It feels like the deadly dance between Norma and her son Norman Bates is slowly spiraling out of control. As Season 3 has shown so far, their lives have become so disturbingly intertwined that they now share a bed and seem to have no boundaries. It is in turn having a terrible effect on them and everyone around them, seemingly pulling everyone in their orbit in deeper and deeper.
In a press call, star Vera Farmiga and executive producers Carlton Cuse and Kerry Ehrin talked about the twisted seduction and where it is leading this season.
Is it harder these days in a world where we see so much where everything is available on the Internet at the touch of a computer key to do suspenseful TV, to do spooky TV, to do TV that gets our attention?
CARLTON: I think it’s harder to get people’s attention just because of the sheer magnitude of choices out there. I mean there are 150 plus scripted cable shows plus 100 plus networks. I mean I don’t even know what the total is but it’s massive. So, yes, I think it’s very hard to find. There’s just so many options that people have. But I think as a writer and as a show runner you’ll drive yourself crazy if you worry about that too much. I think the way that it flips into the writing process is that Kerry and I talk about this a lot. I think there’s certain conventions people have. people watch a lot of TV so they think that certain things are going to happen. So I think the process is you’re always trying to subvert expectations. And I think those expectations change based on the amount of TV people are consuming. So yes, I think we try to stay relevant and at the same time we’re always looking for ways to not have our stories unfold in a predictable manner.
Is there a manner in which maybe less is more, at times? Like those very intensely creepy scenes where Vera’s character and Freddie’s character there’s something slightly a hint of some sort of incestuousness going on.
CARLTON: We strive for a lot of nuance. And I think we are incredibly blessed because Vera and Freddie are so amazing. I mean a lot of what makes that work is not what’s on the page. It’s what they do as performers. They bring this innate chemistry to the relationship. And we – what we put on the page they elevate in so many ways in terms of how they translate that and deliver that in their performances.
Both BATES MOTEL and THE RETURNED are set in Northwest locations. How does that decision comes about? Is there something about the landscape here in the Northwest that just inherently lends itself to stories that are spooky and kind of creepy?
CARLTON: I think the physical environment is a big part of both shows. And while the second season BATES MOTEL was sort of warm and summery, Kerry and I felt very strongly that we should go back to a sort of bleaker, more monochromatic winter, late fall look for Season 3 of BATES and that it was narratively appropriate. For THE RETURNED, the physical environment, the presence of nature; the kind of overwhelming influence of nature is I think a big part of the storytelling. It just there’s this really weird phenomenon that’s happening and I think kind of metaphorically using nature to represent that there are forces much larger than our characters was an important part of the storytelling.
Is that just because it’s cheaper and easier to film in British Columbia?
CARLTON: There’s distinct tax benefits, currency benefits. But, frankly, British Columbia is an amazing center for film production. And there’s incredible resources, Greg Cruz really talented people who you can have work on your shows. And that’s the reason that we’re there.
Norma became oddly sort of a stronger and more confident woman in Season 2. We still continue to see signs of her sort of odd variation of person growth like the whole political thing?
KERRY: Yes. I think Norma’s whole plan in going to White Pine Bay was to have a normal life. And although she had a hell of a lot of trouble since she got there, it has forced her to have to deal with a lot and interact with a lot of people and find parts of herself that were stronger than she probably ever knew. And that actually has had the affect of making her stronger.
Has it been interesting to play that, Vera?
VERA: To say the least, yes. Kerry’s taken the lead on writing Normal and she writes Norma for me like I’m some sort of a demigod. But I’m not man. I’m just a mere mortal and I’m mortally wounded from what she has me go through. It’s pretty nutty to see now what we explore with this character this season like the height of righteousness that she possesses and the depths of manipulation and depravity almost that she is capable of. And there just is so many antics and adventures for me to explore. It’s an outstanding role. I have never been challenged the way I am with this story in this particular character. And even as we speak, I swear it’s like I’m heavily medicated right now with tremors and spasms and a torn shoulder and neck muscles and the like. I am broken in smithereens.
KERRY: It’s a physical role.
VERA: It’s it’s not even that. It’s like a mental role that is frankly so not health for me with all due respect to everyone. But it’s formidable. Kerrywrites this stuff. It’s torturous to us all to hit the notes that are required emotionally and to do it earnestly. And Kerry really keeps us on point like that. But it just requires the tenacity of ten f’ing tornados and I only had about 9-1/2 in me. I didn’t get to finish that last day on set.
KERRY: But what we have is pretty amazing.
Now that Norma knows about Norman’s blackouts, will she ever let him back out into the regular world again or is she going to try to just trap him in there?
VERA: You’re going to see a more unraveled Norma this year. I mean there’s mammoth stress in dealing with Norman’s mental state. It has a whopping physical and emotional torn toll on Norma the way it would on any parent of a quote unquote special needs child. And I think following the events of last season, Norma is more aware, she’s more circumspect, she’s more attentive to Norman’s fragility. I think you’re going to see her playing I think her cards really close to her chest in the beginning of the season but she’s got to reach out. I think she’s at a point where yes, to answer your question, she’s protective of him as ever and determined to help him as best as she can. But she doesn’t always know how. And I think she’s going to start reaching out to others. And they’re going to I think that relationship evolves as they allow more people in their lives. And you’re going to see how the mother son bond kind of withstands those pressures.
There’s some great guest stars lined up as per usual for this season, one of which is played by Joshua Leonard. What was your experience getting to work with Joshua again? And can you tease how Joshua’s character will play into the storyline of Season 3?
VERA: Norma’s determined to make her business a success and so she starts enrolling in business classes at the local community college. And so there she meets James Finnegan. And he kind of launches her into a whole new path of discovery. I rooted for Joshua to get this role. It’s very interesting though in “Higher Ground” he played a husband in a relationship that I’m leaving and this is more of a romantic role. And yet we’re very close friends. It was a very interesting and bazaar dynamic between the two of us. It’s a character that Norma bonds intensely with and he’s phenomenal. It was a quirky experience to embarking on. We were so close and this is just a weird twist. And it was amazing but odd at the same time to work so closely in a different capacity.
CARLTON: The quirkiness of it is great. I mean it’s exactly the right word. Kerry and I strive to create characters who are quirky and odd but yet believable within our sort of larger than life pulpy world of White Pine Bay. Joshua did such an incredibly great job of fitting that mold exactly. He’s odd but he’s really compelling. And over the course of a few episodes, I think the audience will find themselves incredibly engaged in this relationship with these two characters as it starts to deepen and unfold.
The dynamic between Vera’s character and Freddie’s character, how do you manage to keep it fresh and inventive and innovative?
VERA: It’s an acting challenge for me and for Freddie, as well. I think as they sort of head towards what seemingly is going to be their inevitable Hades. These emotional scenes also come at such high frequency and duration that sometimes I honestly am just sort of running out of ideas. And it’s really interesting the closeness and the best friendship and the respect and the trust between Freddie and myself. And Kerry, you can talk about the writing aspects of this. But from an acting perspective, it’s really intense work. And Freddie has become really particularly adept at sort of instigating me and knowing my soft spots emotionally and treading like a bulldozer over them. In this last season in particular he can be a real prick when it comes to helping like that endurance and the emotional earnesty. But I’m going to say it’s hard. It’s hard. And sometimes it’s just nutty. I literally get angry at Kerry for writing this bat-shit craziness and then you just kind of find it and just because of endurance man. Sometimes I like, “I just don’t know where it’s going to come from.” And you find a way to transfer it into the scene. Sometimes it’s just the panic of not knowing where to drill that wellspring of emotion to quench the scene. Sometimes that’s enough to set me off. But iit comes down to what Freddie and I have together as colleagues and as team players. And there’s so much trust that we can get pretty wily with each other. And certainly that goes for the entire cast and with every year. We just draw nearer and dearer to each other and can push each other’s limits. And we push each other’s for better, for more, for deeper. But Kerry, why don’t you talk about the mechanics of it.
KERRY: It’s similar in writing. Carlton and I like to change up the storytelling a lot. And so you are telling a very intimate story of two people over a very specific and somewhat small period of time. So it does require a lot of thought about how is this going to be different. And I think what personally is so fascinating is that it is a psychological thriller. And you can if you – if you’re in a bad marriage let’s say for like two years, every single day is going to be specific and different and fascinating. And it’s going to feed into what happens the next day. So I think the joy of it is getting under that and playing with it and exploring it so that it’s constantly growing and moving forward in ways that surprise use because as Carlton and I like to be surprised. So, yes, it’s fun. Not so much fun for Vera. Right?
VERA: No, but despite that — look, I’m not going to lie — especially this season there’s some big dingy, stingy ordeal in store like we’re going to wade through and drown in some agony.
KERRY: No, I know. Seriously. No, I get it.
VERA: But it’s like how on earth — exactly what Kerry said — it’s so much joy and burlesque and absurdity and dark forest and like buffoonery and above all love. There’s so much love there. And that’s what makes this show so special, that there’s so much darkness and yet so much humor watching these characters navigate in some ludicrously improbable situations. But that’s what makes it for me so exhilarating. It’s acute, it’s intense, it’s agonizing most of the time but it’s balanced so beautifully. There’s a lot of joy and beauty and friendship and love.
CARLTON: I think ostensibly the show the label of the show would be that it’s about a guy who’s growing up to become a serial killer but we strive really, really hard to provide to make it feel so human and real and part of that is humor. And I think that that’s something that really the sort of the humor and heart of our show is what distinguishes it from other shows in the genre.
The creepy factor between Norma and Norman is vamped up and he is starting to manifest himself as Norma. Are we going to see more of that and is she going to be oblivious to it?
CARLTON: She’s certainly not oblivious to it. We we try to make the relationship between Norma and Norman different every season. And we’re watching a progression here. And we are it’s the story about a mother and who desperately loves her son and is trying to prevent him from becoming this guy that’s he inevitably going to become. And this season he starts to slide much more significantly into that character. He becomes less able to the kind of modulator or be conscious of his decline. And that causes just really serious consequences in his relationship with his mom. And I think we explore that in a lot of different ways and that’s really the journey of the season.
It was interesting the dynamic out of the gate that Norma really doesn’t realize that what she and Norman are doing and have done all summer is so strange until Dylan mentioned to her. Will we see her try to find more of a balance in her relationship with Norman because of what Dylan has to say?
VERA: Yes, indeed. I think she’s relying on Dylan in a way that she’d never expected to. And that relationship really deepens. And they both share the same concern. They and they both want to help Norman. So I think she is relying on him for a male perspective on how to care for Norman. And that’s going to trigger somebody something they’ll in Norman.
Is it hard for all three of you to find a balance of the scenes between Norma and Norman? Because you do walk such a fine line that if there a loving relationship there but they’re on the edge of something else that’s dangerous and that will of course shape who Norman’s going to become.
KERRY: In the writing we always have approached it that it is a mother son relationship and that on the deepest level it’s a loving relationship. There’s things that are happening inside of Norman that he’s not fully in control of and he doesn’t understand that he never separated from his mother emotionally at the right age. So he’s way too invested in her and while he’s going through sexual maturing. But Norma is a mom. She’s always innocent. She sees him as her son as you do. Like my sons are turning into teenagers and I still look at them. I see them as 7-year-olds. It’s really hard to ever see your kids any other way. And I think that the heart of that innocence is at the base of it
VERA: And then I go just from the acting perspective my approach, I think this is what makes it so delicious for an audience to construe or misconstrue as the case may be. I think it is so hopeless and so grim. It’s so dark to witness you child succumbing to darkness. And I think the only way that Norma knows how to keep her child from teetering over this like miserable dark edge is to love him physically, emotionally and that is the bottom-line purpose and aim is to keep her Norman safe and sound and to help him navigate the world and to protect him promote normal psychological growth. She is trying to do that in the best way she knows how. And I always come from that – through that earnestness. And that’s really just always through that lens. But yes.
KERRY: She’s always doing the best she can.
What was the biggest challenge for all of you this season?
CARLTON: I think that we work hard on the the kind of the crime story aspect of the show is something that kind of trying to have – the show for us is just a cocktail of super nuance, the character writing combined with this intentionally pulpy crime drama. And so getting that right is something that is really hard to do. And we have this character of Chick Hogan who played by Ryan Hurst is a very dangerous character for us to create because he’s right on the edge of being ridiculous or being terrifying. And that was something that I think we were very nervous about being able to pull off. And I think we got on the right side of the line.
Can you talk a little bit about some other newcomers that you have like Kevin Rahm and what their roles will be?
KERRY: Kevin Rahm plays a White Pine Bay local, a prominent person, wealth, affluent and somewhat of a antagonist. The really cool thing about his role is that he is someone who grew up with Alex Romero. And through the storyline this season we get to peel back some layers of Romero, which is so much fun as certainly as writers. But it just as a viewer I think it’s going to be so interesting to get inside this incredibly stoic guarded person and see a little more of what makes them tick and what they need and what they’re hiding from themselves. So that’s just been a really fun storyline.
You mention Norman’s going to be getting jealous of Dylan and Norma and helping her in that. Can you kind of talk about that and how it’s going to change the dynamics between the three characters this season?
KERRY: Well the relationship with Norma and Norman is so peculiarly close. And because it is so co-dependent and because they have this sense that they sort of emotionally need each other to survive, the presence of someone else in that universe is threatening. And Norma, she’s in a stronger place and she’s in a more desperate place at the same time. So she is a little more open to Dylan. And she’s kind of reaching out more to him. But Norman who has basically stayed in the world for his mom at this point feels incredibly threatened by it.
Can you talk about Tracy Spiridakos being on the show this year?
CARLTON: Tracy plays this sort of mysterious beautiful enigmatic woman who checks into the BATES MOTEL and she really becomes the catalyst for our entire crime story this season. It may sort of seem at first blush that it’s kind of an obvious storyline out of the movie “Psycho,” but it doesn’t turn out to be that way at all. And we’re sort of teasing Norman’s confused sort of sexual perspective. And her fate and her whole back story is sort of the big mystery that sort of drives our plot and our narrative over the course of the the season. She did a wonderful job in a very short time kind of making us very intrigued about the character. And she’s not only beautiful but really a really great actress and was really kind of fun to have her on the show.
While we know that you’re not like Norma, what is it about Norma that you do relate to?
VERA: I’m a mother and I know that my unique challenges as both a daughter and as a mother have given me a fricking wealth and myriad of experience to draw on. I do have a bonanza of material angst. I just do. I feel like I’ve got this bat and there’s this f’ing piñata over my head — a maternal piñata that I can just bat with all my own personal experience. And it just comes showering down upon me and it’s relatability as a mom. There’s like there’s nothing I won’t do to see my children become the absolutely best possible versions of themselves. And I’ll fight to the death for that. That’s what I admire so much about Norma.
How many more seasons do you see the show going?
CARLTON: Five seasons. I mean Kerry and I have a pretty clear roadmap. We’re just finishing the third season right now and we feel pretty strongly that there’s two more seasons in the show and we have a pretty we have a pretty clear plan of where we want to go and we want to bring this story to its inevitable conclusion. I think Bates is not its best version if it’s an open ended series and I think the audience is sort of waiting for the conclusion and we’re heading there. We’ll be we have that mapped out.
How are you all able to maintain a freshness and excitement for a show in your respective leads? And how do you sustain the thrill and originality to the writing of the show without straying too far from the show’s foundation, which is the film “Psycho”?
VERA: I’m really going to throw this over to Kerry and Carlton. I just think the pianist is only as good as the composition. And they just keep writing these pages that roll off the fricking Richter scale. And I think with Norma, it’s just incredibly surprising to me and amazing where they can take this character
CARLTON: It’s an incredible choice to do a show with two amazing actors. So to me the key is pretty simple. I mean Kerry and I work closely on the stories and then Kerry really does magical things as a writer really bringing these characters to life. And then those words pass into the hands of Freddie and Vera and the rest of our cast. And they kind of infuse the show with a whole other level of energy. And it’s really remarkable. As a showrunner sometimes you imagine something in your head when you conceive a story. And in a way it’s kind of the idealized version and BATES is one of those rare and absolutely beautiful experiences when when watching cuts it feels like what’s coming back is better than what I imagined in my head. And I think it’s those I’m blessed to be working with an incredibly special writer and Vera and some other incredible performers. And that’s what makes the show so magical.
VERA: It’s true. We haven’t even talked about Kenny Johnson as Caleb or Nestor Carbonell as Romero. When I tell you all these actors just kill it this year and they’re just all the kind of actor that they play such dissonant discordant roles but they find the harmony in it. I can’t tell you. It’s like they’re just incredibly nuanced actors. And it’s true. They’re so much a part of that.
KERRY: It’s amazing chemistry. Just like all around.
With Kenny Johnson coming back, can you tease anything of how his character’s return and kind of what it means for their character?
KERRY: Yes. I mean that’s an incredibly loaded situation because Dylan and the Fulcrum.
CARLTON: He’s a series regular this season. So you’re going to be seeing a lot of him. And it’s not a simplistic relationship. I mean it’s not simply that — he’s not just a bad guy — we just didn’t paint him with one color. And I think a lot of the season is about untangling all the layers of the relationship that he has with Norma, and also with Dylan, his son. And that there’s some really beautiful stuff that happens between Vera and Kenny and Max as they play this unfolding drama.
With the return of Bradley Martin (Nicola Peltz), will there be more conflict between Norman and Dylan when she’s reintroduced?
KERRY: I’m trying to think of how to answer that. No, actually. It’s not what you would expect it to be. We get to see what Bradley has been through since we last saw her, which was pretty daunting. And she’s kind of on a journey of her own in returning back to White Pine Bay. But it does not directly intersect with Dylan.
How would you describe this season of BATES MOTEL?
VERA: Going down a dark rabbit hole.
KERRY: There’s no brightly lit rabbit hole.
VERA: And we’re going to leave our audience open mouthed and panting.
Between Norman and Norma, who is the most dangerous?
KERRY: Norman. My answer.
VERA: Of course.
KERRY: Because he blacks out and kills people.
VERA: I mean if Norma kills people, she’s doing it will full awareness. I think it is more dangerous than not having that. I think that this dissociative disorder is [more dangerous]. It’s Norman.
Do you think Norma is a victim of Norman and his disorder?
VERA: No. I don’t think she’s a victim of Norman. I think here greatest challenge and I think her success is not to give up. She’s been a victim her whole life and she’s fallen prey to such tragedy.
KERRY: She has to some extent aggravated the situation by not having the tools to be strong enough to face certain things about him. And that’s from her own childhood and the thing we love about her she’s always trying to best that she can. She always has the good intention. She has a lot of crazy ways of getting there. But she is always doing the best she can. She doesn’t know they’re crazy. And I think that’s why she’s so incredibly endearing and especially played by the most endearing person in the word.
What’s there going to be more of this season, murders, drugs or sex?
KERRY: I would say all with equal measure. I think that the story — I mean just if you look at “Psycho” — it’s like we’re telling the prequel of that and the story of someone sinking into insanity, if you put it on a graph, it has to get more and more intense and crazy and weird as they sink further into it. So, yes, we’re definitely getting into a very meaty part of the storytelling. And it’s very exciting part of the storytelling.
VERA: I agree. I think they’re equal measures. There’s in all sort of sex, drugs and rock and roll there’s wicked bombshells thrown this year. There’s some pretty rude awakening to be had. There’s some flabbergasting shakeups. But I can’t tell you what they are. But yes, there’s going to be some extermination, some butchery, some crazy absurdity, yes. Yes.
Will Norma have another relationship or does she think all men are evil?
KERRY: I don’t think she thinks men are evil.
VERA: I don’t think she she does. I think she wants desperately to have someone sweep her off her feet and take care of her in the way that she’s never had in her life. She’s never had anyone like that in her life. And I think yes, she yearns for that. There’s a hankering. There’s a deep, deep hankering to find a man she can trust. Certainly she hasn’t had that experience yet. But I think she’s a hopeless romantic and yearns for it, yes. And there’s a couple of good potentials this season.
KERRY: Yes, there is.
To find out how much more darker it gets down the rabbit hole of Season 3 of BATES MOTEL and if Norma can find a moment of happiness amongst it all, be sure to tune in for all new episodes of BATES MOTEL on Monday nights at 9:00 p.m. on A&E.
SENIOR ENTERTAINMENT REPORTER | Tiffany covers events such as San Diego Comic-Con, WonderCon and press junkets, as well as covering events at the Paley Center in Beverly Hills. She has a great love for television and believes that entertainment is a world of wondrous adventures that deserves to be shared and explored. Tiffany is one of the newest members to the prestigious Television Critics Association and is happy to be able to share her passion for television shows with an even wider audience of fans and her fellow critics..