Interviews

BATES MOTEL Scoop: Freddie Highmore and Kerry Ehrin Interview

Freddie Highmore Bates Motel Season 3

 With Season 3 of BATES MOTEL off to another brisk and bristling start an,  maybe a body or two already ready to spring out of a closet or shower, the intertwined fates of Norma (Vera Farmiga) and her son Norman (Freddie Highmore) have never been more deadly and troubled.  Pity anyone who enters their lives and does not leave quickly.  For no matter how much evil may lie in their own heart, it is doubtful those depths will rise to level of duplicitousness and inevitable torment that that Norma and Norman seem to carry naturally in their own.

In a press call, star Freddie Highmore and executive producer Kerry Ehrin talked about the continuing downward spiral and those that may fall into the BATES MOTEL trap.

Freddie, how do you get into character? Because it doesn’t seem like you have far to go to get there.

FREDDIE: I don’t consider myself to be very similar to Norman.  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.   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, do you have anything to add about how you are creating this character?

KERRY: It’s definitely an evolution where Carlton [Cuse] 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. Also, this season very much playing with the game of control between him and Norma and the power struggle which is really delicious.

Norman is such an iconic character in horror, and of course Anthony Perkins did such a legendary performance in the role. Now that you have been doing the show and the role for three years, how much influence does the original Perkins’ performance have on your performance and how much are you trying to just sort of completely make it your own?

FREDDIE: 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 at the end, Norman is a lot closer to Anthony Perkins’ version than the boy that we saw at the start. But certainly I don’t think any of us feel tied constrainingly to “Psycho” or to any performance that came before.

Was there a moment or a scene where you really just felt like Norman kind of clicked for you and you really just got him as a character?

FREDDIE: No, I wouldn’t say that there was one particular scene that has defined him. It’s a really good question.  

KERRY: 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: The end the set on the second season. The scene in the woods and also the scene 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 — that’s the kind of two sides of Norman really. 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 and so you need to understand the [interplay].

The house and the motel are also iconic horror images. Does working around that atmosphere add to the sort of creepy feeling both as an actor and as a writer?

FREDDIE: Yes, it does. 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.  Then over time it seems to become in view with your own memories and events that took place in 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: There’s definitely a texture to that set that is emotional and you feel it when you’re there. It’s very cool.

Now that Norma knows about Norman’s blackouts, do you think that she’s going to ever let him back out on his own or will she sort of try and keep more and more control of him even though she’s already been overprotective towards him to start?

KERRY: 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, and 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 this season’s premiere was more or less open-ended, but very suspicious. Is it safe to assume that Norman killed Annika (Tracy Spiridakos)?

KERRY: I feel like on BATES MOTEL it’s safe to assume anything because there’s an aspect to the storytelling that we love that 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: It’s safe to assume that Norman will be killing again. That’s what everyone knows. It’s just when does he do it?

We got a shower this season.  It looked very familiar when Norman is looking in on Annika. Can we expect any other like shower/bathroom related scenes this season?

FREDDIE: Definitely. There’s definitely another occurrence, really interesting bathroom seasons in many ways.

KERRY: 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.

About the character of Annika and how Norman and her are going to kind of evolve — even though it’s wrong, I feel like Norman kind of spying on a girl was sort of one of the more normal things that he’s done so far — an you talk a bit about how their friendship or whatever is going to evolve?

FREDDIE: Well I guess it remains to be seen just how far their relationship evolves sort of definitively and conclusively already or not. So I guess we’ll have to wait and see in that respect.  But 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 purvey and gone upstairs back to the house or would he have gone around and tried to break into her motel room.

Can you both kind of preview what’s to come for Dylan (Max Thieriot) and Norman’s relationship?

FREDDIE: I guess you see in the first episode how Dylan starts to get in between Norma and Norman. And I think that previously they have both shared this unbreakable bond and no one could come between them, and 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 threesome is headed to some extent.

KERRY: It definitely heats up.

Can you talk a little bit about the evolution of Norman and Emma’s relationship and where we’re going to see that go this season?

FREDDIE:We’ve seen in the first episode how Norman wants to try and establish, wants to try and date Emma (Olivia Cooke). And 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.  And not only does he on some level want to, he also feels like he’s doing the right thing by asking her out.

KERRY: And Emma in general has been she’s done some growing up as Norman has and she 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 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: From Norman’s perspective, 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 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.  And 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: He’s starting to understand the kinks in her emotional armor very well.

FREDDIE: Yes. And he gets to wearing some of her clothes so that’s another side to him.

How are you doing that with BATES MOTEL to make sure that people still feel connected with him?

KERRY: Well first of all you cast Freddie Highmore, who is incredibly likeable.

FREDDIE: And then you have Kerry writing.

KERRY: 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. You know: tough, very violent childhood, home life and 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: 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.

Norma’s brother is back in town and Kenny Johnson is so great in that role.  It’s great he’s kind of trying to have a relationship with Dylan.  Assuming if he sticks around long enough that either Norma or Norman or both will run into him, what can you share about that?

KERRY:  It’s 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 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 it also has such a tremendous emotional pull on him, which is an alleged father showing up saying “I want to claim you. I want to be in your life. I want you to belong to me.”

FREDDIE: 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: I think as Norman changes over time, one of the biggest challenges becomes 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: In a completely refreshed way, yes.

FREDDIE: So that in the third season has been really interesting because of how  Norman changes, scenes in which you have kind of learnt how to resolve in past,  you can’t get out of it with the same emotion. So that in certain scenes where 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.  And gradually bit by bit in every scene between Norma and Norman, this small shift, hopefully.

KERRY: 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 emotional, while still grounded.  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 are we all going to survive this season physically?

FREDDIE: Kerry’s also being slightly modest in the sense that her writing especially comes from such an emotional place and whereas we, actors, kind of 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.  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.

KERRY: [Laughs] Well, don’t make any assumptions.

Given that we know a lot of things about where he ends up in “Psycho,” the significant moments for Norman are done in a different way. Would you say things like learning taxidermy were very significant to establish Norman’s character also?

FREDDIE: Yes, taxidermy is every more important as the season goes on and we’ll have to see what he ends up, what he ends up taxidermying by the end. But I don’t know, it’s the trick I think 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 Norma and Norman as Norma is knowing 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. 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.”

In the season premier this year, what did you make of the, “you silly woman” line when they are getting back into bed together?

FREDDIE: [Laughs] 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.  So there were various takes of “move over, you silly woman” with various levels of intensity and suggestiveness. It was more or less of finding the right one.

KERRY: Overly delightful. Sometimes Carlton and I have so much fun writing things for Norman because if you just imagine for a moment that 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.

Did Vera try different inflections of her end of that conversation too?

KERRY: She always gives you so many different, totally different versions of things, it’s amazing.

FREDDIE: I agree.

KERRY: She does, and really when you’re in editing and you have to actually select a take, it’s painful sometimes because so many of them are so great and so different.  So you really have to pick one that has  –it’s like you’re giving up the other ones that have a really different vibe which are also awesome — so it’s champagne problems, but we’re lucky.

Freddie, Vera said that sometimes it gets really tough to kind of do these scenes and that she has to dig really deep and she attributes a lot of getting through them through you. She said without you, she didn’t think she could do them. Are they just as tough for you and does she also fuel your passion to do the scene or your character?

FREDDIE: Yes. So I’d be pretty selfish or disrespectful to say “no” and that I just do them completely without Vera and I don’t need her at all. She’s such a key part of everyday on BATES MOTEL and I think where the release is to be found with the two of us is in the humor that we always end up laughing about. Like that scene of “move over you silly woman” and the various takes to amuse us and keep us sane, kind of laughing at our own characters in the way in which they’re behaving. And sometimes those bed cuddling scenes, which do return through season three and end with a nose rub or more, but the joy is doing them with Vera and then pushing them up to the point where they seem to be believable. And that’s kind of when we end up laughing.  So the joy of being on set every day is constantly bouncing ideas off Vera, both during a take or off it, and of course she’s essential to that dynamic working. We often look at each other and say, “Oh, we’re just so lucky that we get along because we really couldn’t imagine doing it with someone that we did really get along with.”

There’s a couple new characters coming into the show this season.  How are they going to kind of stir things up a little bit? Because the show seems to be really about relationships and it really starts with Norman, his mom and kind of works its way up from there.

KERRY: One of the really interesting things in structuring this show that Carlton and I have faced since day one is weaving together two worlds that you wouldn’t think go together, and the 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 — he does such a brilliant performance.  You don’t quite know, he feels threatening, but at the same time he seems incredibly dear 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, who 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 who grew up with Alex Romero (Nestor Carbonell) 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: We need to say though, Nestor’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.  I mean it’s absolutely amazing.  So it certainly amuses us just to see him in his sheriff’s outfit, directing away. He was very much the sheriff/director.  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 persons 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.

Speaking of Norman, because we really didn’t know his mother  because she was already dead in the movie. You guys have kind of a wider latitude as far as both of those characters because you’ve got Norman so young and we didn’t know much about him at that age and you didn’t know about his mother. So you might have been boxed in in some ways but you also have a lot of freedom in a lot of ways.

FREDDIE: 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.  So 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. And 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 just gave, it opens up so much storytelling that we were always excited about and continue to be excited about.

Freddie, you have a little bit of room too to kind of mold him and kind of do your own version of him a little bit.

KERRY: A lot of room.

FREDDIE: Yes, of course. Yes, and I think also the contemporary setting has given us a certain freedom too in sort of reimaging this odd duo.

Freddie, how hard it is to play the violent scenes?  How do you plan them emotionally? How do you talk about them so you know which lines you must not cross when you’re playing these characters?

FREDDIE : You mean lines I don’t cross with Vera? I guess the incredibly violent start — there’s not much of that on BATES MOTEL. It is more suggested into that sort of darkness as opposed to overt showings of it. But I guess 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 the important thing 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 Norman sort of becomes filled with this all-consuming rage, a lot of the time there are, it’s a multi-layered thing.

In your mind, what would BATES MOTEL guest reviews sound like? What would be some things they would mention or comment on?

KERRY: Well, I’d have to look at this from the reality of Norma Bates. I think they would have a good time. I think they would be well taken care of. I think Norma and Norman would be charming hotel managers/owners. I think I would like to stay there. I think it would be good.

And Freddie as your new role as hotel manager, it would probably be your responsibility to respond to reviews. How do you think Norman would handle like a negative review?

FREDDIE: I don’t think his reaction would be to go and kill people, if that’s what you’re angling toward. I think he’d probably be a little disappointed because I think he puts a lot into being the manager of the motel and now he’s assumed this responsibility as one that he’s both incredibly proud about and also keen to working diligently in the role. I think he’d be one of those managers that would respond thoughtfully to the concerns be that about the closeness of the two managers or anything else.  But I think he would write a nice, intelligent response saying and maybe offering a free night back so they can relive their experience in a different way.

KERRY: [Laughs] That’s a hilarious idea.

The show touched on Norman’s grandmother and how she was literally crazy. Will we learn anymore about that in terms of how maybe it’s all hereditary?

KERRY: That’s an evolution but will be played out. I can’t really say more than that. I’m sorry.

Norman’s relationship with his mother has changed quite a bit but they’re still very close at this point. So how will that relationship continue to be tested as we continue into the third season?

KERRY: I was going to probably go back into the concept of that there’s what’s emerging between them is an awareness on Norma’s side that he is more controlling in a way and on Norman’s side, is an awareness that she has chinks in her emotional armor. And so we get to kind of spin that in emotion and see how that, see how that plays out. Sometimes Norman and Norma remind me of those paint things at Carnival where you pour paint in them and then they spin around and the colors fly out. Then they make like these amazing abstract art things. And I feel like that’s sort of what Norma and Norman, like you get them in a specific psychological place and then, and then you let them go and you see what happens. And there’s a lot of spinning out this season between them.

FREDDIE: I think that maybe one other interesting thing is though there will be this increasing separation between the real Norman and the real Norma, there will also be, by the end of the season, almost a complete convergence of the two at one moment where you’re almost not entirely sure which person it is in a teasing the general fashion.

Freddie, is it any different for you to act with sort of the imaginary era as opposed to the the actual mother?

FREDDIE: I think it’s interesting. We’ve experimented with in many ways this season how Norman himself is behaving in those, which comes a lot from the writing, how he’s behaving in those moments with this vision of her and whether he’s purely imagining her there in front of him, whether he is imaging himself as her, whether he’s talking out loud in using her words or whether he’s merely listening and hearing them.  And from what perspective do we see those scenes? Is it purely from Norman’s perspective or is it from the kind of third person storytelling that used to in most television shows. So though they all sort of playing a part, I think when we’re doing those scenes between Norman and this vision, this mother, this Norma character, there’s also a new sense of freedom to be found in them because it isn’t in ways in which they might interact, isn’t the reality. So that opens up exciting new possibilities for how both Norman and Norma can behave.

KERRY: Mm-hmm. And also the hallucinations to him are incredibly real and I think that the big goal is to get people to go on a journey with Norman. If you’re, if you’re crazy and you if you are imaging, I guess I shouldn’t use the word crazy.  If you are imagine something that isn’t there to you it is incredibly real and that’s what you want people to be inside of, is that part of it. And it’s actually really exciting to get to get to develop the fictional, the hallucinatory version or versions of Norma as a really that’s a pretty exciting thing to get to do.

Season three takes a darker tone.  As you were writing it and preparing to act in season three, were there any books that you read, movies that you watched or music that you listened to kind of get into the frame of mind of the tone of this season?

KERRY: [Laughs] I’m embarrassed to say this but I really don’t have to do all that work to get into the tone and doing the work to get out of the tone.

FREDDIE: I do find it’s more — especially at this stage — comes very much from the great writing and the previous episodes and the weight of all of that that you’ve known.  Apart from “Psycho,” as I said I re-watch it, there’s so much that’s in the writing as a source of inspiration. There is not much much needed than to sort of look elsewhere aside from the basic things like taxidermy and in certain instances skills.

KERRY: I was just going to say when you haven’t written a script for the show for say six months or acting, I assume is similar. But when Carlton and I were writing the first episode of the season and you face a blank page for the first time and you’re like, “Is it going to feel awkward? Is it going to feel great?” Then you write two sentences on the page and it’s almost like you slip into a drain.  It’s like its right there and I think that’s exactly what Freddie is saying about there’s a history in it because we’ve all emotionally lived through it. There’s part of it that’s just in us now, so I think it’s kind of easy to go inside and outside of it.

To find out just how far down the dark hole Norman and Norma fall this season on BATES MOTEL, and just who may be sacrificed in their desperate attempt to appear normal and hide their dark secrets, be sure to tune in for all new episodes on Mondays at 9:00 p.m. on A&E.

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