She’s already been nominated for an Academy Award, and now she’s up for an Emmy for her turn as Norma Bates in A&E’s ‘Psycho’ drama ‘Bates Motel.’ The beloved Farmiga talks to Anna Klassen.
How do you breathe life into a character whom audiences identify as nothing more than a corpse sitting in a basement?
Ask Vera Farmiga, the star of A&E’s Psycho prequel, Bates Motel[. The actress plays Norma Bates, who became a Hollywood horror icon in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 classic. But in Psycho, Norma is never seen—alive, that is—though she’s often heard inside the head of her deranged serial killer son, Norman.
Praised by many, Farmiga’s performance in Season 1 earned her an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama. “It’s the most powerful form of encouragement,” she tells The Daily Beast. “I know that the category is cutthroat and there are a lot of deserving women. It’s so darn special.”
Says series producer Kerry Ehrin of the nomination: “It is very deserved. She blows your hair back on a daily basis.” And Carlton Cuse (Lost) echoes his producer-partner, saying: “I’m glad she did get the nomination because if she didn’t I would literally be holed up on the floor someplace in depression.”
If you’ve seen a single episode of Farmiga as the modern-day Psycho’s mom, you know what all the fuss is about. Equal parts compassionate and neurotic, Farmiga plays Norma with an intense level of adrenaline. She murders rapists and hides their bodies, finds a dead man she used to sleep with in her bed, deals with the surprisingly never-ending list of Norman’s female admirers, and defends her son to the bitter end, her end—all the while looking smoking hot in a pair of 1950s pumps and an apron.
“It’s so rare to encounter in female characters this level of complexity,” says Farmiga, who compares Norma to her son’s Legos: “He wants the imperial shuttle with the double rotating doors. Norma Bates is the imperial shuttle.” But according to producer Cuse, it’s just as rare to find an actress like Farmiga to take on the powerhouse role. “Vera was someone we always wanted for the show, but in television you don’t always get lucky and get your first choice, especially when your first choice is an Academy Award-nominated actress,” he says. “She just killed the part.”
Like Norma, Farmiga is a mother who uses her real-life circumstances to fuel her performance. “In the [Psycho] house, if you look around, there are photos of my own children. There’s photos of my daughter Gytta and my son Fynn,” she says, a wide smile forming on her lips. “It’s such an emotional role. We do take after take. It’s such a rapid pace that sometimes it just takes a glance at a certain photo and it puts me in this real place of compassion.”
Compassionate, however, is a word few would use to describe Norma Bates. Playing a character historically blamed for her son’s illness, Farmiga feels a distinct need to shift viewers’ perceptions of Norma. “She comes with a lot of projections onto who she may have been, and assumptions, but really she’s just a pile of bones,” she says. “I’ve been appointed by Kerry [Ehrin] and Carlton [Cuse] in her defense to present to the jury and the audience a completely different notion of who she is.”
With Vera’s emotion-packed, high-anxiety performance, we just might buy it.
Nestor Carbonell (Lost), who has jokingly described his character on Bates Motel as “an ageless sheriff with guyliner,” went out of his way to sing Farmiga’s praises at the show’s Comic-Con panel in July. “She rarely goes into her trailer and is one of the most giving actors I’ve ever worked with.”
“I really hope doing however many seasons we do it, the audience will grow to adore her, respect her, and root for her, even though she reaches her demise.”
Freddie Highmore, who plays the emotionally distraught teenage Norman and who shoots nearly every scene with his on-screen mother, offers similar praise. “She’s great, isn’t she?” he says. “She’s brilliant. I’m very lucky to have worked with her. I’m so lucky to be able to act opposite of her almost every single day. She constantly brings new ideas and keeps you on your toes. She’s always alive on set.”
But fans of the 1960 original—that is, practically everyone who has or hasn’t seen the film—knows that one day, Norma must meet her end. Farmiga is aware of the conflict. All good things, even genre-defying performances, must come to an end. “I really hope doing however many seasons we do it, the audience will grow to adore her, respect her, and root for her, even though she reaches her demise,” she says. “This character is a real roll-up-your-sleeves job. I really, genuinely approach the character with the utmost integrity.”
Bates Motel won’t return for its second season until 2014, but Farmiga already has us anticipating what’s to come:
“I just finished Episode 3, and the complete unexpected has come my way. I wish I could share it with you. I can only tell you that I am terrified. The actor’s challenge for me to do what I need to do is something I did not anticipate. It’s a zoo. It’s a real zoo.”
The Conjuring easily won the box office this weekend with $41.5 million and a sequel is looking likely. During the Bates Motel interview sessions at Comic-Con yesterday, Vera Farmiga let us know that she’s already signed on for another movie.
Vera Farmiga joined our table to discuss the first and upcoming season of Bates Motel, but also had a chance to talk about The Conjuring. While we’ll post the full interview soon, she mentioned that both her and Patrick Wilson signed a deal that included the both of them appearing in a sequel. It wasn’t mentioned if the same was the case with James Wan, and we’re hoping to have more details soon.
Previously: After all the positive reactions from early screenings ofThe Conjuring, New Line is expecting to have a big hit on their hands and is already developing a sequel. This news comes from Variety, who also revealed that New Line hopes to build a franchise around the Warrens’ past investigations.
Of course, all of this will depend on how The Conjuringperforms at the box office, so we should have more details on potential sequels next month. The big question is whether or not New Line will wait for James Wan to return. He’s currently involved with the next Fast & Furioussequel and it may be more difficult to get him to commit to a sequel right away.
The Conjuring was directed by James Wan and stars Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Ron Livingston, Lili Taylor, Joey King, Shanley Caswell, Haley McFarland, Mackenzie Foy, Kyla Deaver, and Sterling Jerins. The movie will be released in the US on July 19th and the UK on August 2nd. Missed out on the previous trailers, photos, and poster? Check them out at the following links:
“Before there was Amityville, there was Harrisville. “The Conjuring” tells the true story of Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga), world renowned paranormal investigators, who were called to help a family terrorized by a dark presence in a secluded farmhouse. Forced to confront a powerful demonic entity, the Warrens find themselves caught in the most horrifying case of their lives.”
“Bates Motel” was one of the best surprises of the most recent TV season and much of that was due to Vera Farmiga’s captivating performance as fiercely protective single mother Norma Bates.
The series serves as a sort of prequel to Alfred Hitchcock’s classic “Psycho,” in which Norma’s son Norman is infamously revealed as a cross-dressing murderer. But in A&E’s show, he’s just a lost teenager (beautifully played by Freddie Highmore) trying to fit in.
Farmiga earned a well-deserved Emmy nomination for her performance and “Bates Motel” will return to A&E in 2014 for Season 2, which promises to reveal more about Norma (who revealed she was sexually abused by her brother as a child) and Norman (who was last seen leaving the home of a murdered teacher, though his responsibility in the crime remains an open question).
Farmiga recently fielded questions about the series, Emmy attention and Season 2 in a roundtable discussion at Comic-Con, the highlights follow.
LOS ANGELES—“There were some weird things that happened on the set,” Vera Farmiga revealed to us while recounting the shoot of “The Conjuring,” director James Wan’s horror-thriller. “One girl in particular experienced the very thing that physically happens to the Carolyn (played by Lili Taylor) character in the film.”
Added Vera during this interview at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in San Francisco: “Fire alarms would go off. And these weird things would happen to me. It was always a claw scenario. Check this out. I texted this photo to Patrick the day after. That’s my thigh (she showed us a photo on her mobile phone of three red scratches on her skin). It happened the day after we started filming. I don’t know what happened… unless I had a mosquito bite and I scratched it with three fingers.”
She continued: “I had this same conversation with James. We had a creative conversation about Lorraine (her character) and the approach to the character. I had done some research. After our conversation, we opened up a computer screen on which appeared three slashes. Then they disappeared—a little odd thing.”
Vera’s character is based on Lorraine Warren, a real-life clairvoyant and paranormal investigator who, with her late demonologist husband, Ed (played by Patrick Wilson), worked on the case of Carolyn and Roger Perron (Ron Livingston), who claimed their Rhode Island home was haunted. Set in the 1970s, “The Conjuring,” praised by The New York Times’ Manohla Dargis as “a fantastically effective haunted-house movie,” is directed, without the aid of CGI (computer-generated imagery), by James. The film opened to strong box office numbers last weekend.
James, who was born in Malaysia and raised in Australia, is one of the few filmmakers of Asian descent actively working in Hollywood. The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology alumnus’ previous credits include “Saw” and “Insidious.” He will direct “Fast & Furious 7,” which is in preproduction.
We asked Vera, Patrick (who was also directed by James in “Insidious” and the coming “Insidious: Chapter 2”), Ron and Lili about their director, who’s fast making an impact in Tinseltown.
What’s interesting in the stars’ answers is how they all likened James to a masterful musical conductor.
I love James’ attitude. I don’t think I would have ended up doing the project if James ended up being some sort of a creepy, dark dude. But he’s got lightness and effervescence, and a real playfulness, a childlike quality that made this experience wonderful.
The research was creepiest for me and the most harrowing. James is a real maestro. He’s very successful because he really treats it (filming) musically, like he’s some lunatic conductor. It has to do with tempo, and not being afraid of silences. He has really mastered pacing and tempo, and does not relying on gimmicks and CGI to do those scares.
Has Vera Farmiga been getting into her latest role, or is the role getting into her?
In “The Conjuring,” which is expected to take the number one spot at the box office this weekend after raking in a scary good $17 million on Friday, Farmiga plays Lorraine Warren, a paranormal investigator who is studying a haunted house in Rhode Island. The film was based on the real life adventures of husband-and-wife paranormal researchers Ed and Lorraine Warren (whose work also inspired “The Amityville Horror”), and in an interview with Yahoo! Movies at the San Diego Comic-Con, Farmiga revealed that at least one of the spooky happenings in the story has touched her in real life.
In the New England farmhouse Lorraine and Ed (Patrick Wilson) are investigating in “The Conjuring,” clocks keep stopping at 3:07 a.m., the same time a murder took place in the home. Farmiga insists she now keeps waking up at the same witching hour. “It’s in my subconscious,” Farmiga said. “I know there’s an alarm clock beyond that. It’s a joke now. I look over, I flip over the cell phone, and sure enough, it’s 3:07.”
While Farmiga and her co-star Wilson initially laughed this off as a coincidence, she isn’t taking the matter too lightly. “The things that happened [in the house] were pretty diabolical, and just talking about it conjures up or gives it relevance,” Farmiga said. “You’re dealing with dark, negative mysticism, and I just don’t want to give it more relevance. You don’t want to give it power.”
This isn’t the first time an actor bringing one of the Warrens’ stories to life has had to deal with a similar sinister coincidence. In the 2005 version of “The Amityville Horror,” a noisy ghost makes itself known every night at 3:15 a.m., and Melissa George, who appeared in the movie, found herself similarly waking up at 3:15 a.m. during the production.
“That was scary for me, but I laughed,” George told reporters during the shoot. “I thought it was quite funny.” However, like Farmiga, the experience of the film heightened her belief in the spirit world. “I can’t say I believe in ghosts, but I do believe in something else other than us,” George said. “The supernatural. I think there’s something out there.”
And the real Lorraine Warren doesn’t think there’s anything funny about her work. Warren, now 86, told Yahoo! Movies that the “Amityville Horror” case was the most traumatic she ever dealt with, and that she refuses to set foot in the former Lutz Family home again.
“Amityville was horrible, honey. It was absolutely horrible,” Warren said. “It followed us right straight across the country. I don’t even like to talk about it. I will never go in the Amityville house ever again. You don’t know how long my career is; that’s the only one.”
Farmiga may still be dealing with the spooky fallout from “The Conjuring,” but soon she’ll be returning to another disturbing residence. This week she was nominated for an Emmy for her portrayal of Norman Bates’ mother on “Bates Motel,” which will be coming back for season two in 2014.
Vera Farmiga found out this morning that she had received an Emmy nomination in the category of Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama for her role as Norma Bates, the matriarch of A&E’s Psycho prequel Bates Motel. But there’s no point asking Farmiga about her chances of beating the likes of Claire Danes (who was nominated in the same category for her performance in Homeland), Robin Wright (House of Cards), or Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men). “I can’t answer that question,” she says. “I have never seen an episode of any of them. Shame on me. But I’m just too busy!”
You can say that again. The mother of two young children has just finished shooting The Judge alongside Robert Downey Jr. and also stars as real-life paranormal investigator Lorraine Warren in director James Wan’s new horror film The Conjuring, which opens tomorrow.
Below, Farmiga talks more about her nomination, the second season of Bates Motel, and the likelihood of her returning for the already-in-development Conjuring 2.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Where are you and how did you find out about the Emmy nomination?
VERA FARMIGA: My husband watched it live online and I was awakened with coffee and the good news. He’s my biggest fan and he was really rooting for this to happen. I have to tell you, this was a really interesting experiment. I didn’t really campaign for this one. Not a lot. I did about three interviews. I know how hard I worked and I know how challenged I was and I know the input into this characterization — just psychically, spiritually, emotionally, physically — for me. And it was interesting, I didn’t do much campaigning. I can see the women that did. And I was wondering if that was going to play out. It was my little experiment.
And I’m in Vancouver in preproduction on round 2 for Bates.
Aha! So please tell us what’s going to happen in the next season.
I can’t, but it’s crazy! It’s crazy! I just read the first three episodes and the roster of things for me to do blows me away. I am so challenged by this role and terrified. If you told me this is what I would get to execute as an actress… It’s just really really wild what they’ve written. Kerry Ehrin, Carlton Cuse (Bates Motel executive producers), they’re two lunatic composers and they continue to write dissonant, crazy melodies for me to play. I’m psyched.
Can you say anything about the direction Norma is headed this season?
Well, I think she’s on the search still for stability and happiness and contentment and until now she’s only found them in the dictionary. And also, I think what’s key for her is the acknowledgement that, you know, her child has a mental illness. And no parent can utter those words without their spirit imploding.
It was confirmed this week that New Line is already developing a sequel to The Conjuring. Have you heard anything about that?
I haven’t, just hearsay. There’s nothing scheduled for me. I know that contractually [laughs] New Line has me. And Patrick [Wilson] and I are so game to do round 2. I love working with him. I love these characters. I love embodying Lorraine Warren. And so that will be great if it happens, fingers crossed.
The stars of the year’s scariest movie talk about the way it came together.
I sincerely hope that “The Conjuring” is just the first of many films in which Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga play Ed and Lorraine Warren.
After all, the Warrens spent decades investigating paranormal phenomena in real life, and the film introduces a structure that practically screams for sequels. We see that the Warrens have in their home a room where they keep all of the various items they have removed from the haunted houses and the other supernatural events they’ve witnessed, and that room serves as a sort of museum and safehouse in one. Everything in that room has a story of its own, and “The Conjuring” begins with the story of the Annabelle doll, a sort of introductory haunting to show us who the Warrens are.
Patrick Wilson was evidently the only cast member who was willing to visit the real room in Lorraine Warren’s house, and he showed me a photo on his phone of him in the room standing next to the real Annabelle doll. Talking to him and to Farmiga, it’s obvious that they really enjoyed making this one, and that they’re happy with the way it came out.
They should be. I reviewed the film already, and when we had the HitFix screening of the film at the Vista Theater, I paid close attention to the audience around me. I’d already seen the film, so I wanted to watch reactions, and sure enough, people were freaking out. It’s a very skillful film, and it treats the Warrens with respect. I think it is uncommonly respectful of the faith that was obviously such a cornerstone of the relationship that Ed and Lorraine had in real life.
Farmiga in particular rocks a very memorable look in the film, and I would not be surprised to see many people adopting the high collars and the long skirts for Halloween this year. This is one of those movies that has been relatively low buzz so far, but it’s going to be huge in terms of word of mouth, and I am excited to see what sort of reaction there is to it once it’s out there.
“The Conjuring” opens in theaters July 19.