“Bates Motel” is a family affair on- and offscreen. In Monday’s new episode (9 p.m. on A&E), just as Norma Bates’s family dramas take a temporary back seat to her date with nice guy George (guest star Michael Vartan), a new arrival threatens her new happiness: her brother Caleb (guest star Kenny Johnson), who abused Norma when they were younger.
Happily, the family vibe behind-the-scenes is a much less complicated one.
In part 2 of our recent interview with Vera Farmiga, the “Bates Motel” star tells Yahoo TV about how she has genuine love for the actors playing her TV sons, how her TV and real-life families have become intertwined, and which of her TV sons reminds her of a certain Golden Globe-winning actor.
You have such great chemistry with both Freddie Highmore [Norman] and Max Thieriot [Dylan]. Was that instant?
Honestly, I think chemistry is a funny thing to talk about, because a part of me believes that it’s mostly willingness. If the writing is sublime, if it’s on the written page and then you’re willing, it’s just a matter of taking … chemistry is being so keen to each other and taking all social cues and paying attention to the nuance of their performance and reacting. I think both boys are incredibly talented. Obviously, Freddie had a lot to do first season and Max gets to really show off this second season. The plot for him, his narrative this year, is quite spectacular, and what he does with these scenes is mind-blowing. There have been occasions where literally I’m bereft of words, because I’m in a scene with him and all of a sudden I have this mind blowing moment where I’m watching him as an audience. There’s been a couple times, and there’s proof in dailies, where I just stop. I don’t say my lines, because I’m just so enthralled.
But back to chemistry, I also find them both to be very charming boys, very openhearted. I think that makes it easy for me to befriend them, and create a trust. They’re both very sharp as actors, so I rely on them to get me into places as well. I really, really like them, and I respect them both as men and as actors. You’re seeing a genuine love there.
Does the cast have fun on set? Is that important especially on a show with subject matter that’s so often so dark and serious?
We do. Absolutely we have fun. I think that you have to. It organically happens, the mix of personalities between Nestor [Carbonell] and Olivia [Cooke] and myself and the boys. We adore each other. And yes, I think when you’re dealing with some dark subject matter, it’s our responsibility, the actors are responsible for setting the tone on a set. We love our crewmembers. We cherish them. We want them to come back next season. So we create this airiness and this lightness and this joyful set.
I see it, in particular, because with Freddie and Max this year, they got really close. I think Max really took him under his wing like a big bro. I could see that relationship deepening. It adds to the performance. Max has a huge influence, even physically, on Freddie this year. I just saw all 10 episodes of the second season, and I’m looking at Freddie. He doesn’t even fit in those little sweaters anymore, because Max has influenced him to go to the gym and to get “swoll.” [Laughing.] Part of it is cheekiness, but part of it, they’re really serious about how “swoll” they get, the two of them. Max is a huge bodybuilder. He can’t get big enough. And now Freddie … he’s at that age, and he just turned 22. He’s changing quickly. I saw something cut together from first season, and he just looked like a baby to me, and he’s so rapidly changing, and now especially with working out. He’s just getting broader. All of a sudden, I was looking at him, and he’s looking like Hugh Grant. He doesn’t even look like Freddie Highmore anymore, he looks like Hugh Grant.
That must be interesting for you, as a mom with young children, to see how quickly they change, even at that age.
It happens so fast. Freddie’s asking for an update on Fynn, literally. We were just chatting here, and he wants a debriefing on my [5-year-old] son Fynn, because they’re playmates. They have a very special relationship. Freddie’s his mentor, and his big bro. Now Freddie’s back at school, he’s at Cambridge, he’s graduating this year, and he’s just trying to keep tabs on Fynn. I’m literally texting him and debriefing him on Fynn’s growth spurt and what his favorite words are.
They spend a lot of time together?
Yeah, they do. They do. Freddie’s family is back in London, so he gravitates towards us, and my husband, Renn [Hawkeye], is also a very good friend of his and kind of his big bro. We’ve become this surrogate family, I think, for each other. Freddie’s the big brother that Fynn never had.
One of the other great relationships, great chemistry, is between Norma and Sheriff Romero (Nestor Carbonell). Will we see more interaction between them in Season 2?
Totally. They have secrets about each other. They are indebted to each other, so that’s a relationship. And it’s a very interesting relationship, because there’s this attraction of opposites. As verbose as she is, he’s more silent, but both of them harbor these mysterious pasts, dark pasts. Yes, absolutely, it’s a relationship that you’ll see unfold.