Justine Seymour on Outfitting the Fleeing Foxes of “The Mosquito Coast”
Clothing isn’t a primary concern for The Mosquito Coast’s misfit Fox family. Broke patriarch Allie (Justin Theroux) invents unsuccessful machines to save the world while scraping by as a handyman/asparagus farmer. His suffering, formerly wealthy wife, Margot (Melissa George), is his primary enabler. Their teenage kids, Dina (Logan Polish) and Charlie (Gabriel Bateman) tolerate their unorthodox home life to varying degrees. In Stockton, where the Foxes live mostly off the grid, the household seems about 15 years behind the times, fashion-wise. “I thought well, they’re getting everything from secondhand places or pre-loved, so that’s what I did,” says Justine Seymour (Unorthodox, Messiah), costume designer for the new Apple TV series. “Everything I got for the opening scenes was very worn down, had been washed 1000 times, and looked like it was secondhand, which it was.”
Allie leads his family according to deeply anti-consumerist dictates, and whether you find his blinkered commitment to his values and his family’s safety unsympathetic or admirable, “it’s all about him, his family, and his genius brain,” Seymour says. The designer kept his wardrobe appropriately simple, dressing Theroux in block colors and a pair of work boots the actor found himself. “Justin is very involved in how he is presented as a character—he’s a very hands-on actor.” The work boots take on new meaning when government agents catch up with Allie’s efforts, forcing the Foxes to flee their Stockton. Living off the grid in California, then trudging through desert borderlands, and finally landing at the fading grandeur of a mysterious hacienda in Mexico, the Foxes are out of place wherever they are, and they look it.
For Seymour, comfort on the part of the actors strongly factored into her costuming decisions. “They really did walk across that desert. It’s scripted three days but I think we were out there for well over a week, and all they did was walk and walk,” she says. Melissa George picked out the higher rise jeans Margot wears across the desert from a selection Seymour presented, while Polish did the same for Margot, cutting hers into shorts. “I wasn’t too concerned about whether the higher waist was from today or the mid-80s and early 90s. I could play with that a bit, and I had to,” Seymour explains. “There has to be a suspension of disbelief when you have to buy six of everything.” Rather than many changes of clothes, dressing a family on their run as well as their helper, Chuy (Scotty Tovar) meant iterating the same episode-spanning outfits according to the characters’ physical journey. “We aged them according to how they looked when they first left the house, the first time we see them in the desert, and then it progressively gets dirtier, dustier, and grimier. That became a job in itself, tracking when they wear what,” says Seymour.
Change arrives in many forms when the group lands at a hacienda and safety within its walls is tinged with a sense of hostility. Their hostess, Lucrezia (Ofelia Medina) loans them clothing, presumably left behind by others who’ve taken shelter within the estate’s grand walls. Dina winds up in a Backstreet Boys t-shirt, which actress Polish “really thought was great a character piece for her. She pretty much stayed in that through the end of the season,” Seymour points out. The situation at the hacienda also gave the designer the chance to work in a reference to 1986’s Mosquito Coast, with Harrison Ford in the role of Allie. In a nod to Gary Jones, the costume designer who dressed Ford in an open yellow Hawaiian shirt that came to be closely associated with the film, Seymour discussed working in the same style with Theroux, who loved the idea.
Chronologically, the shirt makes sense—the series is a prequel to the events of the 1986 film and its source material, Paul Theroux’s novel (Justin is the writer’s nephew). As such, we’re never totally certain of the exact extent of Allie’s anti-consumerist, anti-government machinations. We just know he and his family look like fish out of water in cast-off finery provided for them by Lucrezia, as they get increasingly desperate to reach real safety with an entity known as Calaca. But the award for best-dressed on this journey? That goes to Lucrezia herself, a mysterious and violent grande dame who may or may not post a worse threat to Allie than the U.S. government. “It made sense for her to be much more elegant and scary through her poise and her beauty,” says Seymour of her costuming choices for the character, but “even though I tried to make it look like she was working, she turned it into a crazy outfit just the way she presents herself, holds her body.” Armed with rather than dependent on a silver-topped walking stick, Lucrezia is a stately foil to the raggedy Foxes—and she’s so put together in her machinations, you almost want to root for her, too.
Featured image: Justin Theroux, Melissa George and Logan Polish in “The Mosquito Coast,” now streaming on Apple TV+.