Bates Motel is returning to A&E for Season 2 on March 3rd. After the explosive events of the first season, things are only going to get tougher and more dangerous for Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) and his mother, Norma (Vera Farmiga), especially with the economic livelihood of the motel being threatened. The series also stars Max Thieriot, Nestor Carbonell, Olivia Cooke and Nicola Peltz.
During this recent interview to promote the show’s premiere, actress Vera Farmiga and executive producer/writer Kerry Ehrin talked about returning for Season 2, the luxury of a continuing series, the possibility of a love interest for Norma, getting to learn more about Norma’s backstory this season, the process for doing such emotional scenes, how Norma’s brother will change the dynamic, whether Farmiga might ever direct an episode, and how the door will definitely be open for a third season. Check out what they had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
VERA FARMIGA: I’ve never had the luxury of a second season. I’ve done three series before, and they all never had the opportunity to go beyond 13 episodes in the first season. So, in the first season, I did feel a little disabled. I wanted to take it an episode at a time, and not get ahead of myself. I felt like Norman Bates was this like huge, voluptuous shrub that I just had to trust in this shallow root system. Sometimes I felt like I was like showing up to fix his toilet and my toolbox had been packed by the wife. So, I just reveled in the opportunity of a second season.
Television is a much slower process to discovering that background history, the personality, the psychology, and the characters goals. There were so many unknowns. The cast is also so much closer. There’s an intimacy. There’s a level of sportsmanship now that we can throw harder jabs at each other. It’s the deeper level of trust that has been established between Kerry [Ehrin] and Carlton [Cuse] and the actors. So, it’s interesting, developing a character over TV time. At the same time, I wanted to pace myself with the information that was coming at me. But with the second season, I did ask for more clues. I wanted to have the trajectory of the second season. I wanted to have more answers at the start, which I was provided with. I think you’re in for a better second season.
What kind of mothering tips have you learned from Norma?
FARMIGA: I admire her tenacious love for her child. She goes to extreme lengths to give her child the life that she imagines for him, and that is really valiant to me. I admire her generous heart. She’s really disarmingly honest. Those are amazing qualities that she possesses. The flip side of Norma Bates is that her software is a bit faulty. She doesn’t wrap Norman in bubble wrap, all the time. After all, this is a story about family dysfunction. I have to work so hard to get an audience to identify with her, to defend her, and to admire her. For me, the name of the game is to present a woman who lives every day in the trenches of maternity, and in the trenches of her own stubbornness and denial. Those negative qualities influence me to be a better parent. Norma’s two demons are denial and stubbornness, and that keeps me in check.
Kerry, do you feel compassion for Norma, as a mother?
KERRY EHRIN: I think Norma is the mother of all mothers. She’s in an extreme situation. But every mother I’ve ever known, has this passion for making everything okay for their kid. We can’t help it. It’s what mothers do. And it’s something so beautiful. That’s what Norma means to me. That’s why I think she’s beautiful. She’s screwed up and dysfunctional. Her early life was none of her own doing. Within that, she’s absolutely just valiantly doing the best that she can, and you have to love that.
FARMIGA: She’s proven, from the first season, that she’s totally over anxious. She’s too involved. This is a woman who’s been abused by her father and abused by her brother, and then discarded and unneeded by her older son. She clings to the one man that has been her protector, her confidant, her consolation and the light in her life, and that is Norman. She’s totally too involved, and she’s unable to cut the cord. With survivors of childhood sexual abuse, it’s really complex. It impedes the ability to trust. These poisonous feelings that she has are embedded so deep in her psyche, and she’s never uprooted them. She just has this vault, like a burial chamber, where she squashes all that sadness and stress and torment. She’s totally preoccupied with Norman because she has discovered and suspects that there’s something not quite right, neurologically, with her child. It’s not a job for the faint-hearted. Every ounce of energy is about trying to struggle with raising this atypical child, and doing it as a single parent. She’s also got her own painful history to contend with. She’s got this rampart that she’s built. It’s like the walls of Constantinople. It’s a lifetime of defensive walls that she has.
Will we learn more about her background, this season?
FARMIGA: Yes. She’s built this brick by brick, and the ramparts are not so fortified anymore. Somebody comes in, and then she has this reason for moving out to White Pine Bay, to put as much real estate as possible between her and her past, and these people that have been a part of this. It’s all developed really complicated psychological issues, like depression, that she squashes, along with low self-esteem, fear and guilt. There’s all that trauma that she hasn’t dealt with. She’s got pretty significant stressors that affect her parenting capacities, as well as every other relationship that she can take on. I feel like she’s driving the bus from the backseat. It’s also a coping mechanism. She has an incredible sense of denial. She looks at it as creative visualization. She shoves everything inside this vault, and she just takes on this fresh and fabulous outlook on life. Achieving success with the hotel, she equates to happiness, which is the one thing she’s always struggled with achieving. She just throws herself into the hotel’s success, and that involves going out into the community and meeting people. The word is out in the street. There’s already a negative association with her and what’s happened at that hotel. So, her mission at the start of Season 2 is to change that. That consists of being more involved in the community, and she develops friendships outside of her relationship with Norman.
EHRIN: Norma has a longing for normalcy, and normalcy for some people means having a mate. Whether or not she actually knows how to relate to that person or connect with them or what to do with them, she has a deep longing for it. She believes she has room for love in her life. She has hopes that she will meet someone and fall in love and have a wonderful life. And there is a very interesting person that shows up this season.
Is that a new character?
EHRIN: Yes, it is. This season is a lot of fun because, while last season was about all of these things that got in the way of Norma and Norman, and achieving what they came to White Pine Bay for, this season is very much about putting them in a position where they might actually what they want. The things that start to screw it up are more inside of them. I don’t want to tell you too much, but it very much is a journey of following them while they deconstruct things that are good, in a really entertaining way.
Vera, is there anything you do to prepare before your emotional scenes? Do you have any specific rituals?
FARMIGA: It’s such an elusive sport. Some days, things that I think are going to work don’t. The bottom line is that I’m so close with Freddie [Highmore], so there’s a lot there. There’s a lot of instigation. The best thing is just to trust him and react. I simply remind myself to react. It’s not about acting. It’s reacting. That is always the bottom line. And sometimes you don’t quite feel it. I have so much to draw upon within my imagination, just putting myself in the, “What if?,” position with my own children. I don’t know. Sometimes music helps. If I feel that it’s bogus, I’ll literally just call myself out on camera and say that it’s dishonest. You do whatever it takes.
Sometimes that process is quite weird and wacky. It depends on what the scene calls for and what the moment calls for. It’s tough, too. It’s like balancing my own maternity, and the demands of that, with playing this cocktail of madness and maternity that is Norma Bates. I’m so tired that oftentimes it’s just submitting to that weariness. That inspires me. Usually, it’s just a matter of opening my mouth. We work at such a rapid pace. Sometimes we shoot eight scenes a day, or more. You’ve got to be prepared. And I’m a full-time mom, too. I’ve never felt as prepared, as before maternity.
It’s challenging, especially with this role. But mostly, I just rely on my scene partners. Be prepared to see some astonishing work from all of the actors this season. I try to do the right research. There’s so much online. If you type in parenting a psychopath, there’s so much that comes up that will give me so much compassion for the struggle of a mom, loving her child through mental illness, or whatever it is that that child is suffering from. There so many testimonials online that are really inspiring to me.
EHRIN: Watching Vera on set is one of the most entertaining things I’ve ever done in my life because you really have no idea where it’s coming from. I go up to her afterwards, all the time, and I’m like, “What were you thinking about during that?” It is fascinating to watch. It’s like she’s channeling. It’s like she’s inside herself and outside herself, at the same time. She has such a radar for when it’s real.
How will the arrival of Norma’s brother change the family dynamics this season?
EHRIN: He’s a very volatile, emotional memory for Norma, and she really has no idea what to do with all of that. It’s not like it’s ever been talked through or worked on. It’s basically just been shoved into the vault. And then, this guy shows up and he’s outside of the vault, so how do you handle that? It’s super complicated because of Norman’s great protectiveness of his mother and his tendencies that even he doesn’t know.
FARMIGA: I think I have that option, contractually. Carlton asked me last year. But, I feel like I’m still grasping the tone. I feel like I’m more fortified in the second season then I felt in the first season. Kerry and Carlton so skillfully balance these like multiple tones to create this like strange tonality of drama, melodrama, mystery, horror, psychological thriller, dark comedy, screwball comedy and oddball comedy, all together. This is the tallest order I’ve had, as far as the demands of the character, emotionally, physically and spiritually. This role is epic. I rely on my directors, a lot. I love being directed for this role. I cherish each director that we have. I want to be maneuvered out of my comfort zones. I don’t have the time to prepare. Not yet. I’m not ready yet. Ask me in another season.
Kerry, is the door left open for a third season, at the end of the second?
EHRIN: Enthusiastically, yes. There’s so much great story to go. This is such an exciting show to work on because there’s something about the relationship with Norma and Norman that just keeps on giving. From a writer’s point of view, it’s just delightful. So, yes, for sure.
Bates Motel returns for Season 2 to A&E on March 3rd.