Bates Motel has returned for an even creepier season as Norman Bates continues his transformation into the psycho we know in the films. OHSOGRAY participated in a recent press call with star Freddie Highmore and writer Kerry Ehrin to discuss what’s coming up this season.
Bates Motel airs Mondays at 9/8c on A&E.
Norman is, of course, a dark character. Freddie, how do you get into this character?
Freddie Highmore: I don’t consider myself to be very similar to Norman. I think in – I mean the American actor did obviously one thing and I just try and stay as much as possible sort of on set in Vancouver and off stage as well. And then the rest of it is a character I guess now that’s having done two seasons before this one, you’re more aware of and you can easily slip into. And this season was more changing him and making him a bit more mature with the self-awareness that he gained at the end of the second season and so perhaps trickier than giving a look or finding out who Norman was in this third season, it was more about discovering in what ways he would change and grow up.
Kerry, can you describe how you’re creating this character?
Kerry Ehrin: It’s definitely an evolution where Carlton and I began with the character in the first season. It’s a very different person at this point – and a lot of that has to do with self-awareness and also the natural development of teenagers to start seeing their parents as real people as opposed to gods or goddesses in their universe. I think there’s a bit of that in it as well. And also this season very much playing with the game of control between him and Norma and the power struggle which is really delicious.
Now that you’ve been doing the show and the role for three years, how much influence does the original Perkins performance have on your performance?
Freddie Highmore: I guess potentially now they are less comparisons that are made to it because people see the Norman on Bates Motel as being his own entity opposed to necessarily precursor to Anthony Perkins’ version. But at the same time I’ve re-watched Psycho before every season and in some ways tried implementing what Anthony Perkins brought to the role especially as the show continues because I’ve always seen that the end of Bates Motel not necessarily as the end of Psycho. But the end of Norman is a lot closer to Anthony Perkins’ version than the boy that we saw at the start. But certainly we, I don’t think any of us feel tied constrainingly to Psycho or to any performance that came before.
How does the setting of the iconic house and motel influence your performance and the writing?
Freddie Highmore: I think the first time I stepped on the set, it kind of has this weight already behind it when you look up and you see a very similar version of the house and the motel to the one that was in the original. And then over time it seems to become in view with your own memories and events that took place n Bates Motel. Like from the set, for example, leading up, there’s still the blood stain or whatever they used to pretend to be blood from Deputy Shelby’s death in last season. So there are little reminders to us all of how far he’s come.
Kerry Ehrin: There’s definitely a texture to that set that is emotional and you feel it when you’re there. It’s very cool.
How does Norma handle Norman’s blackouts?
Kerry Ehrin: Yes, it’s sort of like any mother. If your child had something wrong with him, especially something you couldn’t control, your instinct would be to literally tie them to your ankle. I mean you would want to be in as close proximity to them at all times as you possibly could be. Then you add to that all the dark undercurrents and suspicions and that a terrifying ordeal for Norma. Yes, her instinct is to keep him as close as possible.
The ending of the season’s premiere was more or less open-ended but very suspicious. Is it safe to assume that Norman killed Annika?
Kerry Ehrin: I feel like on Bates Motel it’s safe to assume anything because there’s a, there’s an aspect to the storytelling that we love which is a lot, there’s a lot up for interpretation and part of the fun of the stories that we do is slowly peeling away layers of truth to them. So I think that it’s safe to assume whatever anybody wants to assume.
Freddie Highmore: It’s safe to assume that Norman will be killing again. That’s what everyone knows. It’s just when does he do it?
Can we expect any other shower or bathroom related scenes this season?
Freddie Highmore: Definitely. There’s definitely another occurrence, really interesting bathroom seasons in many ways.
Kelly Ehrin: It is a different bathroom, though. We got a new bathroom set this year, which is amazing. I know it sounds stupid to say that we’re excited about a bathroom set but it’s such an amazing design and we got to film some really pivotal scenes in it. It’s inside the Bates house. And there’s some huge scenes in it, yes.
Freddie, was there a moment or a scene where you felt like Norman kind of clicked for you and you really just got him as a character?
Freddie Highmore: No, I wouldn’t say that there was one particular scene that has defined him. It’s a really good question….
Kerry Ehrin: Him and Vera from day one. Carlton and I were on the set. I mean literally the first day of filming it felt like they were completely inside embodying the characters in such a true way. It was kind of amazing. So I just wanted to throw that in.
Freddie Highmore: The end of the set – the end of the set on the second season. Sorry, I guess… the scene in the woods and also the scene in the – just right at the end when Norman kind of looks up and looks into the camera. That’s the way to enjoy all those sort of, that’s the kind of two sides of Norman really.
When you were doing the evil face?
Freddie Highmore: The evil face but that build-up of him with mother Norma appearing and helping him to pass the test because I think really you need to do two things in order to know who Norman is because there’s this bifurcating of his personality that continues in the third season even more….
What’s coming up for Dylan and Norman’s relationship?
Freddie Highmore: I guess you see in the first, in the first episode how Dylan starts to get in between Norma and Norman. And I think that previously they have both been, they have both shared this unbreakable bond and no one could come between them. I think for the first time in the third season Dylan starts to breech that a little bit and Norma will start to confide in Dylan things that she can’t say to Norman. So that’s kind of where their – their threesome is headed to some extent. Unless Norman… I guess we’ve seen in the first episode how Norman wants to try and establish, wants to try and date Emma. I guess the reasons behind that become clearer as the season goes on and it is entirely, it is purely out of the feelings that he has for her but a lot of it is also out of feelings for his mother in the way that he feels like he should feel dating Emma. Not only does he on some level want to, he also feels like he’s doing the right thing by asking her out.
Kerry Ehrin: Emma in general has done some growing up as Norman has and she, you know, when Norman first met her she was very much in many was still kind of a little girl, very idealistic. I think lonely. And she, you know, was really grateful to have this friend who was Norman Bates. I think as she grows older and she has to deal with the reality of her health which clarifies a lot of things in life when you have a crisis like that. She starts to mature and part of her story this year is her starting to understand things about Norman that are concerning to her.
What can you tease and not spoil what’s going to happen for the rest of this wonderful and intense season?
Freddie Highmore: I think it’s, just any sort of tease for this coming season from Norman’s perspective, I guess as Kerry sort of answered in her first response, there’s this power, there’s this struggle for power between Norma and Norman in their relationship that will start to become ever more important. And whereas Norman has always been very much the son or the younger person in the relationship before, that dynamic is starting to shift and even in the shots that we see in the first, in the first episodes, it’s much more set up as these two equals are either lying in bed together or on some level equal. But I don’t think that that will, it won’t stay that way. Norman will seek to be, to take more and more of a control in their relationship and become the person who’s more dominant by the end of the season. I think that’s interesting. He’s become slightly more manipulative and capable of toying with Norma and using his knowledge about what he’s capable of to gain things from her.
Kerry Ehrin: He’s starting to understand the kinks in her emotional armor very well.
Freddie Highmore: Yes. And he gets to wearing some of her clothes so that’s another side to him.
It’s very hard to have a likeable anti-hero as your main character. It’s been successfully done with Dexter. How are you doing that with Bates Motel to make sure that people still feel connected with Norman?
Kerry Ehrin: Well first of all you cast Freddie Highmore…
Freddie Highmore: And then you have Kerry writing.
Kerry Ehrin: …who is incredibly likeable. You want to answer that Freddie or do you want me to start?
Freddie Highmore: No, no. I was just saying that you also have likeability.
Kerry Ehrin: Well I mean we, when you, when you write these things, we love the characters and in a way, actors have to love the character they portray in a way because they have to do the best version of it from that person’s point of view and I think the writing is kind of similar. If you’re going to take on a bad guy, you have to get inside of them and feel the world through them and no one wakes up in the morning and says hey, I’m a bad guy. I’m going to go out today and do bad things. Everyone wakes up in the morning and lies to themselves so Norman is no different. And he’s been through a lot. He’s been through a lot that people would have a lot of sympathy for, empathy for. Tough, very violent childhood, home life and, you know, dysfunctional family. No father figure present. A mother who loves him to pieces but is very emotionally needy. He’s been through a lot of terrifying things and he’s very endearing because he always tries to do the best that he can. And I think that we love him for that. He doesn’t want to be a bad guy.
Freddie Highmore: And at the same time, it’s one thing to be a bad guy. He does become, in spite of his best intentions, I think he does become so over the course of, well over the course of the entire show but moving towards that in the third season. And so I feel it was especially important to set Norman up in the first two seasons as someone we supported and whose side we were so as now we can start to, start to make us challenge whether we were right to get on his side and to start supporting him in the first place.
Can you talk a bit about Norma’s brother being back in town?
Kerry Ehrin: An exciting dynamic of the story is that she is a ticking bomb present in that, in that family community and we don’t know what’s going to happen. We don’t know if Norma’s going to see him. We don’t know is going to bond with him. We don’t know if Caleb is full of it and is duplicitous. We have no idea and it could be any of those because of the history we have of him. The thing that’s so moving to me is Dylan and his – and this kid who wanted nothing more than a family and to belong to someone his whole life who’s finally made strides with his mother for the first time ever and now is faced with this thing that is going to betray her but is also, has such a tremendous emotional pull on him which is a father, an alleged father showing up saying I want to claim you. I want, you know, to be in your life. I want you to belong to me. And that’s like Carolyn to Dylan.
Freddie Highmore: There’s one fantastic scene that I guess I should tease in the widest of possible ways but where everyone which is how Kerry said at the start where everyone comes together and that’s going to be this amazing meeting of people.
What was the biggest challenge for both of you this season?
Freddie Highmore: I think as Norman changes over time the, one of the biggest challenges becomes not, and I imagine from a writing perspective Kerry it’s the same, not replaying beats that we’ve already played in the past. Or if you tackle this subject, retelling it or acting it out in a different way.
Kerry Ehrin: In a completely refreshed way, yes.
Freddie Highmore: So that in the third season has been really interesting because of how Norman, because of how Norman changes, scenes in which you have kind of learnt how to resolve in past, you can’t use, you can’t get out of it with the same emotion. And so you know that in certain scenes where Norma, Norman in the past have ended with Norma on the winning side of the argument and so the trick this season for Norman was to find a way in which he can start to change that. Gradually, bit-by-bit in every scene between Norma and Norman, we see this – this small shift, hopefully.
Kerry Ehrin: Honestly, the biggest challenge is not literally killing Vera and Freddie. We ask so much of them. The storylines we do, tend to be very emotionally aparatic while still grounded but that is such a feat to pull off for an actor and they’re truly amazing, the performance that they, that they do every day. We just marvel at them in editing or if we’re on the set. It really is a tall order and we’re incredibly grateful to have such amazing talent to do it. But honestly that is the biggest worry is, you know, are we all going to survive this season physically.
Freddie Highmore: Kerry’s also being slightly modest in the sense that her writing especially comes from such an emotional place and whereas we, acting kind of live on it, live with the characters everyday on set and then find it reasonably easy to detach from that and go home without this feeling to write more or to come up with new ideas. And so I think for Kerry whose writing is so exceptional, it’s more the tireless way with which she goes about it that’s even more impressive and how you manage to also live in this world constantly for such a long period without going mad yourself.
What are some of the significant moments for Norman becoming Norman?
Freddie Highmore: Yes, taxidermy becomes – is every more important as the season goes on and we’ll have to see what he ends up, what he ends up taxidermy-ing by the end. But I don’t know, it’s the trick I think, as Kerry’s spoken about in the past, is in not making those moments that are present in Psycho seem over or really noticeable when you’re watching it. And of course part of the joy like when we see Norman as Norma is knowing oh, we know that this is also, has an extra creepy value because it will reappear in Psycho the film. But at the same time it should never be sort of gratuitous or simply put in, in order to cause that, to cause that little wink to the audience and so I think what Kerry sort of balances so well is never making those sort of moments in Norman’s progression seem out of place within our show but at the same time allowing them to have the power that comes from referencing Psycho.
What did you make of the, “you silly woman” line in the premiere?
Freddie Highmore: Oh, I love that line. These are the lines that I think I enjoy, well I guess they’re all different but one of the ones I especially enjoy are Norman’s moments when he’s just reading them. You get the same creepy, creepiness but also this like excitement of being able to play these borderline scenes. And so there were various takes of move over you silly woman with various levels of intensity and suggestiveness. So it was more or less of finding the right one.
Kerry Ehrin: Sometimes Carlton and I have so much fun writing things for Norman because if you just imagine for a moment that he’s, he has a quality like Cary Grant which actually Freddie does so you can kind of throw in these very incongruous kind of romantic comedy that’s the fact that he’d doing it with him mom is unusual but there’s still great fun. And Carlton and I actually, we really enjoy those.
So can you talk a bit about how the relationship between Annika and Norman is going to evolve?
Freddie Highmore: Yes, well I guess it remains to be seen just how far their relationship has, whether it evolves sort of definitively and conclusively already or not. So I guess we’ll have to wait and see in that respect. But yes, it is interesting that Norman’s action of looking at Annika through the window isn’t necessarily a trait unique to a serial killer. It wasn’t that he sought her out or aimed to do it. He merely kind of stumbled upon the open window and peered in and was slightly transfixed. And I guess we slightly have to ask ourselves what would have happened had Norma not, had Norma not come down and caught him in the act, as it were. Would Norman had just sort of realized that he was, he was being slightly pervy and gone upstairs back to the house or would he have gone around and tried to break into her motel room.
Can you preview what to expect from some of the new characters this season?
Kerry Ehrin: Well one of the really interesting things in structuring this show that Carlton and I have faced since day 1 is weaving together two worlds that don’t necessarily, you wouldn’t think go together. And the, you know, part of that is these dark secrets that exist in White Pine Bay and are told through various peculiar characters that emerge from the society? This year we have, we have some amazing actors, Ryan Hurst plays such a cool character who’s this kind of bent mountain man who, he does such a brilliant performance. You don’t quite know, he feels threatening but at the same time he seems incredibly, you (die) at certain times and then Dylan does not know what to make of him but he definitely brings some mystery and trouble with him. Then another really wonderful character is played by Kevin Rahm and this is a very prominent head of a very exclusive, elite hunting club. Very old school high buy-in and he’s just such a great antagonist. He’s a really fun character. He is a bad buy that really likes himself, that enjoys his life and his senses and his body and dresses great. And Kevin Rahm just is so amusing in this role and so great. Then it also takes a darker turn because he’s also someone from, who grew up with Alex Romero and the storyline reveals a lot about their own history growing up together but also Alex Romero’s history and he’s this great stoic character who we know nothing about. So we get to peel back some layers and look inside, which is really fascinating.
Freddie Highmore: We need to say though, you called him Alex Romero because I don’t think any of us have really referred to him as that on set. Nestor’s like, he’s like Sheriff Romero or we just call him the Sheriff especially in the fifth episode of the season (that Nestor) directed for the first time…amazing. And so, it certainly amuses us just to see him in his sheriff’s outfit, directing away. He was very much the Sherriff/director. And then the other relationship I think to tease in this season is the one between Norman and his fictional version of his mother that he conjures up this person’s moments and entices him and repels him various times into or from doing things. That’s a really interesting dynamic, the way that Norman not only, I guess Norman starts to struggle with knowing whether he is talking and whether he’s interacting with this fictional version of his mother or the reality.
Norman’s relationship with his mother was never shown in the films, so did you feel like you had more leeway to be creative?
Kerry Ehrin: Yes, Carlton and I from the very beginning wanted to tell a story about Norman’s mom that was different than what you hear in the movie because what you hear in the movie is from Norman when he’s completely gone crazy. People carry many different versions of their parents inside of them from different memories and different times and that when you went through with them. We definitely wanted to broaden out the scope of who this woman was and then the same thing with Norman. He’s really in many ways such an endearing person and the concept that someone who had a good heart was trapped in this situation and in this body and in this circumstance was so compelling and, you know, just gave, it opens up so much storytelling that we were always excited about and continue to be excited about.
Freddie, how hard it is to play the violent scenes?
Freddie Highmore: I guess the incredibly violent start is always – not that there is much of that on Bates Motel is more suggested into that sort of darkness as opposed to overt showings of it. But I guess, I guess with the, with the sort of violent fight scenes, it’s always so kind of planned out in advance that there won’t be any sort of problems or issues along the way. But I think, I think the important is maintaining those moments where there’s a lack of conclusion to the darkness, where there’s lots of layers and hints to it as opposed to it being merely an incredibly dark look or a very violent attack. I think it’s more interesting to always approach those scenes with a kind of multitude of emotions because people are never really, unless, you know, Norman sort of becomes filled with this all-consuming rage, a lot of the time there are, it’s a multi-layered thing.