The Australian actress stars on the new Apple TV+ show, which debuts on April 30.
Melissa George is an Australian actress with credits all over American television and movies over the course of the past 20 years. She's been in movies like "Dark City," "The Limey," "Mulholland Drive" and the 2005 "The Amityville Horror," and such TV series as Alias, Grey's Anatomy, The Good Wife, and In Treatment.
George's latest role is on The Mosquito Coast, a drama series that debuts on Apple TV+ on April 30. Based on the 1981 novel of the same name by Paul Theroux, the TV adaptation stars George and actor Justin Theroux, who is the novelist's nephew.
AppleInsider spoke with Melissa George in early April about the new show, how she likes working with Apple, her reunion with her "Mulholland Drive" costar Theroux, and her long-ago past as a national rollerskating champion in Australia. She also reveals that she used an iPhone to film the fateful casting test that got her the role.
AI: First of all, tell me a little bit about your character on the show, Margot.
Melissa George: Margot Fox- she was a professor, came from a very wealthy family, and ten years into the future you find out in the first episode that she's in hiding, and hadn't seen her family. She's a mother of two teenaged kids, married to a very zealous [man], an optimistic man who's promising the family that if we listen to him he's going to find us a new life.
Over the course of time, we know that she's hiding something very big, a big secret, and she's just trying to keep the family together while trying not to show certain cracks in her facade, I would say about actually who she is and why this family is on the run.
AI: So what was the process like in being cast in this project? Talk me through that a little bit.
MG: Well, I read the script a long, long time ago, and I just remember I read it like okay, thanks so much for this amazing script. Now they're going to play the name game and they're gonna make offers, and I'm going to have to leap through hell, and I'm not gonna be Margot, and it's just gonna be so bad, so I decided not to play. I'm not gonna play this game, I'm not gonna read, I'm not gonna do it anymore. I love this woman so much, I know I could be Margot.
So I just kind of kept it next to my bedside. And week by week by week over the course of many many months, I wasn't calling in to see who's playing Margot, and my agent was like "well, you could be if you would do a casting." And I said "I'm not strong enough to not get this part. If I don't get this part I'm not gonna make it, to be super-dramatic.
So I actually got a new agent, and my new agent said "Melissa, I just got a call from Vickie Thomas, the casting [director] and Justin Theroux, he said nobody's seen your casting, and you've had the script for four months. Is that true? So I said, "Oh god, it's gonna have to happen now, I'm gonna have to do the casting," and Justin's calling and sending me a text message. And so I put my kids to sleep, I set up my iPhone, and I did three scenes. The first scene was the scene on the phone with my parents in episode one. So I did one take of that, I did one take of when they're escaping, and I did another take of another scene, and I just hung up the phone, and I sent it off.
Then 24 hours later, my lawyer of 23 years- and I haven't been working in many years because I've had my sons — goes "Oh my God, you're Margot." So for four months, I sat on the script, just thinking about it so much — like how could I be here, what would I do differently — and I just did this maternal, soft, grounded woman who could turn on a dime if she has to.
And Justin, we did "Mulholland Drive" together 20 years ago, he was the lead of "Mulholland Drive" for David Lynch, and I played "this is the girl," the iconic line where I'm casting for him in the movie 20 years ago, and I played Camilla Rhodes, and he utters the line, looking and me. And 20 years later, we're married and were in the desert.
AI: I was going to ask about "Mulholland Drive." You had not worked together since then, is that correct?
MG: No. I saw him in New York a few times, it was just lovely. And he must have just thought something, something must have stayed in his mind because he still had my number, I'd get messages from him. He said, "please please show us your Margot. Show me your Margot."
AI: I guess the scene [in "Mulholland Drive"] with The Cowboy, he's telling him to cast you, right?
MG: [Laughs] Exactly.
AI: So walk me a little bit through the production. I believe it started filming before the pandemic, and there were some fits and starts. What was it like as an actor, to have to start and stop like that?
MG: Well listen, like the Foxes, you've gotta run with it. You've just gotta go with the flow and take the good with the bad. It was tough. It was tougher for the producers and the crew to figure out where we're gonna go next. Of course for us too, we want to know where we're going.
But it also helped the characters that we didn't know what we were doing from day to day. The location we were going to film in turned green overnight because of a big storm and the desert didn't look like it was a desert anymore, and so we had to move location. So really it was like we were the Foxes, the whole crew was living this journey, and each set was exactly the way the Foxes were living. The market in Mexico City, we filmed in the market in Mexico City.
AI: Was it entirely filmed in Mexico, or was it other places too?
MG: All Mexico [except] at the beginning when we're in the country house, it's outside of Los Angeles, which doubled as our home away from home where we were in hiding for nine years. But then we sort of move on.
AI: What was it like working on an Apple show? Was there any difference, from most of the other TV shows you've worked on? Was there something unique about it being Apple?
MG: Oh, such an honor, to be really really frank. I never thought in my wildest dreams that I could do a show with the technology of a platform that Apple had that could be screened in over 150 countries in a night. That for me was amazing. Also, they're very free. They give us the directive and freedom to create, there's no ripping up scripts or pages. We weren't governed by advertising or we can't say this or we can't do that. It was like, this is our platform, and we can create the show we want to create, and I got to be part of that.
I mean, I've done every show for everybody. In 20 years, I've been on network shows, and it was my first big streaming show. And it was lovely also not to do a pilot, and then see if it's good, and then test it, and then if somebody doesn't like it we're gonna recast you. The thought process with Apple from the beginning was 'we're gonna cast correctly, we're gonna run with it for the entire season, and we're gonna commit.' And that sense of commitment was the big turning point for me, to make the difference between shooting The Mosquito Coast and something else.
I've been on shows where after they've seen the dailies they didn't like it. This was not the case- the scripts were so well-thought-out, from the beginning, that we just went on the journey and they let us.
AI: Is this 100 percent a limited series, or is there a chance there could be more of it?
MG: Ah, that's Apple's decision, not mine.
AI: How familiar were you with either the novel, or the previous "Mosquito Coast" movie?
MG: When I read the script I had no idea there was a film or a book. I thought "what a great title, the Mosquito Coast- where is that? Oh, it's down by Nicaragua, are lots of mosquitos? Oh, why are these families on the run? This is so great." And then, as I was manifesting Margot over the months before I got the part and she became mine, I realized that when I was talking to people at dinners in Paris, I heard "oh, I love that book." Then I obviously realized there was a book and a film.
And then I looked at the last name of the author of the book, and then I heard that Justin was playing Allie, and I was like "what a coincidence." Because it wasn't like Paul had called and said Justin was gonna be playing Allie. It wasn't like that at all. Justin had to fight for [the part] too.
I still have not read the book, or seen the film. There was one reason and one reason only- and that was that [Neil Cross], the writer, created a prequel to the book. So to me, I could never be Helen Mirren [who played Margot in the 1986 film], even though it would be a dream, and I could never re-create something that hadn't actually been written yet. So I would like to just start from scratch, so that's what I did. But one day I will, when I feel like Margot's in the bag and I really have her.
AI: Paul Theroux is Justin's uncle, is that correct?
MG: Can you believe that? What a family. That's a family I'd want to have a Christmas day with.
AI: So what do you have planned next? Do you have another project you're working on now?
MG: I just did a film with Catherine Deneuve, my idol, in France. I've just done a fully French film called "Canines" with Pauline Chalamet, I am reading scripts but I'm not so we just finished filming Season 1 [of The Mosquito Coast] so I'm just digesting I would say. And I think the next thing I do will have a lot to keep up with, because The Mosquito Coast was such a great shoot.
AI: So I understand you were once a national rollerskating champion [in Australia.] I saw the Today Show clip of you coming out in rollerskates. How did that inform your acting career? Was that something that taught you things as an actor?
MG: I would say it helped me a lot. I'm focused. I can fall from a high depth and be totally fine- that's more an analogy, not so much in reality. I always know when I'm working with an athlete, because they know how to make things better and keep going and make each take even more and not stop, and that's from being an athlete.
I have an adventurous spirit, I would say, from traveling the world since I was five as a rollerskating champion. I think it's just more discipline. I have to be severely, severely disciplined as a young, young, young girl, from five years ago, to become an actress at the age of 16. I was in the rink before and after school, for my entire life. So I was able to compartmentalize my head to what's important, and that's acting, and being on a set, and going back to your personal life and then back to set and then back to your personal life. I think I'm still working after all these years because I was an athlete.