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.
Between now and June 28, the deadline for Emmy voters to submit nomination ballots, EW.com will feature interviews with some of the actors and actresses whose names we hope to hear when nominations are announced on July 18.
We all know that Psycho’s Norman Bates had mother issues. But now we know why thanks to Vera Farmiga’s full-bodied performance as mama Norma on Bates Motel, A&E’s reboot of the famous Hitchcock thriller. Desperately clinging to her son like a manic depressive lioness, Farmiga portrays both a formidable heroine and an unstable mess.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You have a very successful film career — why take on a TV series?
VERA FARMIGA: I’m not trying out TV, I think my career was born out of TV way back with [Fox’s 1997 series] Roar and my first prominent job, my first big paycheck, or real paycheck rather, the start of my career was Roar. I supposed there are very few things on my don’t list: Don’t eat poisonous mushrooms, don’t do my own taxes, and I guess TV just wasn’t on my don’t list. And culturally, as well, things have shifted. For me then what I gravitate toward is character and challenge and I’m quite honestly wasn’t feeling challenged in a long time in this way, in this capacity. So man, I jumped at the opportunity.
Bates Motel EP Carlton Cuse told me he wrote Norma with you in mind. When you read the script, did it immediately speak to you?
Yes, absolutely, I felt immediately that Oh here’s an incredibly complex character that’s quite challenging. It’s the most flattering notion to receive something that says, “This has been written with you in mind.” And it butters you up immediately. But I just love this character.
I look at characters the way my 4-year-old son Fynn looks at Legos: He doesn’t want the Duplo Legos, for 2-year-olds—they’re janky. He wants that 2,503-piece collector’s item Imperial Shuttle that features the rotating double laser-wing cannons. And for me it’s the same thing: Norma Bates is the Imperial Shuttle. She’s the most comprehensive spice rack of maternal love and angst and I suppose it’s just, it’s all those pieces, those billion pieces, to her that I found challenging and as far as a puzzle and so in the same way I think what I was drawn to above all, what I’m always drawn to because I recognize this in myself, is contradictions. And from the first episode, I think what was so exhilarating was that feeling that pendulum of a trapeze artist swinging this way and that way on all these contradictions. She’s impulsive but she’s measured. She’s controlling and she’s out-of-control. She’s heartbreaking and yet conniving. She’s fragile and tenacious. And it really, that’s what I felt, that exhilaration of being pushed really high on this swing by Carlton and [co-EP] Kerry Ehrin. It was a no-brainer for me.
The show really hinges on the chemistry between you and Freddie Highmore, who plays Norman. Was that immediate?
Carlton allowed me to see his tapes to audition, he put himself on tape and he sent it in and I saw it. There was a buzz that I felt when I saw his [audition]. It was just so layered and nuanced and simple and his eyes did something really crazy and I still continue to see it, it’s like he has the most luminous turquoise eyes that are either black or they’re just as clear as the Caribbean. He has this, I don’t know how he does it, but is so good of an actor he can literally change the color of his eyeballs. He’s got some superhuman skills as an actor in that respect and I just respect him so much and he’s a really great collaborator. He’s an amazing dance partner and at the same time, because it’s an intimate relationship, you have no choice but to adore each other or detest each other. There’s no lukewarm attitude when you spend so much time together. My husband and I both have practically adopted him as our surrogate child. He’s here on the weekends, he eats food from our refrigerators. I look after him on set. He teaches me how to use my personal devices. I would say I’m his surrogate mother and we do have a really deep respect. And it’s a story, yeah, about a mother and son struggling to break that umbilical cord. And I think it’s a story that all of us can relate to.
Carlton was talking about the physicality of the role, of shooting on location and getting slapped around and the rape in the pilot. Was it draining?
Yeah, this is probably the most exhausting role. As far as emotional output, I would say so.
What’s been the biggest challenge?
Personally as an actress, yes, finding the tone. It’s very tricky because it’s a double-edged sword finding the comedy within all this darkness sand yet you need that levity but you don’t want to undermine the gravity of what you’re playing so balancing humor in all this, which we’re striving for, is challenging. It’s a dream job, it’s what every actress, this is the kind of role an actress wants to be handed, wants her shot at, and be careful what you ask for, because it’s hard. It’s hard finding that balance, giving so much and then balancing it with my own responsibility as a mother of a 2- and a 4-year-old because I’m depleted. I’m so depleted. At the same tie, I’m pretty inspired by this gal because, like I said, it’s her positivity, but I learn from her weaknesses. This is a role that makes me feel OK about being an exhausted, envious, ambivalent, and worried mother myself.
Carlton and Kerry said they wrote Norma and Norman kind of like a romantic-comedy couple from the 1940s. What’s your opinion on their relationship?
That is an individual audience member’s determination of how close is too close. I know there’s a deep affection between them and Norma is incredibly tactile with her son and I approached the character with innocence, I think, with purity, with chastity, with virtue. I don’t think the warped sexuality comes from her overtly, perhaps subconsciously because her neediness feeds into it. But yeah man, Freud would have had a field day, sure, deciphering because they’re close and they’re incredibly physical with each other.
How does it feel to have Emmy buzz around your performance?
It’s sheer flattery, it really is. And it’s encouragement. It’s an amazing pat on the back, because I know what the output is. It’s nice to get that pat on the back and confirmation of a job well done because I’m having a blast with it. I hope people are enjoying it because we’re putting a lot into it. You want that confirmation. And I’ve been through it with nominations for Up in the Air and other things and it feels good. But I also know that it’s stiff competition in television these days and there’s a lot of great actors doing a lot of great work that deserves to — there are stand-outs that deserve acknowledgement. I’m pretty sober about the whole thing, But bottom line is, of course that buzz feels great.
Christy Grosz edits Deadline’s awards publication Awardsline.
Vera Farmiga admits she was skeptical when she first heard about Bates Motel, the series that serves as a modern-day prequel to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. But playing a character who was merely an idea in the original source material has proven to be the right role at the right time for her. The Oscar-nominated actress is almost protective in describing Norma as the parent of a mentally ill child, choosing to see the single mother as sympathetic. While the A&E series has been picked up for a second season, Farmiga also will star in July’s The Conjuring, in which she plays a paranormal investigator.
AwardsLine: When Bates Motel came to you, were you looking for a TV project specifically?
Farmiga: I think I was looking for a career tweak. I have so many other interests in life, and no role is more challenging, rewarding and inspiring than my real-life role as a mom and a wife, so I pretty much just look at the most remunerative offers these days. (Laughs.) But seriously, if I’m going to step away for 18 hours a day, there better be some sort of a paycheck or spiritual salary being offered. And Bates Motel surprised me. (The role) made me reflect so deeply on the love I feel for my children. I was craving a deeper level of, I don’t know, virtuosity. The writers presented me with this deeper level of sophistication, the creation of Norma, and I pounced on the opportunity. Also, I was craving all that cable serial television has to offer, which is the risk and the wackiness, the unorthodox.
AwardsLine: Did you have any misgivings about tackling such an iconic film from an iconic director?
Farmiga: The purist in me was really suspicious. I love that film, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t kind of turned off by the interdependence to Psycho. Upon reading it, I think setting it in the present really liberated it from the confines of the original. And after all, my character is a corpse; she’s a notion. The challenge is portraying her as an individual, rather than this caricature of an evil mother looming over Norman’s superego. In many ways, what I’ve been hired to do by (executive producers) Kerry (Ehrin) and Carlton (Cuse) is to be that criminal defense attorney, to dispute her image as that eternal narcissist who created that emotional damage and harmed her child. Instead, I want to represent a woman who has genuine empathy and who has an unlimited capacity for giving her child unconditional love.
AwardsLine: Is it difficult to strike that balance between her being slightly off-kilter and seeming genuinely maternal?
Farmiga: I choose to see her as always being strong, brave, tough, resilient and passionate. Yes, she’s troubled and wrong—and just errant at times—but I only doubt her fundamental morality, like, 1 percent of the time. There are websites that I continually reference for inspiration, and I cannot help but approach this with enormous compassion. There’s no parent that can utter the words “My child has a mental illness” without their spirit completely imploding. There are no clear steps that any parent can take to make their mentally dysfunctional child healthier. But it’s an astounding character setting in that respect.
AwardsLine: Now that the show has been renewed for a second season, where do you see that relationship with Norman going?
Farmiga: Other than downstairs in a root cellar? (Laughs.) It’s the great American tragedy, and we know where that story inevitably leads. And it’s grisly. It’s grim. We know that Norman’s going to become some sort of version of the guy in Psycho, and that Norma’s going to become some sort of version of that skeleton with the updo, but how are we going to get there? For me to answer that question, I’d have to divulge a major plot point. It’s like Chopin. It begins and it ends with dissonances, but in between I want to strike all those beautiful chords that make the story so complex.
AwardsLine: You directed your first feature film, Higher Ground, last year. Do you have plans to direct again?
Farmiga: I was just asked by Carlton if I wanted to direct an episode, and with a 2- and a 4-year-old, I can’t. I just don’t have the time. To be honest, I still am trying to grasp the tone of Bates. It’s a wonderful thing, and I’m really enjoying it, but I feel like I’m on some rough seas because the tone of this show switches like the wind. It’s only been 10 episodes, so I am still getting to know my character. As far as directing, I do love it. I just haven’t found that story. I’m only comfortable working in the independent film arena for a very small budget where I have creative control and I can put my stamp on it.
AwardsLine: You’re turning 40 this year. What do you see that meaning for you as an actress?
Farmiga: Do I care that my birthday cake will look like a small forest fire this August? No. If anyone else is concerned, they can go eff themselves. I transitioned out of youth and beauty roles before my career ever began. The kinds of roles I gravitate toward have become more abundant with age and wrinkles. I’m happier than ever; I’m older than ever.
‘Bates Motel’ actress Vera Farmiga said her character, Norma, ‘knows something’ about her son Norman that makes her overly protective. ‘Bates Motel’ is a TV prequel to the seminal horror movie ‘Psycho.’
Vera Farmiga has some advice for Norma Bates, her character in the new series “Bates Motel”: “Honesty is always the best policy.”
Honesty — or the lack of it — is a key theme in the 10-episode prequel to the classic Hitchcock film “Psycho.” The A&E show, which premiered Monday at 10 p.m., reveals just what drove Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) over the edge.
In an interview Monday, the Oscar-nominated actress said Norman and his mother, Norma, are “harboring a dark secret which will unfold as the series continues.” Along with the everyday angst most parents experience, Norma “knows something about him that I think makes her hyper-protective,” Farmiga said.
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Farmiga didn’t have a lot to go from to create her character. In “Psycho,” Norman’s mother was a skeletal role. (Although Farmiga did reveal that in an upcoming episode she dons the same hairstyle as Norman’s mother from the original film.)
Farmiga, who has two toddlers of her own, said she studied hers and other maternal relationships around her to help her get into character. She says in her mind Norma is a mother who is trying to be a good influence.
“Yeah, she’s insane as any mother goes insane sometimes,” Farmiga said. “It’s a very typical portrayal of maternity and its function and dysfunction and its victories and defeats. She doesn’t always make the right decisions.”
The actress said she also looked to the theater, where she began her career, for inspiration in women in Chekhov and Ibsen plays.
“It just reminded me a lot of the heroines and the yearning to start over,” she said. “Our story is that: What lengths will a mother go to to give her child the life that she envisions for him?”
In the series, Norma Bates has another son, Dylan (Max Thieriot), with whom she says Norma “failed miserably.” That explains why her relationship with Norman is “so tightfisted, so entwined,” she said.
“You could say these two still have an umbilical cord like wrapped around the two of them and for an audience to decide and take that journey to decide how close is too close,” Farmiga said.
Anyone who has seen “Psycho” knows that it does not end well.
While Farmiga acknowledges that the characters are doomed she says “Bates Motel” wants the audience to root for them, “to hope against hope that maybe things turn out differently.”
This exclusive video takes you deeper inside the episode, “First You Dream, Then You Die”. The actors give more details about their characters and the writers explain key elements about specific.
“Quite frankly,” Vera Farmiga says of Norma Bates, the iconic character she plays in the new, revisionist TV thriller Bates Motel, she didn’t think much about who Norman Bates’ mother was, or what happened to make her the person she became in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 film classic Psycho.
Norma Bates was, strictly speaking, not a character in suspense writer Robert Bloch’s original 1959 novel but rather an unseen presence.
Farmiga, with her arts-oriented upbringing and drama background — a stint with the American Conservatory Theatre and New York’s prestigious Barrow Group, followed by roles in the films Return to Paradise, Down to the Bone, The Departed, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, The Vintner’s Luck and an Academy Award-nominated turn opposite George Clooney in 2009’s Up in the Air — seemed an unlikely choice to play an emotionally abusive mother to a disturbed teenage boy in a TV thriller. But then Bates Motel is no ordinary TV thriller.
Farmiga approaches her roles from a theatrical, artistic vantage point, drawing on her arts-oriented upbringing and her affinity for independent film when considering a part.
She had seen Hitchcock’s Psycho years earlier — “I had done a whole comprehensive Hitchcock about a decade ago,” she says — but Norma Bates didn’t leave much of an impression.
Then she read the first three scripts of Bates Motel, and she saw a different side to the part. The more she immersed herself in the pages, the more she realized this was a role she was meant to play.
Bates Motel, conceived by Lost co-writer and producer Carlton Cuse and Friday Night Lights’ Kerry Ehrin, is a dark and moody, postmodern, updated-to-present-day psychological thriller, more in the vein of David Lynch and Twin Peaks than a typical TV clinker. Motel was filmed earlier this year in Aldergrove, B.C., filling in for moody, small-town middle America. It premieres Monday, March 18, on A&E.
Bates Motel was inspired by rather than adapted from the Hitchcock classic. It’s written as a contemporary examination of Norman Bates’ formative years, his relationship with his mother, and the emotional world they navigate, inside and outside the motel and hilltop house where they’ve lived since Norma Bates’ husband died. Norman is played in the series by 21-year-old UK actor Freddie Highmore, who counts Finding Neverland, The Golden Compass and The Spiderwick Chronicles among his film roles.
“It isn’t even necessarily Hitchcockian,” Farmiga explained in Los Angeles earlier this year, during a break from filming in Vancouver. “Yes, she’s a cool blond that, at the outset, appears very lovely but acts in a very animalistic way when she encounters danger. That’s Norma. For me, though, she was drawn more from Ibsen and Chekhov. She really was. I can equate her more to those kinds of heroines than Hitchcock. I didn’t think of Hitchcock’s Norma Bates and what that would mean to an audience.”
The postdated, modern-day setting and Bates Motel’s different rhythms and emotional beats make it seem unique and distinctive, Farmiga suggested, rather than a conventional remake of a time-honoured classic.
“We have a lot of bounce with this springboard to be inventive,” Farmiga said, “because we know nothing about her.”
Bates Motel takes a page from film noir, Farmiga added, as reflected in the first episode’s title: First You Dream, Then You Die. People have desires and dreams. Occasionally they do bad things in pursuit of those dreams, and there can be terrible consequences as a result.
“I went into this wanting to defend who this woman is,” Farmiga said. “In the early episodes I read, she was, to me, such a beautiful portrait of valiant maternity. I saw the challenge therein. To me, the story is a beautiful love letter between a mother and her son. That’s how I perceive the character. To me, it’s like the Edvard Munch painting of the Madonna. It’s really warped and it kind of exudes the scared and the profane. It’s just psychologically gripping. And that’s what I was drawn to with Norma. She’s a playground for an actress. The character’s riddled with contradiction. She’s as strong and tall as an oak, and as fragile as a butterfly, and everything in between that I admire in female characters I come across — resilience and passion and intellect. And, at the same time, she’s an absolute train wreck.
“Bad things happen to her, but in her perseverance there’s a lot of strength.”
Bates Motel premieres Monday, March 18, on A&E at 10 ET/7 PT.