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Freddie Highmore and Kerry Ehrin – Closing In On Checkout Time at Bates Motel

Updated: Mar 27, 2020

Freddie Highmore in "Bates Motel."

Freddie Highmore in “Bates Motel.”

Freddie Highmore and Kerry Ehrin

Closing In On Checkout Time at Bates Motel

by Jay S. Jacobs

Season four of the acclaimed drama Bates Motel has taken some turns for the strange and the dark. This should not surprise us too much – after all the main characters of the show are Norman and Norma Bates, arguably the most dysfunctional son and mother duo in pop culture, their horrific relationship cemented in our minds through a short final segment of Alfred Hitchcock’s iconic film Psycho.

However, when writer/producers Kerry Ehrin and Carlton Cuse decided they wanted to reinvent the story of the family with their modern prequel Bates Motel, they were determined not to slavishly follow the lead of the Hitchcock masterpiece.  For example, Norma – who we really never got to know in the original – as played by the wonderful Vera Farmiga, turns out to be a much kinder, more loving character than we were led to believe, though she is still deeply flawed.

They were also determined to follow Norman’s mental break from reality over a period of years.  When we were first introduced to Norman, as wonderfully played by British former child star Freddie Highmore, although he was obviously touched, hope could be held out that he could be saved.  Slowly through the seasons, we have watched Norman’s mental health breaking down.  Finally, in season four, Norma was so scared for her son that she had to have him committed to a mental institution.

As the year has creeped forward, Norman has been stewing about his commitment and been showing more and more signs of losing touch with reality – though he has also shown a cunning ability to hide his mental quirks.  Norma, on the other hand, seems to have finally found true love with local Sheriff Romero (well played by Nestor Carbonell, check out our interview with him from last week), a situation that disturbs Norman to no end.

This is all coming to a head in the next episode, which was written by Highmore, in which Norman returns home and starts a power struggle with the new man in Norma’s life.

As the fourth season is winding down and situations are getting more and more dire in the world of Norma and Norman Bates, we were one of a group of outlets who were able to chat with Highmore and Kerry Ehrin about his episode and the upcoming end of season four.

BATES MOTEL -- "Unfaithful" Episode 408 -- Pictured: Freddie Highmore as Norman Bates -- (Photo by: Cate Cameron/Universal Television)

BATES MOTEL — “Unfaithful” Episode 408 — Pictured: Freddie Highmore as Norman Bates — (Photo by: Cate Cameron/Universal Television)

Freddie, I love your portrayal this season and am excited to see the episode that you wrote. Is writing something that you want to get into more, or directing?

Freddie Highmore: Yes, I’d love to. First of all, I’m obviously incredibly grateful to [co-creator] Carlton [Cuse] and Kerry for allowing me into the writers room. Giving me an opportunity to write an episode and be a part of Bates Motel beyond merely acting. I guess it was borne out of the desire to be involved in the wider process. It just seemed a little odd to me to put so much into this character for the four, five months that we shoot in Vancouver and then let it completely go away and ignore it for a few months. Then come back and be like: oh, let’s just see what’s been happening. I wanted to continue to be involved in the wider process of creating the character. So that’s I guess where the desire was borne out of. Now very much so I love the writing experience on Bates Motel and being part of that team. I am writing more things.

Kerry, are you doing the Vulcan mind meld with Freddie to give him your thought process in creating the story?

Kerry Ehrin: (laughs) I would say that Freddie and I have a natural Vulcan mind meld. We’ve always had a very, very weirdly idiosyncratic sensibility. That’s just been great. We’ve always talked creatively, talked about writing. This has just been a really great experience to bring him into the workshop of how you run a room. How you put a story together. Just to see behind the veil how that happens.

Freddie, what was the biggest challenge in writing the episode, and who was the character that was the hardest for you to write for?

Kerry Ehrin: That’s a good question.

Freddie Highmore: Interesting.

Kerry Ehrin: I think I know the answer. (laughs)

Freddie Highmore: What do you think the answer is?

Kerry Ehrin: I won’t say. You go ahead and I’ll tell you if I’m right.

Freddie Highmore: Then you’ll tell me if I’m right. No, you’re wrong. I don’t know. In terms of the writing rooms in general, I guess the hardest thing was to create the dynamic. I didn’t have any scenes actually with Dr. Edwards [ed. note: Norman’s psychiatrist played by Damon Gupton] in my episode. If you know the tone of these characters that you’ve lived with for so long, and the introduction of new characters that you don’t know so well, it’s very much getting on the same page as everyone in the room without any actual physical scenes to watch and to get into. I’m not sure if that’s just avoiding your question, but Kerry will tell you what I struggled with more.

Kerry Ehrin: (laughs) Well, it was really interesting because, first of all it was great to have him in the room because it was such a presence of Norman. Just because Freddie has lived inside that role and experienced it in all dimensions. So that was really interesting but I had thought perhaps, especially because in [episode] 408, the interaction with Romero, I would have thought might be the hardest. Romero might be the hardest character to get inside of as a writer because as an actor he’s in a place where he really does not like him. (laughs again) So I just thought that would be a very interesting thing from a writing point of view. I wondered how he handled that.

Freddie Highmore: There is certainly a sense of battle of control between Norman and Romero in this episode. I guess secretly inside you’re like, Norman’s just got to win all these battles, just to be proven right. Then you have to set your character’s self-interest aside and figure out what’s best for the story.

Kerry Ehrin: Well, yes, right. And for Romero because you have to get inside them. A little funny dynamic.

BATES MOTEL -- "Refraction" Episode 405 -- Pictured: (l-r) Damon Gupton as Dr. Gregg Edwards, Freddie Highmore as Norman Bates -- (Photo by: Sergei Bachlakov/Universal Television)

BATES MOTEL — “Refraction” Episode 405 — Pictured: (l-r) Damon Gupton as Dr. Gregg Edwards, Freddie Highmore as Norman Bates — (Photo by: Sergei Bachlakov/Universal Television)

How do you think being separated from Norma has allowed Norman to evolve and to change?

Freddie Highmore: Part of the interesting thing about having separated Norma and Norman is that we’ve allowed the mother side to Norman to develop greater. That is borne out of the fact that they are physically apart, so through that sense of missing for her and yearning for her, he at times has visions of her. Or more commonly starts to slip into that guise of being her. That’s what was fascinating for me this season, those moments of transitions in scenes with Dr. Edwards, for example, where we see Norman slip into the guise of mother and take on this other side. I feel like that is released because of their physical separation. So that’s been really, really fun to play.

Like your character, you agree that he may have been better off just staying at home rather than going into Pine View?

Freddie Highmore: Well, I feel like they have to be together. There’s a scene at the end of [episode] eight when Norman says this to Norma. The whole Romero thing comes to the fore in number eight. (long pause) They do have to be together. They need to be with each other in order to function. In a way from Norma’s point of view, I feel she slightly deludes herself by living in this dream, this very happy reality that she created with Romero. But when Norman comes home, as he eventually will – we know from the story that he’s going to have to come back – it becomes revealed as more of a fantasy and of a dream of another life. But it’s not a life that she can ever actually leave. So I think Norman, in number eight, in a scene towards the end, really latches onto that idea of knowing how inseparable they really are. As much as they want to deny it, or as much as they wish that it might not be true, it always will be. No one will be able to get in between the two of them. No one will be able to break that cord.

BATES MOTEL -- "A Danger to Himself and Others" Episode 401 -- Pictured: Freddie Highmore as Norman Bates -- (Photo by: Bettina Strauss/Universal Television)

BATES MOTEL — “A Danger to Himself and Others” Episode 401 — Pictured: Freddie Highmore as Norman Bates — (Photo by: Bettina Strauss/Universal Television)

Kerry, last week Carlton mentioned he’s sometimes a little frustrated because he doesn’t think Bates Motel is as recognized as it should be based on the quality level. What influence do you think Bates Motel has had on television? For example, since it started there have been five other series based on horror movies. Certainly not a new thing, it’s been happening for years, but do you think that would have happened without a quality show like Bates Motel?

Kerry Ehrin: It’s a good question. I’m sure that it has influenced certain areas of development, because any successful show does. I mean I promise you there are a lot of people trying to figure out how to do [The People vs.] OJ Simpson as we speak. That’s just how it works. It’s hard for me to speak to the influence it’s had because honestly, as a creator, I live so much inside of it. I agree with Carlton that the show is so good. The acting is so good and it really deserves to be recognized. We both get frustrated about that.

Freddie Highmore: I think what Kerry and Carlton have done so successfully with the show hopefully will influence the way in which other television shows can be made. Without the background of Psycho, without this story being told within that backdrop and as a prequel to Hitchcock’s Psycho, which everyone knows, I wonder whether the show would have been able to be made in the first place. Just based on this reasonably small premise of a relationship between the mother and the son, and the intricacies of that, and what it means. It’s so interesting – Bates Motel – sometimes people talk about it in the horror genre, but I really think it’s more of a psychological thriller. Or just this psychological romance or love story. I think Kerry and Carlton have been amazing in digging out the nuances and the intricacies of a show based around one relationship between these two people. Hopefully that just proves that even if a premise seems on the face of it relatively small, there’s so many intricacies in people, and the way in which people live their lives. That means you can make a show out of just that, out of just one single relationship.

Kerry Ehrin: That’s a very good point.

BATES MOTEL -- "A Danger to Himself and Others" Episode 401 -- Pictured: Freddie Highmore as Norman Bates -- (Photo by: Bettina Strauss/Universal Television)

BATES MOTEL — “A Danger to Himself and Others” Episode 401 — Pictured: Freddie Highmore as Norman Bates — (Photo by: Bettina Strauss/Universal Television)

Freddie, when you got into the mindset of writing about Norman, did you learn anything about the character by looking at him in a different way than you normally do as an actor? And Kerry, were you sort of surprised by some of his takes on Norman or even any of the other characters?

Freddie Highmore: What did I do differently, Kerry? Were you surprised?

Kerry Ehrin: Different from what?

Freddie Highmore: Well, from what you might have expected. I don’t know.

Kerry Ehrin: Really, it wasn’t that it was different. It was more that you elevated. It was you have always just completely understood and embraced the sensibility. I can’t honestly say that there were differences. It was just elevated. It was just from the very beginning when we saw Freddie in dailies, and Vera… I don’t even know how to describe it. It was just such a beautiful realization of an emotional story that we had lived with inside of ourselves. Then to see it so beautifully come to life. I suppose that’s always a surprise, because honestly it’s a gift. (laughs) It has a lot to do with chemistry. It has a lot to do with a lot of things. Obviously, Vera and Freddie had never read together. It’s like it just happened on screen and was just so magical. So I don’t know if that answers the question precisely.

Freddie Highmore: I guess the evolution of the script was interesting and a learning experience for me. Especially because almost all of the episodes were written before we started shooting. So by the time you get back to revisiting this episode that you wrote various months ago, you come at it with the extra weight of actually having filmed and experienced everything that you knew was written out that you hadn’t quite shot yet. That was an interesting thing, being able to tweak stuff. Seeing the evolution of the script from that very first draft. Linking it in with the entire arc of the character. I guess number eight becomes quite pivotal for Norman. Obviously, at the end of seven, he’s left the institution and he comes home. So it was an interesting episode from that point of view, because it pushed Norman into this new space and drove him forward with ultimately this fresh motivation. I felt lucky to be able to write that episode because – from Norman’s point of view – it’s a key hinge moment from coming back. I guess we can’t talk about that. (laughs) But that sense of, certainly at the beginning of the episode, Norman is trying to some extent to make things work between the two of them. By the end of the episode, that will all have d