Currently wrapping up its first season and already given a second, the A&E drama series Bates Motel gives viewers an intimate portrayal of how Norman Bates’ (Freddie Highmore) psyche unravels through his teenage years. This contemporary prequel to the genre-defining film Psycho reveals the dark, twisted backstory and shows first-hand just how deep the relationship with his mother, Norma (Vera Farmiga), truly goes, as she helps forge the most famous serial killer of them all.
During this exclusive interview with Collider, co-stars Nicola Peltz (who plays Bradley, the beautiful teenager who Norman is in love with) and Olivia Cooke (who plays Emma, the quirky friend with a crush on Norman) talked about how they each came to the show, how familiar they’d been with Psycho, what they enjoy about their characters, how much input they have with their characters, and what made them each want to become actors. Check out what they had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
NICOLA PELTZ: I read the pilot and I honestly fell in love with it. I thought it was so interesting and so beautifully written. At the end of it, I was like, “I need to get a second script.” I did audition in L.A. and I was lucky enough to get a call, a few weeks later, that I got it. I was so excited. I’m so lucky to be a part of this project. I’m such a fan of Hitchcock, and Carlton [Cuse] and Kerry [Ehrin] are just so talented. Working with this cast and crew has been amazing.
OLIVIA COOKE: I had just acquired my L.A. agent and he was sending me a lot of stuff to try out on tape for. I read the pilot and loved it. The character Emma wasn’t in it, except at the end, but I just felt such a pull towards her. So, I just put myself on tape for it and sent it off. And then, two weeks later, they were like, “We’ve put a pin in you.” I was like, “Really? I just sent a tape off for you. Are you sure?! You’re not going to screen test me?” After that, I got the role and I was like, “Are you sure? You’ve only seen the tape. I don’t want to come in and have you think, ‘She’s really rubbish.’” But, no.
Did you get nervous about being a part of such an iconic story, or was that challenge part of the appeal?
PELTZ: I’m very excited to be a part of such an amazing project. I’m very honored. It’s such an iconic story, and to be a part of it is very exciting. Working on a TV show is so great. This is my first show. You have so long to prepare for the character. Every episode you read, your character slowly develops more and more. It’s a fun journey and process. It’s been great.
COOKE: And the whole backstory of Norman and Norma has not really been explored. There’s so much to play with, and that’s what’s exciting. Norman has got to develop, as a boy. He’s still a teenager, and he needs to become a man. All those bits are so juicy. As actors, to be able to be creative is just great because it doesn’t always work like that.
Does it take some pressure of to play characters that people aren’t familiar with already?
COOKE: Yeah, it’s really exciting! Especially coming into this, there had been no talk of Norman ever having friends or love interests, or anything like that, so it was very refreshing.
PELTZ: It’s fun because you get to see his high school life, and then his other life. I feel like it’s almost separate. At the end, it intertwines. But, you see him in a normal setting, in school and in the classroom, and it’s fun to be a part of that.
As actors, it’s so prevalent now that you hear about remakes and re-imaginings. When you get a script for one of them, do you find yourself being hesitant about even reading it?
COOKE: Yeah. You try to go in with an open mind, but when you’ve got such an image of something, you go, “Please, don’t ruin it!”
PELTZ: Bates Motel is definitely inspired by Psycho, but Carlton and Kerry completely put their stamp on it. They totally went their own route and made up all these beautiful storylines. And the characters on the show are so strong. That’s one of my favorite things about being a part of it. It’s beautiful.
COOKE: It wasn’t ruined or tainted by anything, like some things are when re-imagined.
How familiar had you been with Psycho?
PELTZ: The first time I watched it was with my grandma, about four years ago. She was like, “You have to watch this movie. It’s one of my favorite movies.” I was having a sleep-over, so my best friend and I watched it with my grandma. Even though it was black and white, I was still scared. I was young, but I watched it again before I started this project and you still get that suspense and that affect of watching it. It’s not like you go, “Oh, it’s an old movie. We all know what happens at the end of it.” It’s not like that, at all. It’s such a classic.
COOKE: It’s dramatic, and it’s so well done. I studied it when I was in school, when I was 14 or 15. Just when you get through all the ins and outs of it, and you learn about how meticulous Hitchcock was about everything, you realize that it’s the work of a genius.
What have you enjoyed about playing your character?
PELTZ: Well, Bradley is an untraditional Queen Bee because she’s a really kind and sweet girl with a really big heart. When she met Norman, she took a liking to him, very fast. She found him interesting, and he’s not like any of the other boys she’s used to, which is very intriguing to her. They have a lot of similarities, with what they’re going through, and that’s definitely a strong connection there.
COOKE: When Emma first saw him puking into the trash can, it wasn’t a very romantic moment, but she saw the oddball quality to him because she feels like an outsider. She doesn’t have many friends, so she really latches on to the fact that he is very odd and goes about things in a different way. She thinks he’s a kindred spirit to her because he doesn’t have many friends.
Olivia, did you do any research into the Cystic Fibrosis aspect of Emma?
COOKE: I watched a lot of documentaries. But, the thing with Cystic Fibrosis is that it’s called the disease of the beautiful people. From the outside, you wouldn’t think there was anything wrong with them. Emma has the oxygen tank, but other people don’t. You think there’s nothing wrong with them, apart from when they go home, they have to take lots of medications and do lots of exercises. I never wanted to play too much on her disease. You can see that she has something wrong with her because she has the oxygen tank, but she’s such an intelligent, spunky character that I would never want to play too much on the Cystic Fibrosis and take anything away from her.
Was part of the appeal of doing a cable series the fact that you don’t have to do as many episodes, leaving you time to do other projects as well?
COOKE: It’s a great thing that you can come back to, all refreshed. It will never feel like a chore. It’s this great thing that’s still there and still preserved. No one feels bored by it. Everyone is excited to come to work, every day. I’ve never done anything for nine months, but I think it would just get very tedious, and you’d lose the impetus and the drive to create and be artistic.
PELTZ: Honestly, with this cast and crew, every single person is so sweet and we all get along. Olivia and I became fast friends. The group of friends that I have on the show, we all have girls’ nights.
COOKE: And Freddie [Highmore] comes along. We give Freddie manicures, and stuff like that.
PELTZ: We have a great time. Everyone is so welcoming and so sweet. And everyone in Vancouver is also amazing.
COOKE: It’s quite nice hat you can go away, but you’ll come back to a family. It’s the ideal situation, really. It’s worrying that you’re going to be living somewhere different and maybe you won’t necessarily get along or have the same viewpoints as people, but everyone just clicked so fast. It’s quite lovely. We didn’t expect everyone to get as long as much as we do, but we really are great friends.
COOKE: Oh, yeah! Every time I think of an idea, I’m always emailing, or I’ll get Vera [Farmiga] to email because she has more input than me. We discuss ideas and what it could be like, or what if this happened with a character. Some of the things may be overlooked, but a lot of the things do get noticed.
PELTZ: It’s really amazing, getting to work on a project that you do have a creative say in. Everyone is so great, and they definitely hear your opinions and your take on the character. When I read the pilot, I had to make up my own story because I didn’t get the second script. I made up my own backstory, and if it follow or doesn’t, then whatever. You get a crumb at a time. You get a little piece of story.
COOKE: And that’s so frustrating!
PELTZ: I love it! You get to slowly put your character together. You get different characteristics. It’s so fun! It’s such a good energy.
PELTZ: I have six brothers and one sister, and I was an ice hockey player when I was younger. I think my dad thought I was going to be in the women’s league for ice hockey. But, I totally fell in love with drama in grade school, and I asked my mom if I could get involved with it. We live an hour away from New York City, and at the time she was like, “I have seven other kids. No.” I begged her for three years, and she finally said, “Okay, you can try it.” I started off with a play at the Manhattan Theatre Club, and had to be there every single night and twice on Sundays, for three months when I was 12. My mom saw how in love and how dedicated I was, so at that moment, she was like, “Okay, this is what you want to do.” It’s been such a fun journey, but it has been hard. You have your ups and downs in this business, but at the end of the day, I love acting and I love reading scripts and building my character. It’s what makes me happy.
COOKE: I started doing amateur theatre in Manchester when I was eight years old, for 10 years. And then, I thought it would be a cool thing to get an agent when I was 14, so I begged my dad. It was just a small agent that got me really bad commercials. I just fell into it. I auditioned for a bunch of stuff and got further and further. And then, I got the part to play Christopher Eccleston’s daughter in a BBC1 drama in October 2010, and I’ve just been doing it since then. It’s had that great snowball effect, and I feel very, very lucky ‘cause I know it doesn’t always happen like that. I’m waiting for it all to end and shatter into pieces, but it’s just been a whirlwind. It’s been the best year of my life.
Bates Motel airs on A&E.