'Bates Motel' cast talks breathing new life into Norman Bates

The return of Norman Bates is just around the corner.

Vera Farmiga

With the new prequel series "Bates Motel" set to premiere on Monday, the cast and showrunners spoke with IGN about what viewers can expect from the modernized tale of a boy and his best friend.

While the A&E series purports to be a reimagining of the character Alfred Hitchcock made famous, placing the Bates family in a modern day setting and with a far more expanded universe, star Freddie Highmore stated that fans of the original can expect to see nods to the classic thriller. "[The new series] was definitely a break from the original 'Psycho'," Highmore says. "And the psycho that we see in Anthony Perkins' version is so many years down the line that I felt that it would be unwise to replicate that from the beginning, because it’s many, many years to go before he makes it there. But yeah, I think we did try to have little hints of subtle things for people who are fans of the Hitchcock and original version and recognize that this is where he might have gotten his little tick that you then see in Psycho, small things like that. But not a character-based, or an attempt to copy or replicate his performance in any way. You know, it’s not completely detached from the past. Of course the house is there. The house is interesting because it has that kind of timeless quality to the contemporary piece, and everything in the house has that sort of weird sense of being away from a certain reality or the reality that they’re outside in the wider world that they interact with is very different from their relationship, just the two of them, in their house. I think that kind of highlights their closeness and legitimacy."

The most intriguing challenge for showrunner Carlton Cuse and writer Kerry Ehrin ("Friday Night Lights") is balancing the relationship between young Norman and his mother Norma. The writers insist that the series will refrain from painting the mother/son relationship as abusive and black-and-white.
"We just sort of re-imagined the relationship the way we wanted it to be," Cuse said of the series concept. "I think they’re bucking expectations, since you don’t really know that Norma would be this shrill, shrieking, horrible person who sort of berates Norman and drives him crazy. But instead we thought, ‘Well, what if we told a story about these two people who just love each other very much, and maybe her smothering affection was kind of pathological as opposed to her berating him?’ That was a much more interesting way to go. We just thought that weird, psychosexual dynamic between these two characters was just really compelling, as writers. The idea of Norman -- who probably suffers from dissociative personality disorder -- that can really be driven by this weird sexual framework in his own brain."

Of course, the cast and crew are aware that viewers will come into the series with preconceived notions about the future serial killer's upbringing. "You always want to blame the mother," Vera Farmiga said of her character. "You look at anything, they’ll point fingers at the mother, and it’s like there’s a billion other influences in a kid’s life, as well as brain chemistry, innate personality and biomedical conditions. There are so many predispositions about her influence on him -- and she’s a tremendous influence on him -- but the way I’m tackling it is just, to me, it’s a poetic take on a mother’s love. You know, the victories and defeats of it."

She continued, noting that her character is simply one of many single mothers struggling to cope under difficult circumstance. "She comes with monumental baggage. And she’s navigating through that. As you will find out, she herself has a pretty big history. But she’s resilient and positive. She tries to stay positive and strong and kind of tries to do things the way she really thinks is genuinely the right way to do them."

Still, when it comes to the nature vs nurture and the psychological development of the protagonist's disturbed outlook, the series will lean more toward the mother/son bond for the primary influences on Norman's future fractured personality. "I think that it’s probably more nurture," Highmore contends. "Which we see stems from that relationship with Norma. If he had been brought up differently... And there are moments that we see in the show where he breaks loose and you think, 'You could have been someone different, Norman.' That’s kind of nice because you have this dramatic variety that’s there throughout the whole of the plot, because you know he’s going to end up as a killer. You think, 'No, you don’t have to! Can’t you see that you’re having a great time with these people? Let go of your mom.' You know that it can’t happen, but you still hope that it does."

Farmiga said, "Haven’t we all been damaged by our parents in some way? And haven’t we damaged them in return? But you know what? I think she’s actually a great mother. Yes, overbearing a lot of the time, but she wants to be a great mother, and that to me is what’s so interesting about the character. Yeah, she doesn’t do it right. Yeah, she fails miserably. Yeah, she’s ruled by her own passions and eccentricities and desires. I think Dillon [her older son in the series] for her is evidence that she failed miserably the first time, and she’s going to do everything that she can to kind of make up for it the second time."

Don't miss the premiere of "Bates Motel" this Monday, March 18th on A&E!

- Bates Motel
- Freddie Highmore
- Vera Farmiga
- Carlton Cuse
- A&E

Written by: kyleiam
Mar 14th, 2013, 8:04 am

Images courtesy of A&E

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