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Interview: Vera Farmiga on ‘Bates Motel’ and her character’s motherly love

Vera Farmiga as Norma Bates
Vera Farmiga as Norma Bates
A&E / Bates Motel via Facebook

Those who are familiar with Oscar-nominated actress Vera Farmiga’s body of work knew that “Bates Motel” had some serious potential the moment her name was attached. Now, on the brink of season two Farmiga has left no doubt with fans, having given Norma Bates radiant (and at times creepy) life and earning a primetime Emmy nomination for her efforts on the way to doing so.

At a roundtable interview Farmiga spoke candidly about her character, working with Freddie Highmore and motherly love.

In the course of the first season viewers learned that Norma has a dark past, some wild emotions and a real proclivity for landing herself in trouble. Though Farmiga had to remain tight-lipped about season two details, she did hypothesize that the new season may see Norma make progress with some of her issues.

“I think what comes with season two is a real proactivity to fix that, in the kind of normal roll up your sleeves way. She’s going to find those venues, those therapeutic venues,” she said.

From Farmiga’s perspective it is that past that dictates much of Norma’s interaction with Norman.

“I think she comes from a very painful history. A very dark backstory, just a lifetime of pain and guilt, anxiety over her own childhood, and she’s never had anybody take care of her the way that she’s trying to take care of her family,” Farmiga said.

But does Farmiga think Norma’s efforts cross the line where mother-son interactions and relationships are concerned?

“ ...Speaking from my character’s perspective, I can’t allow him to become independent or gain autonomy, there is a genuine anxiety there,” she began. “Freddie disagrees, but I honestly believe the audience projects... I really do. I think that she’s really, she’s got a clutch on that umbilical cord and she’s got him wrapped around and she doesn’t want to let him go, but I think is the only family she’s got.

“Dylan and her coming to terms with each other, but he is an example of a first attempt at maternity that was a failure. She has no friends, she has no husband or partner, her family obviously is out of the picture. She relies too heavily, so that neediness absolutely feeds into the relationship.”

“I don’t think, if you presented it Norma, she would think it’s the most preposterous idea the world that there’s any sensuality. When she touches Norman it really is the love of a mother, except she’s dealing with him like he’s four and a half years old, and he’s not,” Farmiga explained.

And that belief that Norma believes she’s doing the best she can for her family is most definitely a consideration for Farmiga and the way she approaches the character.

“I will fight to the death, valiantly, to portray her really with the compassion that is required of a mother. Jeffrey Dahmer’s dad wrote a book on the anguish that a parent feels when that parent comes to terms with the evil in a child, and I think we all shape our children with our sensibilities, our coping mechanisms, our emotions, we influence the people our sons and daughters will become,” she said. “So it’s like how did I contribute to this?”

And indeed, that exploration is at the center of “Bates Motel”. By virtue of the fact that the show is a prequel, we all know the destination, in a certain sense, at least for Norman, but Farmiga doesn’t feel that what we see in “Psycho” is necessarily enough to say that Norma made Norman a monster and there’s nothing else to the question.

“There’s no clues except for what we hear from an already psychotic adult Norman Bates, he’s not exactly trustworthy. Can you really trust someone in the throes of psychosis? So when he mimics Norma’s voice in the original ‘Psycho’ movie, he’s projecting,” she explained.

“Mothers are always blamed. But this is a relevant soulful exploration, how do we raise morally sound children?”

While the answer to that question is likely one that will continue to arise through the ages, there can be no question that the on-screen chemistry between Farmiga and Highmore is essential to the continued success of “Bates Motel”, and luckily for fans it developed quickly.

“We had no time to prepare, we were thrown in. We became close fast, because you’re on set for sometimes 17, 18 hours a day, and the nature of what we’re playing is so intimate thematically…” she explained.

That closeness between the pair was evident in the room where the cast circulated to complete a series of roundtable interviews. As each of them was broached with the question of how close is too close for Norman and Norma they would glance at each other before explaining that they disagree on the subject, a fact that suggests its a conversation they’ve had many times on set.

Coming to this author’s table just after Freddie, Farmiga noticed his left-behind sunglasses and happily made a crack about always having to pick up after him.

“I think as actors, I’m really open and he’s so great. I rely on his ideas and I rely on him to maneuver me out of my comfort zone, you know, I love his perception, I really think he’s so bright...I immediately recognized he’s such a special dude and it just happened so organically. It is a chemistry thing,” Farmiga said.

“And you know, I know the really wacky side of who Freddie Highmore is. Sometimes you just have an innate chemistry with each other that instigates that, and I think we have that, so we giggle through all of this.”


For more on "Bates Motel" season two check out our interviews with Freddie Highmore, Nestor Carbonell, Writer-Producers Carlton Cuse and Kerry Ehrin and co-stars Max Thieriot and Olivia Cooke.

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