Vera Farmiga and Kerry Ehrin Interview:
Do your impressions of the original film affect the course of the show now? Do you go back to Psycho or is Bates Motel its own entity?
Kerry Ehrin: “Yes, I mean I think that from the very beginning Carlton [Cuse] and I wanted to honor the movie, but not be beholden to it. So I think at this point the world of Bates Motel has definitely become its own organic world. So while we’re still conscious of the film and obviously there’s certain tentpoles, let’s say, that the film suggests, it kind of has become its own beast at this point. Yes.”
Vera, do you know a lot of the storyline ahead of time or do you prefer to be surprised when it’s revealed?
Vera Farmiga: “You know, I’m still figuring what it is that is part of my process. You know, I’ve never had the luxury of a second season. I’ve done three series before and they all never had the opportunity to go beyond 13 episodes in the first season, so I know first season I did feel a little disabled. Not that I couldn’t act because I remember Carlton asking me, ‘Do you want some more clues?’ and I wanted to sort of take it an episode at a time and not get ahead of myself. […]Now in hindsight, especially having sort of a big bomb land in the last episode, for me it was impossible to dig as deep initially with the root of this new character.
It was like I felt like Norman Bates was this like huge voluptuous shrub that I just had to trust in this kind of a shallow root system. And sometimes I felt like I was like showing up to fix the toilet and my toolbox has been like packed by the wife. Do you know what I mean? That’s why I just reveled in the opportunity of a second season. You know, television is a much slower process to discovering that background history, the personality, the psychology, the characters goals. And there was so many unknowns.
And also it’s like the cast is so much closer. There’s an intimacy. There’s a level of sportsmanship now that we can throw harder jabs at each other. It’s the deeper level of trust that has been [developed]. It’s been established between us and Kerry and Carlton and between the actors.
It’s interesting developing a character over TV time. But that’s my own fault because at the same time I wanted to pace myself with the information that was coming at me. But I think second season I did ask for more clues. I wanted to have the trajectory of the second season. I wanted to have more answers at the start, which I was provided. So I think you’re in for a better second season.”
Vera, did you pick up any mothering tips from Norma?
Vera Farmiga: “I admire her tenacious love for her child. She goes to extreme lengths to give her child the life that she imagines for him, and that is really valiant to me. I admire her generous heart. She’s really disarmingly honest. These are amazing qualities that she possesses. Yes, there is the flip side of Norma Bates is that her hardware is working [but] her software is a bit faulty. She doesn’t like wrap Norman in bubble wrap all the time.
This is a story after all about family dysfunction and what I have to work so hard to get an audience to identify with her is – and to defend her and to admire her even – for me the name of the game is to present to you a woman who lives every day in the trenches of maternity and also in the trenches of her own stubbornness and denial. So maybe those negative qualities influence me to be a better parent, I guess. Kind of like the two demons, which is denial and stubbornness for Norma, I suppose sort of keep me in check.”
Kerry, do you feel compassion for Norma?
Kerry Ehrin: “I think Norma is just the mother of all mothers. I mean to me it’s like she’s in an extreme situation but every mother I’ve ever known, they just have this passion for making everything okay for their kid. For like stuffing the shit that doesn’t work out under the rug and stomping on it, and just constantly moving forward and making life as pretty and beautiful and fun for their kids as they can. It’s like we can’t help it. It’s like what mothers do, and it’s something so beautiful. That’s what Norma means to me. I mean that’s why I think she’s beautiful.
It’s like she’s screwed up and dysfunctional. Her own limitations that have been sort of laid on her by her life, her early life that was none of her own doing. And within that she’s absolutely just valiantly doing the best that she f**king can. You have to love that. And that, to me, is being a mother.”
Vera, what is attracting you to these scarier, darker projects?
Very Farmiga: “Oh my God, you know, it’s like my own beautiful internal logic about why I choose to participate. Or, I think actually the projects choose us. But why like there’s this magnetism oftentimes with dark subject matters is like, I don’t know. It’s like quantum physics, really. I think we’re called upon like some thermal – I’d like to think of this – like called upon like some simple thermal sources. And actually to be honest with you, I find it dark stories uplifting. I think it’s like during the darkest moments of our lives that we see the light, right? There’s a lot of darkness in Bates Motel, but, again, there’s a lot of joy. I always look at things and I choose to look at it through the lens of positivity. I think our story is, yes it’s a story about dysfunction, it’s dark, but it’s a story about commitment and love and family and resilience and loyalty.
I mean like I look at Taissa in American Horror Story and I just think… You know, I mean for her, I’m bias – I’m practically her mother. And she’s just like this bright supernova that shines even brighter in the dark.
I mean if you look at like the, I don’t know, now close to 50 films that I’ve done, it’s only like five of them that are actually like certified horror stories. I just did Middleton which is where she and I play screwball mother and daughter in a romantic comedy. So I think may be the most successful projects in my career have been psychological thrillers and horrors and sort of twisted, dark and offbeat. I don’t know. Maybe it’s because our childhoods were so straight and narrow and full of light and love and goodness. I don’t know. Maybe that’s why we veer toward them more.
Your character is completely wrapped up with Norman but is there any possibility of a love interest for you in the new season?
Vera Farmiga: “Yes. I mean obviously she’s proved from first season that she’s totally over anxious. She’s too involved. You know, I mean this is a woman who’s been abused by her father, abused by her brother, discarded by demanding [men], unneeded by her older son. She clings to the one man that has been her protector, her confidant, her consolation, the light in her life. And it is Norman. She’s totally too involved and she’s unable to cut the cord.
But the thing is that – and the issues of women survivors of childhood sexual abuse – it’s really complex and it impedes your ability to trust especially if you are like Norma. […]These poisonous feelings that she has are embedded so deep in her psyche and she’s never uprooted them. She has this vault, this sort of burial chamber where she squashes all that sadness and stress and torment. She’s totally preoccupied with Norman because I imagine it for yourself. It’s at such dark moments, at the fainthearted-ness, the doom, when you discover or when you suspect that there’s something not quite right neurologically with your child. It’s not a job for the fainthearted. Every ounce of energy really is her struggle with raising normal, this atypical child, and doing it as a single parent.
She’s got her own painful history also to contend with. She’s got this like this rampart that she’s built. You know, it’s like the walls of Constantinople. It’s a lifetime of defensive walls that she has.”
Will we learn more about her background?
Vera Farmiga: “Yes, because I think what’s happening is she’s built this brick by brick, and the ramparts not so fortified anymore. Somebody comes in. And then she has the reason for moving out to White Pine Bay is to put as much real estate as possible between her and her past and these people that have been a part of this. And I think this starts going on. So all of this has developed sort of a really complicated psychological issues like depression that she squashes and low self-esteem and fear and guilt, and all that trauma which she hasn’t dealt with. […]She’s got pretty significant stressors that affect her parenting capacities and also affect every other relationship that she can take on.
I feel like she’s kind of driving the bus from the backseat is the way she is. I don’t know how to explain it. Like the way she can function in society so far without not having dealt properly with it is driving this bus, or life, from that backseat. And so she certainly going to try. I think also on the flip side of it is a coping mechanism. She has an incredible sense of denial. Or she herself may look at it as creative visualization. I mean she shoves everything inside this vault and she just takes on this fresh and fabulous outlook on life.
For her I think the hotel success, like achieving success which she equates to happiness, which is the one thing she’s always struggled with achieving. You know, she just throws herself into sort of the hotel’s success and that involves going out into the community and meeting people. She’s trying to repair last season. The word is out in the street. I mean there’s already a negative association with her and what’s happened at that hotel so her mission at the start of season two is to sort of change that and that involves sort of being more involved in the community. And she develops friendships outside of her relationship with Norman.”
Kerry Ehrin: “Just as Vera is saying, I mean Norma has a longing for normalcy and normalcy for some of those people means you have a mate. And whether or not she actually knows how to like relate to that person or connect with them, what to do with them, she has a deep longing for it. Even though she doesn’t exactly know what it is. So yes, she believes she has room for love in her life. And because she’s not aware of [it], I guess she’s not acknowledging her tie to Norman.
She has hopes that she will meet someone and she will fall in love, that she will have a wonderful life. And there is a very interesting person that shows up this season.”
Is this a new character we haven’t seen before?
Kerry Ehrin: “Yes it is. This season is a lot of fun because while last season was sort of about all of these things that got in the way of Norma and Norman and achieving what they came to White Pine Bay for, achieving this dream, this season is very much about putting them in a position where they might actually get it. They might actually get what they want. And the things that start to screw it up are more inside them. I can’t tell you too much because I don’t want to tell you too much, but it very much is a journey of following them deconstruct things that are good in a really entertaining way.”
Vera, when you first took on the role were you worried about how it would work setting it in the modern day? And why is it you think it does work so well?
Vera Farmiga: “You know, I think…yes. I’d be lying if I didn’t have like some reservation about it when I initially was presented with the offer. I thought there is so many things that can go wrong. And where we are being tethered, you know, we’re borrowing these characterizations or these plots points from the most successful horror film ever. That’s why that is a tall order.
[…]I think what assured me was I saw Freddie’s audition tape and any skepticism, any trepidation, and any fear…I mean the risk really vanished when I saw his audition tape because it wowed me. I saw it and then it became to me simply a story, at the heart of the story is this relationship between mother and son. I just thought with his performance it had a new life and I feel like none of that mattered.
Honestly, also, I think for me it’s not like I was playing some iconic role. I think more for Freddie, I don’t even think he felt as if this – he’d have to answer this. But I didn’t feel any sort of pressure of everything that we knew about Norma Bates was through the fractured psyche of Anthony Perkins’ Norman. So for me there was just the idea of sort of that exploration between that sort of very intimate [relationship] and also I mean the uniqueness of that.
First of all, the role itself on the written page was, I don’t know, I think it’s so original. To me it’s one of the most original characters I have ever encountered, and a lot of that has to do with Kerry and Carlton’s writing of contradiction. I think because that was so vital, it’s like when you encounter such sort of deeper level of virtuosity in the creation of a female character, you just don’t question it. You just thank your lucky stars. You thank the writers for thinking of you and you claim it. Yes, and actually the purest in me was a little skeptical. But that cynicism just had to do with like, ‘Oh, what is everybody else going to think?’ And once I could just stop caring about what everybody else was going to think and find my own passion for the story… You know, I’m a mom. I’m a mom of two toddlers. The story for me resonates. It’s unnervingly relatable. It’s like my inspiration for the role’s development is always point-blank myself. You know, I see the way my strength and my weaknesses shape my babies. That’s what the story is about. And so yes, that was my passion.
And again it’s like I look at things musically. It’s like the equivalent of playing ‘Farmer and the Dell’ and all of a sudden Kerry hands you Chopin Ensenada in B-flat minor with so many dissonances and major and minor shifts. It’s a rare gift of a very personal melody that I’ve been given in the form of Norma Bates. So I was absolutely sure after seeing Freddie’s audition tape that it was a sure fire bet.”
How will the arrival of Norma’s brother change the family dynamics this season?
Kerry Ehrin: “Well I mean obviously he’s a very volatile emotional memory for Norma that she really has no idea what to do with all of that. You know, it’s not like it’s ever been talked through or worked on. It’s been basically just shoved into the vault. And then this guy shows up and he’s outside of the vault. And how do you handle that? It’s super complicated because of Norman’s great protectiveness of his mother and his tendencies that even he doesn’t know. So it’s like it’s super, super complicated and intense and interesting.”
What’s the most difficult part about playing Norma?
Vera Farmiga: “To me it’s very simple: it’s just being earnest in my emotion. You know, I mean just the writing is so demanding. They really want you to cause shock waves and it’s just mustering that earnestness and keeping yourself honest is really hard and most challenging. Performing the role at this pitch requires an enormous amount of endurance and perspiration, and I think, honestly, it has nothing to do with my time on set because, gosh, this material is all on the written page.
It’s really, for me, it’s going home and forgetting about it all and being present for my own children, which I don’t have a problem doing that. It’s a job. It’s an on and off switch that I’m super passionate about. But like for me actually the biggest challenge while I’m doing it is this on and off switch of just throwing it all away and not worrying about how am I going to prepare for tomorrow’s scenes. When all I want to be is present and available for my own children.
So, this has nothing to do with the role. It has to do with my real-life role of being mother because I treasure and value it. It’s my favorite role in all the world of any role that I’ll ever have. And also, you know, my role as wife. It’s just like balancing that is probably the hardest thing.”
Do we leave the door open for a third season at the end of this one?
Kerry Ehrin: “Yes. Enthusiastically yes. It’s like there’s so much great story to go. It’s like it’s truly, this is such an exciting show to work on because there’s something about the relationship with Norma and that Norman that just keeps on giving. And from a writer’s point of view, it’s just delightful. So yes, for sure.”
-Posted by Rebecca Murray
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