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.”
Can lightning strike twice (in a row) for Homeland‘s Claire Danes? That’s the central question looming over the 2013 Emmy race for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series.
In order for Danes to take home a bookend statuette, she’ll need to beat a deep and crowded field of six fellow nominees, including a quartet of newcomers to the race: Scandal‘s Kerry Washington, Nashville‘s Connie Britton, Bates Motel‘s Vera Farmiga and House of Cards‘ Robin Wright. (Britton, of course, has been in the race before — in 2010 and 2011 — but those nods were for her role in Friday Night Lights.)
Danes other rivals include Downton Abbey‘s Michelle Dockery (up for the second straight year) and Mad Men‘s Elisabeth Moss (nominated for the fourth time in five years).
What would you do if you had the power to honor one of these fine actors when the Emmys are handed out? Take our poll below to vote for your favorite — TVLine voting closes Sept. 20, so act now! — then hit the comments to justify your pick!
Tomorrow, we’ll launch another “Who Should Win?” Emmy poll, so come back to TVLine.com every day to weigh in on who’s most worthy of TV’s biggest honor. And to stay up to speed on all our Emmy polls, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!
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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.”
— Inside Bates Motel (@InsideBates) July 20, 2013
Just announced live and on twitter.
— Television Academy (@PrimetimeEmmys) July 18, 2013
Though little is known about Bates Motel season 2, some of the show’s stars hinted about what’s coming for their characters.
Both Vera Farmiga (Norma) and Freddie Highmore (Norman) went through the press junket on June 22 to discuss potential Emmy nominations and details about what season 2 of Bates Motel will look like.
Farmiga told Deadline that the story of Bates Motel and 1960′s Psycho, the original film on which the show is based off of, is “the great American tragedy.” She explained that everyone knows where the story leads: “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?”
Though Psycho inspired the show in many ways, it isn’t necessarily a prequel, since the show takes place in modern times and the Bates family has other significant members in the show, such as Norman’s half brother. The producers have never actually said that the series will lead to Norman killing his mother, but Farmiga seems to believe that that’s the natural ending.
As far as more specific details going into season 2, Farmiga said that she couldn’t divulge that information but likened the show to composer Frederic Chopin.
“It begins and it ends with dissonances,” she explained, “but in between I want to strike all those beautiful chords that make the story so complex.”
In Highmore’s interview with Entertainment Weekly, the actor speculated about how the writers would go forward after Miss Watson’s untimely death in the first season finale.
“I think that who everyone thinks killed Miss Watson is Norman, and unless they decide to dramatically change that, I guess that’ll be the case . . . I think he probably did her in. But whether or not he remembers it or . . . has any recollection of it, is something different.”
Bates Motel will air its second season in 2014, though a specific date has not been set yet.
Watch a behind-the-scenes look at the first season finale:
As the smothering mother of the notorious Norman Bates in a modern-set prequel to the Hitchcock classic, the Oscar-nominated actress has warmed to the small screen.
Vera Farmiga remembers vividly how she came to see Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” for the first time.
Had she known she would someday play Norman Bates’ mother in A&E’s prequel series “Bates Motel,” she might have paid the picture closer attention. At the time, she was too preoccupied with another great director to give that classic Hitchcock thriller the scrutiny she since has.
“Other than maybe the shower scene,” Farmiga admits, “I didn’t see all of ‘Psycho’ till I was on set shooting ‘The Departed.’ Marty Scorsese made me. At first I nodded and considered bluffing him. Then I realized that whenever he refers to an old movie, he’s going to send you a deluxe DVD of it that night. By the end of the shoot, I was almost giving him blank looks about movies I knew by heart, just so he’d send me DVDs of them.”
Farmiga has since received an Oscar nomination for her role as George Clooney’s compartmental lover in “Up in the Air.” Her directing debut, 2011′s spiritual drama “Higher Ground,” drew solid praise. Nevertheless, despite half a dozen upcoming movies in the can, this first-generation Ukrainian American from New Jersey has followed better scripts and larger audiences to television.
“Of course I wish more people had seen some of my films. That’s one reason you do it, to share a character and a story with people. I loved [the little-seen film] ‘Breaking and Entering’ and my character in it…. So I was game to do cable, because so much good film work goes unseen. And the caliber of television today is so high.”
When Carlton Cuse (“Lost,” “The Adventures of Briscoe County, Jr.”) and Kerry Ehrin (“Moonlighting,” “Friday Night Lights”) began discussing with her the uncast part of a contemporary Norma Bates, she had to overcome some initial skepticism about the character. But their pilot script trumped any early reservations about decanting vintage Universal back-catalog wine into smaller episodic bottles.
“[Norma's] really the embodiment of a woman totally consumed by motherhood. As a mother myself, I can understand that feeling. Norma has such a strong maternal instinct, and that powerful an instinct isn’t always easily distinguishable from insanity.”
Farmiga doesn’t sound notably insane on the phone from Vancouver, Canada, where the “Bates Motel” crew has pitched camp. She sounds, in fact, quite cheerful, breaking frequently into the comfortable laugh of an Oscar-nominated mid-career actress with a role she likes and in a series that just got its first renewal notice.
For most of Joseph Stefano’s original “Psycho” script, we know Norma mainly by her voice, so it somehow feels right to speak to Farmiga by phone, not seeing her face. Not many realize that the voice in the film actually belonged to Virginia Gregg, the Marni Nixon of psychotic smother-mothers, a versatile but unsung radio actress who had already appeared in Hitchcock’s “Notorious.”
Farmiga doesn’t feel oppressed by her formidable if unseen predecessor: “I don’t think of Norma as an incredibly famous character. Norman, yes, and Freddie [Highmore, her costar] has to reckon with people’s memories of Anthony Perkins. But Norma, she’s almost a blank slate.”
The series takes place before the events of the 1960 original, yet it’s set in the present. If Cuse and Ehrin can take that liberty with the story, might others lie ahead? Scorsese would surely swallow his gum at the prospect, but Farmiga loves her new character too much to resign herself to reenacting Hitchcock’s ghoulish finale just yet.
“I can’t help hoping that Norma and Norman will find a way to avoid such a tragic ending. I know it’ll probably never happen. I know that. But if the writers went that way, I sure wouldn’t complain.”