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Cast and producer talk “BATES MOTEL”

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Did you ever wonder what Norman Bates was like prior to his misadventures in PSYCHO? You may say, “Yes, and that was explored in PSYCHO IV.” But the folks at A&E, along with executive producers/showrunners Carlton Cuse (of LOST) and Kerry Ehrin, have a different take on Norman’s early years, which they’re presenting in BATES MOTEL, premiering tonight at 10/9 Central.

BATES MOTEL stars CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY’s Freddie Highmore as the adolescent Norman, Vera Farmiga (ORPHAN, JOSHUA) as the legendary Norma Bates and Max Thieriot (who played a Norman-esque character in HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET) as her other son, Norman’s half-brother Dylan. In the opening episode, we see an optimistic Norma and a not-too-damaged Norman set up shop in the title property (filmed in Vancouver, standing in for the Northern California setting). By the episode’s end, Norma will have taken the kind of drastic action we’ve come to expect from the Bates family, enlisting Norman’s aid and setting the stage for his psychological deterioration.

BATESMOTELCASTPRODNEWSFarmiga says she got into the show wanting to defend Norma, despite her sometimes homicidal tactics. She was also inspired by a particular piece of artwork: “There’s a painting by Edvard Munch [famous for The Scream] of the Madonna. It’s really warped and kind of exudes the sacred and the profane, and it’s just psychologically gripping, and that’s what I was so drawn to with Norma. She’s a playground for an actress.”

Highmore adds, “It was certainly interesting for me, the idea of people being able to identify with Norman from the start. He kind of indirectly challenges the audience [because] we all know where he’s going to end up. It doesn’t give anything away to say that he’ll go on to be psycho. But is that necessarily because of his upbringing? It’s that argument about nature vs. nurture. Is he who he is and would he always become the person he becomes, or is it because they move to this dodgy town and there’s a weird, or certainly close, intimate relationship between Norma and Norman? That challenges the audience to think, ‘Well, if I was in that situation, if I had the upbringing Norman had, would I be slightly different?’ You know, we all go a little mad sometimes.”

“But I think there’s a lot of leeway,” Farmiga notes. “We have preconceived notions of who Norman may have been based on that last image in PSYCHO.”

And, as Ehrin exclusively tells Fango, “That’s told through the lens of someone who’s lost his mind.” In other words, we can’t necessarily trust what Norman says of his past in Alfred Hitchcock’s classic.

BATES MOTEL already existed as a concept when Ehrin came aboard, she recalls. “Russell Rockford, an executive at Universal, had the project and Carlton [was attached], and he brought it to me. We were in a meeting, and he said, ‘How would you feel about doing a series of PSYCHO?’ That was it.”

Regarding the challenge of presenting characters whose sanity is incrementally slipping away without making them exasperating, Ehrin relates, “That was kind of the joy of it for me, to be totally honest. On the way home from that meeting, I started thinking about who Norman and his mother really were, because what we know in the movie, we know through a crazy guy. So we don’t know if it’s the truth; we don’t know who Norma Bates was. So just that idea of, was this possibly a relationship that had a beauty and some love in it, but was horribly dysfunctional? All of that became fascinating to me. Writing dysfunctional relationships in general is a playground, because they’re so interesting. What’s less interesting is writing normal people,” she laughs.

Both Ehrin and Cuse are extremely hands-on as showrunners, and the former says it’s a very equitable working relationship. “We broke all the stories together—every single beat of every story. And then we just divided up the writing.”

When talking to the press, producers of many TV horror series try to downplay their sanguine elements. Reminded that she is talking to FANGORIA, and asked how much blood can be expected in BATES MOTEL, Ehrin replies, “It definitely has its moments. I know in WALKING DEAD, there’s a lot of zombie violence. I don’t think we have as much as that, but when we do have it, it’s very artistic and interesting.”

When it came to casting, Ehrin laughs, “God blessed us,” before saying more seriously of Highmore and Farmiga, “They were our first choices, and we’re just so lucky to have them.” The British Highmore uses an American accent to play Norman, and Ehrin says no one had any concerns about his ability to play a U.S. native. “We actually met him on Skype, and he’s so incredibly engaging and intelligent and charming, you feel completely confident that he knows what he’s doing.”

And summing up what she hopes viewers will see in BATES MOTEL, Ehrin says, “Fascinating character relationships and an exciting format.”

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Abbie Bernstein
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