the… When you’re a mother, the minute you birth your children, you become somebody else and you become so protective. So protective. I was always thinking of that documentary that is recently on air, on Apple, about the lioness and her cubs and it’s filmed at night and you can see that her cubs are in danger, but she abandons them for two days because she has to go get food. And I always think of, when I watched that, like, “Oh, that’s Margot.” She knows she has to go left or right and she has to decide left is more dangerous or going right is more dangerous. And she always puts her children at risk and herself in order to ultimately get what the family needs. And that’s called survival. Everyone in this world has gone through things and you’re constantly coming up against problems that you have to solve and you hope that the way you turn is the right way. But for Margot, it was really about protecting her… But I know a lot of where Margot’s going, so it’s hard not to give it away, but there’s a moment there where it’s also protecting herself, yeah.
TD: Okay. So for my last question, I was just going to ask you, did you learn anything about Margot over the course of the shoot that you hadn’t already gotten just from reading the script?
MG: Oh, every single episode, I was learning things about Margot. I was shocked to see that she wanted to abandon her husband and take her kids back home, where the home is. But I knew that she’d been brainwashed and she goes between being brainwashed and the thrill of getting off on Allie’s crazy ideas. But is that because of Allie or is that because of Margot? But which one is the chicken or the egg? Which one started this mess? And that will be revealed later.
TD: Okay. Well, thank you so much for your time today, Melissa. I just wanted to thank you for time. Congrats on the show. It’s wonderful. It’s a super intense show. I really enjoyed it.
MG: I’m so glad you loved it. Thank you very much.
Season one of The Mosquito Coast is available to stream on Apple TV+. Melissa George is Emmy eligible for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series.