Is there a more thankless job in the world than being the mother of a serial killer? In the world of BATES MOTEL, Norma Bates () is doing her best to do right by her adult son Norman (Freddie Highmore) and to protect him from the world at large as well as trying to protect the world from Norman. But as the past three seasons have amply demonstrated, all of Norma is love is not going to continue to insulate and protect Norman. In fact, he has already slipped over to the other side. Ever since Norman killed his father, his grasp on reality has been fragmented and tenuous at best. Season 1 culminated in the brutal killing of Ms. Watson (Keegan Connor Tracy) and Season 3 ended with the stunning murder of Bradley Martin (Nicola Peltz) and the full reveal of Norman is alter-ego as “Mother” (Vera Farmiga). For actress Vera Farmiga, she is now portraying two characters on BATES MOTEL: Norma and “Mother” — a challenge that she welcomes and relishes.
In a recent visit to the set, star Vera Farmiga talked with press about the rise of “Mother” in Norman is life and psyche and Norma is terrifying realization that her son needs more than just her protective care at this point.
It now appears that Norman is becoming more of a threat and someone that we as the viewer and you as the character should be afraid of.
VERA: [Laughs] Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse. The thing about them — and I think what really is going to separate this season from all of the rest — is up until now they’ve been so interconnected. What I think is what we are going to be seeing is autonomy this year and separation and a disconnectedness. It has reached that boiling point by episode 2. Throughout the years of strife, [Norma] has had this perpetual — you know, year after year she just lassos him with her umbilical cord, and I think that cord is frayed at this point, and it breaks, and he is released. What you see between them is they are lost in this labyrinth, this maze — this murky, murky maze of strife and guilty and torture and sadness and grief and instability, so much so that they’ve even lost track of each other trying to find their way out now. So that is where they are at together.
We have seen Norman get very unraveled when he is not around Norma. With him in this institution, how is Norma? Is she liberated, or is she spiraling herself?
VERA: Coming from just a paternal perspective, having a special needs child like this, you are always reeling. They are not forgettable, but she has come to a point, and I think what you are going to see from Norma this year is she is just stronger and bolder and emerges like a phoenix. She has a metamorphosis. She is going to be a beautiful butterfly to me this year, and there is a wisdom hopefully that she is attained, especially from all the harrowing events of the last several years. I think she is just stronger and more capable. How she is emerged from all of that I think has girded her, and she has an indelible spirit of positivity, which is her grace and which I treasure about her and I love. I love portraying that. I’ve said repeatedly, even for her, she is always putting one foot in front of the other and going forward. Even if she is falling down on her face, she is still going forward.
Can you talk about the progress of collaborating with Freddie as bad “Norma” aka “Mother”?
VERA: It is interesting, because it is still developing. Production needs to know this: it takes twice as long to shoot those scenes, and right now they are not organizing it as such. Every set up is right now because you never know what is going to emerge because you have two performances. Right now, as we are developing “Mother” Norma — and the writers are structuring her and building her and she is surprising them as well — so it is not 100% concrete. I’m just getting to know her. The fact is, right now, this is what makes editing “Mother” Norma so exciting for the directors and the editors and the showrunners because they have lots of options. You are going to be seeing Freddie playing her, you are going to be seeing me playing her, and then combining those two performances based on nuance and integrity and earnesty and invention. It is difficult, those scenes, and it is competitive [laughs] because essentially we are playing the same character.
Are you trying to out-crazy each other?
VERA: [Laughs] At times. At times we are out to out-subtle each other. No, I don’t think so. I’d be lying if i said there wasn’t a sense — I can only speak for myself — but at the same time, there is a true collaborative spirit because we have to come up with this stuff together, and that is pretty cool and just deepens the intensity of our collaboration. As you can imagine, up until now we’re best friends.
Do you ever get jealous that your other character “Mother” as she gets to play in a flashier wardrobe?
VERA: I love it. To me, it’s just a big old costume box they dip it in. I love looking dowdy, I love looking sexy, I love looking prim, and there’s all of that in there for me. So I’m just like a kid dipping in her costume box, and for me, Monique Prudhomme is just by far, hands down the most genius costumer I’ve ever dealt with. It’s a pleasure for me to come every day. The first thing I do is just step in the trailer and see these magical outfits sitting there waiting. Either way. I’m surprised there’s not a line [of clothing] out already. Wait until you see this season. I think our costume supervisor just made herself a Norma dress and wore it to some big event in town, and it was the exact one that I just wore in episode 405, which is one of my favorite dresses.
Do you think these scenes where Norman goes full “Mother” work so well because of how well you have worked with Freddie over the years?
VERA: I would like to take that credit, yes. I think it is one part him and one part me. I think it is a lot of part willingness, in terms of talking about chemistry. I like to think I have chemistry with every actor. I’m so affectionate all across the board, and you’re going to see some new couplings this year that I am particularly excited about within the Bates world. I know that the crank shaft rotator is always Freddie and I. We’re the main bearings that pivot on each other and grind up against each other. Obviously the show is built around that, but there’s some new characters and some characters from last year that Norma hasn’t met that will come into her life. But as I say, I like to think I have chemistry with everybody, but it’s just because it’s just an astounding group of people. I really do like to believe that chemistry is just willingness. You get a nuanced actor, you get another nuanced actor, you put them together and all of the sudden there’s chemistry. You have to play off each other, and there’s just such playfulness on this set at all times. No matter what strife we’re shooting, and then add the crew on to it, which is cooky and hard-working and wily and fun. It just creates in general an atmosphere that’s a playground, so that’s part of it too. It’s not just the actors. There’s a secret circle that happens that is a camera operator and focus puller and dolly grip. Those three guys are always in our faces and in our energy. You feed not just on the two people in the scene; there’s a room full of people that you are vining off of and that give you ideas too. I love these guys.
What can you say about Norma and Romero’s (Nestor Carbonell) partnership that evolves?
VERA: [laughs] I think you’re going to see it’s pretty complicated between these two, and it’s complex. It’s going to become even more complicated. I don’t want to say too much about that. Everyone expects a certain thing. I just have to keep reminding people that Norma has not had the best taste in men, and she’s in a pattern. We don’t know that much about Romero. We know what we want to believe about him, we know what we yearn for them as a couple, but we’re going to investigate that. We’ll see it. It is pretty complicated.
Is Norman situation a wakeup call for her relationship with Dylan (Max Thieriot)?
VERA: She’s come to a really pretty place with the relationship with Dylan. If there’s one person in this world that she really trusts and relies on, I think it has become Dylan. I think they want the same things. He is stabilizing for her. . . She doesn’t like to be left alone, and I think Dylan is sort of discovering and working towards autonomy and creating his own life and creating a version of a life and a family that works for him. And what does that mean for Norma potentially? It means that she is being left again and she’s being abandoned. Even though she’s emerging so much wiser and stronger, the defense mechanisms automatically flare because she has been abandoned. She interprets it more as betrayal and aloneness, so that is going to be an interesting relationship to watch unfold.
Would you want to see Norma get help? She also seems unstable in a way.
VERA: [Laughs] I don’t think she’s unstable at all. Look, I really am in defense of my character. I think she’s as unstable as anyone in this room. Put onto any one of us the sordid past that she has gone through, coming through that I think there’s going to be enlightenment this year that you’re going to perceive and receive from my character that is going to be pretty darn cool to watch. That help is going to come in numerous different ways. There is a sage that shows up in her life, and it may not be in the form of a PhD, but he or she does show up and is very influential in her life, and that is a gorgeous relationship to watch unfold. Pretty cool.
To see how Norma handles Norman’s further descent into his “Mother” persona and whether Dylan and Romero can provide the necessary lifelines to save her from falling down with him this season, be sure to tune in for the Season 4 premiere of BATES MOTEL on Monday, March 7th at 9:00 p.m. on A&E.