“Bates Motel” Season 2 kicks off in just one more week, and here are the highlights of a recent Q&A with star Vera Farmiga and exec producer Kerry Ehrin. They discuss Norma’s mothering techniques, what’s ahead for the character, and LOTS more.
Q: Obviously, “Bates Motel” is based on a movie. But going into Season 2, how much does the film affect the way that you make the show? Or is it now its own entity?
Kerry Ehrin: From the very beginning [co-creator] 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 tent poles let’s say that the film suggests… it kind of has become its own beast at this point…
Q: Vera, do you know a lot of the storyline ahead of time? What’s your process for portraying a character like Norma?
Vera Farmiga: You know, I’m still figuring what it is that is part of my process… I just reveled in the opportunity of a second season… television is a much slower process to discovering that background history, the personality, the psychology, the character’s goals. And… the cast is so much closer. There’s an intimacy. There’s a level of like sportsmanship now that we can throw harder jabs at each other. It’s the deeper level of trust… and love. It’s been established between us and Kerry and Carlton and between the actors… [In the] 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.
Q: Vera, what kind of mothering tips have you learned 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… these are amazing qualities that she possesses. Yes, there is the flip side of Norma Bates… her hardware is working [but] her software is a bit faulty… this is a story after all about family dysfunction. I have to work so hard to get an audience to identify with her… 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… kind of like the two demons, which [are] denial and stubbornness for Norma, I suppose sort of keep me in check.
Q: What keeps attracting you to projects like The Conjuring or “Bates Motel”? And your sister [Taissa Farmiga] is in “American Horror Story.” Is it a family thing?
Very Farmiga: …Actually, to be honest with you… I find dark stories uplifting. I think it’s like during the darkest moments of our lives that we see the light, right? So… there’s a lot of darkness in “Bates Motel.” But again, there’s a lot of joy… 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 think maybe the most successful projects in my career have been psychological thrillers and horrors and sort of twisted, dark, and offbeat… 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 [she and Taissa] veer toward them more. So I am attracted to the sordid and the wacky, the unorthodox. But I love infusing it with lightness.
Q: Your character is completely wrapped up with Norman [Freddie Highmore]. But is there any possibility of a love interest for you in the new season?
Vera Farmiga: Obviously she’s proved from the first season that she’s totally over-anxious. She’s too involved… this is a woman who’s been abused by her father, abused by her brother, discarded by demanding [men], unneeded by her older son. You know, she clings to the one man that has been her protector, her confidant, her consolation, the light in her life. And it is Norman. And she’s totally too involved. And she’s unable to cut the cord… the issues of women survivors of childhood sexual abuse, it’s really complex… it impedes their ability to trust… man, these demons are with them. 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… imagine it for yourself… the faintheartedness, 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 Norman, 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 rampart that she’s built… it’s like the walls of Constantinople… it’s a lifetime of defensive walls that she has.
For her I think the hotel success… she equates to happiness, which is the one thing she’s always struggled with achieving. You know, she just throws herself into… the hotel’s success. And that involves going out into the community and meeting people. And also… she’s trying to repair last season’s [events]… the word is out in the street. There’s already a negative association with her and what’s happened at that hotel. So her mission at the start of Season 2 is to sort of change that. And that involves… being more involved in the community. And she develops friendships outside of her relationship with Norman.
Kerry, do you want to take over?
Kerry Ehrin: Norma has a longing for normalcy. And normalcy… means you have a mate. And whether or not she actually knows how to 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 has room… she believes she has room for love in her life. And because she’s not aware of… 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, you know, have a wonderful life. And there is a very interesting person that shows up this season.
Q: A new character that 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 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. So it really is sort of… I can’t tell you too much… but it very much is a journey of following them deconstruct things that are good in a really entertaining way.
Q: So, do you 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… truly, this is such an exciting show to work on because there’s something about the relationship with Norma and Norman that just keeps on giving. And from a writer’s point of view, it’s just delightful. So yes, for sure.
Q: Back to these new characters, how will the arrival of Norma’s brother change the family dynamics this season?
Kerry Ehrin: Well, obviously he’s a very volatile emotional memory for Norma that she really has no idea what to do with… 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. How do you handle that? Obviously 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.
Q: Will we see Norma grow any closer to Dylan [Max Thieriot] or any change in their relationship? It’s such an interesting counterpart to Norma’s relationship with Norman.
Vera Farmiga: Oh god, I have such a hard time talking hot points because I always spill the beans on stuff because I get too excited. And I’m biting my tongue right now. I love that relationship. And I’m glad in the second season we really get to explore it even more intimately. It’s evolving…
Kerry Ehrin: It is the story of a lost son… just like Norma has her longing for normalcy and everything, he has his longing for a family that he’s never had and he never has been inside of. And he very much is dealing with that this year. And [he] and Norma have a fascinating relationship this year. So many different orientations to it. It’s really amazing.
Q: Vera, a few years ago you directed the film Higher Ground. Would you like to do some more directing maybe on episodes of “Bates Motel”?
Vera Farmiga: You know, I think even contractually I have that option. And Carlton asked me last year… [but] I feel like I’m still grasping the tone… Kerry and Carlton so skillfully balance these multiple tones to create this strange tonality of drama, melodrama, mystery, horror, psychological thriller, dark comedy, screwball comedy, oddball comedy, all together… I just finished watching the tenth episode of the second season… this is the tallest order I had as far as demands of the character emotionally, physically, spiritually. It’s epic, this role… I rely a lot on my directors. I love being directed for this role… I cherish direction. I rely on it. And I want to be maneuvered out of comfort zones… I don’t know. Not yet. I’m not ready yet. I’m not ready. Ask me in another season.
Q: After just one season of playing this character, you attracted an Emmy nomination. Was that something that surprised you coming up so quickly?
Vera Farmiga: Yes, it did… It was a really wonderful surprise… And it’s like the biggest pats on the back… it feels really, really good, you know, to have the support of your peers and to have that acknowledgment… [But] the writers have the hardest part. They start off with a blank paper… for all the blood, sweat, and tears that I shed, Kerry is also sitting there by her computer… these words are coming out. And she’s like screaming and crying too when she does this… she’s unloading as well…
Kerry Ehrin: They’re exhausting, these scripts. They are. They’re exhausting to write. They’re exhausting to perform.
Vera Farmiga: …without their writing, I’m nothing. I have nothing, you know. And so it was a victory for all of us.
Q: Is there going to be maybe a certain quality or personality trait of Norma’s that will be brought more to the forefront in the upcoming episodes of Season 2?
Vera Farmiga: There are a couple of new characters I think that ignite and awaken sort of… new personality traits and new responses and different ways of reacting… There’s a couple of… new characters that show up where you get to see different sides of Norma, yes. Distortions of Norma…