A&E’s “Bates Motel” is one of the new year’s most intriguing TV additions, a ten-episode prequel to “Psycho” moved up to the present day and executive produced by “Lost” showrunner Carlton Cuse. Freddie Highmore plays teenaged Norman Bates, while Vera Farmiga is his mother Norma, alive and well pre-mummification, as the two move to a small coastal town and purchase, what do you know, a motel.
Highmore, Farmiga and Cuse were at the network’s TCA Winter Press Tour panel to talk about the upcoming series, along with cast members Olivia Cooke, Nicola Peltz and Max Thieriot and executive producer Kerry Ehrin. After joking that “Bates Motel” was “going to be cryptic” like “Lost,” Cuse admitted that “there’s a story here that has a beginning, middle, and end” — an end that, one would presume, everyone’s well familiar with.
Cuse said that while “in some general form, we are going to catch up with a version of the character from the movie,” the show wasn’t going to be too closely bound to its source material, as indicated by the contemporary setting. Instead, the audience’s knowledge of what was eventually coming would be used to give the story an air of tragedy — as Cuse put it, “you’re going to be rooting for these characters to somehow survive despite the fact that you sort of know that their fate ultimately is tragic. But the specific way in which their tragic fate plays out is going to be something that will be of our own invention.”
Farmiga pointed out that we’re told very little about her character in Hitchcock’s film, and it comes “through Norman’s warped psyche — we have preconceived notions of who Norma may have been based on that last image in ‘Psycho.'” She was drawn to Norma because “she was just such a beautiful portrait of valiant maternity to me… 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 that I come across, which is resilience and passion and intellect. And, at the same time, she’s an absolute train wreck and a magnet.” Highmore added that the awareness of his fate offers an “argument between nature versus nurture. Is he who he is and will he always become the person that he will become, or is it because they move to this dodgy town and there’s a sort of weird, certainly close, intimate relationship between Norma and Norman.”
Cuse noted that the “Psycho” sequels were not being considered canon for “Bates Motel”: “We did not want to do an homage to ‘Psycho.’ We just wanted to sort of take these characters and the setup as inspiration. In fact, the mythology that you think is what dictates the relationship between Norma and Norman is probably not what it’s going to turn out to be.” There will also be “no polar bears, no smoke monsters” — no supernatural elements in what Cuse describes as a “psychological thriller.”
Cuse stressed that Norma is as central to the story as Norman. “Her unpredictability and Norman’s unpredictability is really engaging. You’re never quite sure what they’re going to do and what’s going to happen. You’re not quite sure where they are in the spectrum of sanity. And that was what was engaging for us as storytellers.” “Bates Motel” premieres Monday, March 18th at 10pm.