Nestor Carbonell Interview: ‘Bates Motel’s Final Season and Directing

Bates Motel stars Nestor Carbonell and Vera Farmiga
Nestor Carbonell and Vera Farmiga from ‘Bates Motel’ at the 2016 San Diego Comic Con (Photo © Richard Chavez)

Bates Motel star Nestor Carbonell (‘Sheriff Alex Romero’) says he doesn’t even want to think about the fact he’ll be saying goodbye to his co-stars at this end of this upcoming season. A&E’s critically acclaimed dramatic series, inspired by the classic horror film Psycho, will be coming to an end with the show’s fifth season airing in 2017. And at the 2016 San Diego Comic Con, Carbonell discussed being a part of the cast, directing episodes of the riveting drama, and how he initially approached the role.

Nestor Carbonell Interview:

For a while it actually looked like Sheriff Romero was going to have a nice, calm, romantic life with the woman that he loved, and then…

Nestor Carbonell: “This little jerk ruins it all! It’s awful. It’s interesting, even knowing it was coming we tried to stay in the moment as much as you can. I remember Vera and I talked about, ‘Okay, we can’t play the end. We’ve got to play it light. We’ve got to stay hopeful.’ You know what’s going to happen but you’ve got to stay hopeful through the process and find moments of hope. But the end was so devastating; I didn’t know it was going to hit me as hard as it did and neither did the crew. I could see a number of them emotional, crying. And I know Carlton (Cuse) spoke about it at the panel, he cried when he was writing a specific part of that scene on the plane.

We’ve grown so attached to these characters. Kerry (Ehrin) and Carlton and the writers have written such amazingly rich and messed up characters with incredible misbehavior, and yet somehow as messed up as they are we’ve grown really attached to them. So when someone like that dies, it’s weird. It almost feels real.”

Now that Norma’s dead and only living in Norman’s delusional mind, will you ever get to work with Vera Farmiga anymore?

Nestor Carbonell: “I can’t, unless I start hallucinating, I can’t imagine I do. I know Max (Thieriot) spoke about this at the panel that one of the sad things (was) last year he had a phenomenal bunch of scenes with Vera at the end where they didn’t see eye-to-eye and he left on bad terms with her. But he said outside of those scenes what was even more painful was knowing that he wouldn’t have scenes with her ever again. I certainly felt the same way. I knew going in to it after episode nine I was like, ‘Well, that’s it, except for trying to put a ring on her corpse.’ It’s just not quite the same as interacting with her in real life. So, unfortunately, Freddie hogs her all to himself next season.”

But you’ll be directing again?

Nestor Carbonell: “I will. (Laughing) I will, so I’ll get him back.”

What has that experience been like?

Nestor Carbonell: “It’s been a gift. I never in a million years thought I’d get that opportunity and it really is thanks to Vera. Vera is the one who encouraged me to pursue it. We talked about scenes when we rehearsed scenes in the first season. We talked about blocking. So, she offered that. She said, ‘You really should direct the show.’ I go, ‘I have no experience. It’s crazy.’ She goes, ‘No, you know you could do it.’ ‘I don’t know one thing about camera.’ She said, ‘You really should do it,’ so she encouraged me. I approached Carlton and he was amazing. He said, ‘You know, I could see that.’

I asked if I could trail our producing director, our amazing producing director Tucker Gates. And then he said, ‘If somebody drops out, do you think you could fill in in season three?’ I sort of naively said, ‘Yeah, sure,’ and sure enough somebody did drop out. And so I had to very quickly (learn) but I was thankfully surrounded by obviously an amazing cast and an equally impressive crew. I learned so much during both experiences and I will continue to hopefully learn as much as I can from this third experience.”

Do you know what episode you’re directing?

Nestor Carbonell: ” I do. It’s the fifth episode. I can’t say (anything). I know what’s going to happen, the sort of broad strokes. It’s a good one, for sure. Well, they’re all good but it’s a particularly good one.”

There’s only one more season left. How hard is it going to be to say goodbye to everybody?

Nestor Carbonell: “It’s a great question. I’m trying not to go there. It’s even sad knowing this is the last Comic Con we’ll do together. We enjoy this as time to reconnect, because we don’t get to see each other outside of the show. We just live apart from each other. I live in LA, Freddie (Highmore’s) in England, Vera’s in Vancouver, Max is in Sonoma. Olivia (Cooke) is in Manchester sometime, New York sometime. This is sort of a time we really enjoy to get together and obviously share the time with our fans and talk about the show with you guys, and also catch up personally. So, it’s been sad. It’s sad it’s the last time we get to do it. But we will stay in touch. These are friends that I know will be lifelong friends. So we have many years to look forward to together.”

How did you initially approach the character because he wasn’t in Psycho?

Nestor Carbonell: “Carlton had called me about playing the part. He sent me the first six episodes and I was up all night reading them. I was riveted by it. Even though the character was a man of few words, the way Kerry and Carlton described him was very rich. If you read any of the episodes of Bates… The scene directions typically on a script are really minimized. Most writers use an economy of words when they describe a scene. Well, it’s sort of the opposite on Bates and it was the opposite on Lost, too. The scene descriptions were really detailed and emotional, which is very cinematic. Usually in film you rely more on visual as opposed to words. TV, for many reasons – sometimes time constraints – it’s more exposition. But this was more filmmaking and my character certainly was a man of few words. I loved all the scene descriptions and said, ‘I can play that behavior. I can play the subtext here or not play the subtext. I can go against it.’

So, the one thing I did going into the role, I sort of loosely modeled it on a close friend of mine and my wife’s who we affectionately call Chuckles because he rarely smiles. I talked to Kerry about it. I said, ‘I don’t want to smile much. I want to be very guarded as long as I can be and if I do eventually end up with Norma, I want her to be the one to make him smile. I want to reserve that for her, and for her to open him up. So, I sort of approached the character loosely on that note.”

Watch the full interview with Nestor Carbonell: