Vera Farmiga and Kerry Ehrin – Checking In To Bates Motel
Updated: Jun 12, 2020
Vera Farmiga stars as Norma Bates in the A&E series “Bates Motel.”
Vera Farmiga and Kerry Ehrin
Checking In To Bates Motel
by Jay S. Jacobs
It takes a certain amount of self-confidence to take on an iconic character and try to make it your own. Therefore, it must have given Vera Farmiga pause when she was offered the role of arguably the most infamous mom in film history, Norma Bates, the bitter and shrill mother of serial killer Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1960 film Psycho.
Of course – spoiler alert for the three or four people in the world who have never seen or heard about Psycho – in the original film, it turned out that Norma was a mummified corpse and a figment of the fevered imagination of her psychotic son.
So it was quite a challenge when A&E went to TV producers Kerry Ehrin (Friday Night Lights, Parenthood) and Carlton Cuse (Lost, Nash Bridges) to make a series which could work as a prequel to the film and explore the relationship between a teenage Norman and his mother. Complicating things even more, the network wanted the series to be updated to modern times.
It would take a special actress to fill in the blanks of Norma Bates, Ehrin and Cuse realized. After all, we had only seen her through the cracked prism of her son. How did she end up to be a corpse in the attic window of the Bates house? What kind of situation could have possibly spun so far out of control to get Norman and his mother to their eventual destinations? What actress could translate the evil obsessions of Norma and also show her human, insecure part? Who could make an audience root for a woman who is helping to mold a serial killer?
Ehrin and Cuse thought the perfect choice would be Vera Farmiga.
Farmiga has been creating a sterling reputation in Hollywood in recent years with a series of high-profile acclaimed supporting roles. She was the only woman in The Departed, Martin Scorcese’s Oscar-winning all-star boy’s club. She was nominated for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar as George Clooney’s traveling paramour in Up In the Air. Last year she played half of a married ghost-busting couple in the popular thriller The Conjuring.
However, Bates Motel is one of Farmiga’s rare opportunities to carry a project. Together with British former child actor Freddie Highmore (Finding Neverland, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) as young Norman, Farmiga has created one of the most fascinating mother-child dynamics in TV history. People took notice, the show became an instant hit and Farmiga was nominated for a 2013 Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series.
However, even beyond the lead characters, the apparently idyllic world of White Pine Bay is full of crime, death and rot. The series has a terrific ensemble that includes Max Theriot and Norma’s estranged older son, Nestor Carbonell as the morally ambiguous local sheriff, Nicola Peltz as the local teen beauty who catches Norman’s eye, Olivia Cook as Norman’s fellow outcast best friend and Mike Vogel as the deputy sheriff with a huge secret.
Season one ended on a cliffhanger, leaving the audience to wonder if Norman was responsible for the violent murder of a pretty young high school teacher (Keegan Connor Tracy). As season two starts on March 2, we find that nothing is as simple as it may seem, and it will take time to solve this crime of passion. In the meantime, Norma and Norman are finally starting to make a success of their new motel, a success which may be ruined by the potential construction of a new highway bypass.
A couple of weeks before the season two premiere of Bates Motel, we were one of several websites who were able to speak with Farmiga and co-creator Ehrin about the series.
This is based on a classic movie. How much do the impressions that you originally got from Psycho affect the way that you make the show now? Or is it its own entity? Do you still go back to that?
Kerry Ehrin: Do you want to go Vera?
Vera Farmiga: No, no. I think it’s a question for you girl.
Kerry Ehrin: Okay, okay. Yes, from the very beginning [co-creator] Carlton [Cuse] and I wanted to honor the movie, but not be beholden into it. I think at this point the world of Bates Motel has definitely become its own organic world. While we’re still conscious of the film, and obviously there’s certain tent poles let’s say (laughs) that the film suggests, it has become its own beast at this point.
Vera, do you know like a lot of the story line ahead of time? Or do you prefer to be surprised when it comes out?
Vera Farmiga: I’m still figuring what it is that is part of my process. I’ve never had the luxury of a second season. I’ve done three series before. They never had the opportunity to go beyond 13 episodes in the first season. I know first season I did feel a little disabled. Not that I couldn’t act. I remember Carlton asking me, “Do you want some more clues?” I wanted to take it an episode at a time and not get ahead of myself. In the experience of season one I felt: Oh, man, okay. In hindsight, especially having sort of a big bomb land in the last episode, for me it was impossible to dig as deep initially with the root of this new character. I felt like Norma 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 this toilet and my toolbox has been like packed by the wife. (laughs) Do you know what I mean?
That’s why 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, the character’s goals. There were so many unknowns. Also, the cast is so much closer. There’s an intimacy. There’s a level of sportsmanship now. We can throw harder jabs at each other. It’s a deeper level of trust and love that has been established between us and Kerry and Carlton. In between the actors. And so I… oh God, what was the initial question, man?
It’s interesting developing a character over TV time. Yes, I mean certainly. But that’s my own fault, because at the same time I wanted to pace myself with the information that was coming at me. Second season I did ask for more clues. I wanted to have the trajectory of second season. I wanted to have more answers at the start, which I was provided with. So I think you’re in for a better second season. (They both laugh.)
Vera, what kind of mothering tips have you learned from Norma?
Vera Farmiga: (laughs) First of all, I’ll preface this answer by: if you hear me slurring, I’ve had a wisdom tooth pulled. I am not drunk at like 10:30 am in the morning. (Ehrin laughs hard.) It’s not like a maternal coping mechanism. (laughs) I actually am in pain and a little bit of confusion. But anyway, you know what? (long pause, then sighs) Man, I admire her tenacious love for her child. She goes to extreme lengths to give her child the life that she imagines for him. That is really valiant to me. I admire her generous heart. She has really disarming honesty. These are amazing qualities that she possesses. Yes, there is the flip side of Norma Bates, that her hardware is working, [but] her software is a bit faulty.
She does like wrap Norman in bubble wrap, all the time. (They both laugh.) I look at that. I think what I do learn from her is… I mean this is a story after all about family dysfunction. What I have to work so hard to get an audience to identify with her – and to defend her and to admire her even – is that for me the name of the game is to present to you a woman who lives every day in the trenches of maternity. Also in the trenches of her own stubbornness and denial. So those negative qualities influence me to be a better parent. (laughs again) I guess the two demons, which is denial and stubbornness for Norma, I suppose keep me in check.
Kerry, what compassion do you feel for Norma?
Kerry Ehrin: I think Norma is the mother of all mothers. To me it’s like she’s in an extreme situation. But, every mother I’ve ever known, they just have this passion for making everything okay for their kid. For stuffing the shit that doesn’t work out under the rug and stomping on it. (laughs) Just constantly moving forward and making life as pretty and beautiful and fun for their kids as they can. It’s like we can’t help it. It’s what mothers do. 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 own limitations that have been layered on her by her early life that was none of her own doing. Within that, she’s absolutely just valiantly doing the best that she fucking can. (laughs again) You have to love that. That’s to me being a mother.
Vera, what is attracting you to these scarier parts? Roles like in Orphan, The Conjuring or Bates Motel. And your sister Taissa is in American Horror Story.
Very Farmiga: Oh my God, it’s like my own beautiful internal logic about why Taissa and I choose to participate. Or I think actually the projects choose us. (laughs) But why like there’s this magnetism oft times with dark subject matters, I don’t know. It’s like quantum physics related. I’d like to think we’re called upon like some simple thermal sources. (laughs again) And, actually, to be honest with you, I find it dark stories uplifting. It’s during the darkest moments of our lives that we see the light, right? There’s a lot of darkness in Bates Motel. But again, there’s a lot of joy. The thing for me is I always look at things and I choose to look at it through the lens of positivity. Our story, yes it’s a story about dysfunction. It’s dark. But it’s a story about commitment and love and family and resilience and loyalty.
I look at Taissa in American Horror Story and I just think… I mean for her, I’m biased. I’m practically her mother. She’s just like this bright supernova that shines even brighter in the dark. If you look at like the now close to 50 films that I’ve done, it’s only like five of them that are actually like certified horror stories. Everything else is… I don’t know.
Like I just did At Middleton, which is where she and I play screwball mother and daughter in a romantic comedy. I think maybe the most successful projects in my career have been psychological thrillers and horrors and sort of twisted, dark and offbeat. Maybe it’s because our childhoods were so straight and narrow and full of light and love and goodness. (laughs) Maybe that’s why we veer toward them more. But the object is you send light into the darkness. Of our character charts. That’s how I always look at it. I am attracted to the sordid and the wacky, the unorthodox. But I love infusing it with lightness.
Vera, I know your character is completely wrapped up in Norman. But is there any possibility of a love interest for you in the new season?
Vera Farmiga: Yes, obviously she’s proved from first season that she’s totally over anxious. She’s too involved. This is a woman who’s been abused by her father, abused by her brother, discarded by men, unneeded by her older son. She clings to the one man that has been her protector, her confidant, her consolation, the light in her life. It is Norman. And she’s totally too involved. She’s unable to cut the cord.
But the thing is, the issues of women survivors of childhood sexual abuse, it’s really complex. It impedes ability to trust, especially if, like Norma, demons are within. These poisonous feelings that she has are embedded so deep in her psyche. She’s never uprooted them. She just has this vault, this burial chamber where she squashes all that sadness and stress and torment.
She’s totally preoccupied with Norman. Imagine it for yourself. It’s such a dark moment, the doom, when you discover or when you suspect that there’s something not quite right neurologically with your child. It’s not a job for the fainthearted. Every ounce of energy really is her struggle with raising Norman, this atypical child. Doing it as a single parent. She’s got her own painful history also to contend with. She’s got this rampart that she’s built. (chuckles) It’s like the walls of Constantinople. It’s a lifetime of defensive walls that she has.
Will we learn more about her background?
Vera Farmiga: Yes. Yes, because I think she's built this brick by brick. The ramparts [are] not so fortified anymore. Somebody comes a knocking. The reason for moving out to White Pine Bay is to put as much real estate as possible between her and her past and these people that have been a part of this. This starts going on. All of this has developed really complicated psychological issues, like depression, that she squashes. Low self-esteem and fear and guilt. All that trauma which she hasn't dealt with. Like the way she drives. All these stressors. She's got pretty significant stressors that affect her parenting capacities. And also affect every other relationship that she can take on.
I feel like she's driving the bus from the backseat. (They laugh) I don't know how to explain it. The way she can function in society so far without not having dealt properly with it is driving this bus, or life, from that backseat. So she certainly going to try, man. I think also on the flip side of it is a coping mechanism. She has an incredible sense of denial. Or she herself may look at it as creative visualization. She shoves everything inside this vault. She just takes on this fresh and fabulous outlook on life.
For her the hotel success, achieving success, she equates to happiness. Which is the one thing she's always struggled with achieving. She just throws herself into the hotel's success. That involves going out into the community and meeting people. She also is trying to repair last season's... you know, 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 two is to change that. That involves being more involved in the community. She develops friendships outside of her relationship with Norman. Kerry do you want to take over this? Because you [are writing it]...
Kerry Ehrin: Sure, yes. Just as Vera is saying, Norma has a longing for normalcy. Normalcy to most people means: do you have a mate? (laughs) 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. Even though she doesn't exactly know what it is. So yes, she believes she has room for love in her life. Because she's not aware of... or I guess she's not acknowledging... her tie to Norman. She has hopes that she will meet someone. That she will fall in love. That she will have a wonderful life. And there is a very interesting person that shows up this season.
Is this a new character that we haven't seen before?
Kerry Ehrin: Yes it is. This season is a lot of fun. Last season was about all of these things that got in the way of Norma and Norman achieving what they came to White Pine Bay for. Achieving this dream. This season is very much about putting them in a position where they might actually get it. (laughs) They might actually get what they want. The things that start to screw it up are more inside them. I can't want to tell you too much because I don't want to give away too much. But it very much is a journey of following them deconstruct things that are good, in a really entertaining way.
Kerry, you and Nikki Toscano recently had a terrorist drama picked up by CBS. How are you going to the able to split your time between the two shows?
Vera Farmiga: Yeah. How? (laughs)
Kerry Ehrin: Well, to be totally honest... I can answer this right now. Nikki is a fantastic writer. She has an incredibly strong vision for this show. She's going to be front and center on it. She's great.
Vera when you first took on the role, were you worried how it would work setting it in the modern day? And why is it you think it does work so well?
Vera Farmiga: You know, yes. I'd be lying if I didn't [say I] had some reservations about it when I initially was presented with the offer. I thought there is so many things that can go wrong. Where we are being tethered, we're borrowing these characterizations or these plots points from arguably the most successful horror film, ever. (laughs) That's why that is a tall order. At the same time, I think what assured me was I saw Freddie's audition tape. Any skepticism, any trepidation, any fear I had, any nervousness really vanished when I saw his audition tape. It wowed me. I saw it, and then it became to me simply a story. At the heart of the story is this relationship between mother and son.
I just thought with his performance it had a new life. I feel like none of that mattered. Also, honestly for me it's not like I was playing some iconic role. More for Freddie, and I don't even think he felt this. He'd have to answer this. But I didn't feel any sort of pressure. Everything that we knew about Norma Bates was through the fractured psyche of Anthony Perkins' Norman. So for me there was just the idea of that exploration between very intimate and also the uniqueness of that. First of all the role itself on the written page was so original. To me it's one of the most original characters I have ever encountered.
A lot of that has to do with Kerry and Carlton's writing of contradiction. That was so vital. When you encounter such a deeper level of virtuosity in the creation of a female character, you just don't question it. You just thank your lucky stars. You thank the writers for thinking of you. And you claim it. Yes, initially the purist in me was a little skeptical. But that cynicism just had to do with: what is everybody else going to think?
Once I could stop caring about what everybody else could think [I] found my own passion for the story. I'm a mom. I'm a mom of two toddlers. The story resonates for me. It's unnervingly relatable. My inspiration for the role's development is always point-blank myself. I see the way my strength and my weaknesses shape my babies. That's what the story is about. So yes, that was my passion. I look at things musically. Some roles are like the equivalent of playing "Farmer and the Dell." (laughs) All of a sudden, Kerry hands you Chopin's "Sonata in B-flat minor." With so many dissonances and major and minor shifts. It's a rare gift of a very personal melody that I've been given in the form of Norma Bates. I was absolutely sure after seeing Freddie's audition tape that it was a sure fire bet.
Do we leave the door open for a third season at the end of this one?
Kerry Ehrin: Yes. Enthusiastically yes. (They laugh) 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. (laughs again) So yes, for sure.
Vera, is there anything you do to prepare before your emotional scenes? Any ritual or anything that you have?
Vera Farmiga: It's such an elusive sport. Some days things I think are going to work don't. The bottom line is always I'm so close with Freddie. So there's a lot there. There's a lot of instigation. The constant, the best thing is just to trust him and react. Simply remind myself to react. It's not about acting. It's reacting and being. Bottom line, that is [it] always. 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 of with my own children. Certainly my maternity is constant. I'm surrounding the house too. All the pictures that you see of young Norman are my [children] Fynn and Gytta throughout there. All I have to do is look at any other wall, it's a wellspring of emotion that is accessible to me. (laughs)
Sometimes it's music. Sometimes it's a quick music. Kerry, you'll probably attest to that. If you watch dailies, there's sometimes where if I feel if it's bogus, if I feel it's false, I'll literally just call myself out on camera. (laughs) Say that it's dishonest. Then all of a sudden I'll feel sorry for myself. That will put me into like, I don't know.... You do whatever it takes. Sometimes that process is quite weird and wacky. Sometimes it's just bringing this book that I have. I'm constantly trying to just keep something by my side that keeps me thinking about it. Right now I'm reading the New York Times best seller by Andrew Solomon, Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity. It's just beautiful. It's a joyful tribute that exults parents and how they love their alien offspring with open force.
It ranges from doing nothing and just being present. It depends on what the scene calls for and what the moment calls for. But 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 find myself so tired that oftentimes it's just submitting to that weariness that inspires me. (They both laugh.) Usually it's just a matter of opening my mouth. We work at such a rapid pace. Sometimes we shoot eight scenes a day plus more. You've got to be prepared. I am constantly learning. I'm trying. I'm a full-time mom too. I've never felt as prepared as before maternity. I am constantly learning my lines on the way to work. It's challenging, especially with this intrepid role. It's super challenging.
Like I said, mostly I just rely on my scene partners. I mean Max Theriot this season. Norman too, I mean Freddie too. Nestor [Carbonell]. This second season just be prepared to see some astonishing work from all of them. There are times where Max literally in a scene where I just forget to say my lines because I'm so enthralled with his performance that I'm watching him. I'm just in awe. So it's just trying to be present with them.
And finding the right research. There's so much online too. You just type in "parenting a psychopath." There's so much that comes up. So much inspiration that will give me so much compassion for the struggle of a mom trying to find that unlimited capacity to 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.
When you're screaming for your freak out scenes, do you rehearse them at all or does that just come natural to you?
Vera Farmiga: (They both laugh.) Any extreme emotion I don't like rehearsing. Laughter is even harder to do than a scream for me. I'm a screamer by nature. It's my vocal cords. My mom will tell you that I was a [screamer], like a valid therapy. I probably did a lot of screaming therapy as a child. I don't practice it, though. I never quite know how it's going to come out. It never quite comes out the same way twice. It's something that is like a jump off the springboard. For me personally, it's like taking a jump off the high dive in the pool. You just got a go for it and drop your lower mandible and let it rip. Kerry, didn't you put [that] together last season? Or maybe somebody else did. Maybe a fan put together some of my freak out moments.
Kerry Ehrin: Oh, yes. I don't remember who did that.
Vera Farmiga: This collage of Norma freak outs. I didn't even realize that I scream as much as is evident in this tribute.
Kerry Ehrin: Well the freak outs are so deep too. It's like there's so much under them and in them. I always find they're so amazing.
Vera Farmiga: Yes it is. It's beautiful. It's what's unspoken. Like sometimes you just don't have the words. I've learned to love these moments. Sometimes we cannot verbalize the pain, the anxiety, the fear, the guilt that is within us. You just let it rip.
Kerry Ehrin: Usually you can't.
Vera Farmiga: Yes. I actually love those moments. Most of my favorite moments are these wordless moments, whether it's a shriek, or whether it's the quiet. For me what I cherish with this kind of writing is those when we don't have the words, you know?
Kerry Ehrin: I just wanted to add [something] in listening to Vera talking about her process. Watching Vera on the set is one of the most entertaining things I've ever done in my life. (laughs) Because you really have no idea where it's coming from. I go up to her all the time afterwards and I'm like what were you thinking about during that? It is fascinating to watch. It's like she's channeling. She's inside herself and outside herself at the same time. She has such a radar about when it's real. I just wanted to add that. It was very interesting for me to hear about what her process was, because I'm always fascinated by it.
How will the arrival of Norma's brother change the family dynamics this season?
Kerry Ehrin: Well, (they laugh) obviously he's a very volatile emotional memory for Norma. 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 been basically just shoved into the vault. Then this guy shows up and he's outside of the vault. How do you handle that? Obviously it's super complicated because of Norman. Norman's great protectiveness of his mother and his tendencies that even he doesn't know about. So it's super, super complicated and intense and interesting.
Will we see Vera grow any closer to Dylan [Norma's other son, played by Max Theriot]? Or any change? I find it such an interesting counterpoint to Norma's relationship with Norman.
Kerry Ehrin: Do you want to do that one or do you want me?
Vera Farmiga: Oh God. I have such a hard time talking plot points because I always spill the beans on stuff, because I get to excited. I'm biting my tongue right now. I love that relationship. I'm glad in the second season we really get to explore it even more intimately. It's evolving. I think I want what Kerry wants. (laughs)
Kerry Ehrin: Yes, I mean it's the story of a lost son. Just like Norma has her longing for normalcy and everything. He has longing for a family that he's never had and he never has been inside of. He very much is dealing with that this year. Him and Norma have a fascinating relationship this year. So many different permutations to it. It's really amazing.
Norma is such an iconic role. As Vera said earlier, obviously in the original film you don't really get to meet her, you see her through Norman's eyes. But you do find out what exactly happens to her in the end. I know that Kerry had said that you're trying to be faithful to the movie but not completely beholden to it, but does knowing at least one potential outcome for her affect the way that you act and write the character?
Kerry Ehrin: Well, Carlton Cuse and I have always seen this as a strange love story between this mother and a son. I don't mean incest love. But it's intense. It has to go in a certain direction. The relationship you see in the film, she's very much portrayed as one type of person. You don't ever get to know the inner workings of how it got there. Which is really fun in the film. I mean, it's great. It's a big surprise when you find out in the film. [We] get the luxury of taking that mess and putting it under a microscope and examining it and wondering how it got there and what the permutations were. Was there anything that wasn't just ugliness? Because in the film, she's portrayed as a very abusive, harsh, kind of ugly parent. And it's like okay. Everyone gets mad at their parents sometimes. Every one. Every teenager in the world has said "I hate you!" (laughs) They don't hate them. It's like the parent is such a complex thing to a kid. So really it's the love story of those two people and how they get to that place. What it means and what that looks like. And it's going to be amazing.
The outdoor set on the hill obviously is such an iconic set in film history and everything. I know it's a facade, it's not an actual set, but when you're filming on the outside does that really add to the feeling of the scene, knowing the history of this place?
Vera Farmiga: Oh yes. We film out in Aldergrove. It's about an hour outside of Vancouver. They followed – correct me if I'm wrong Kerry – but I think every detail of that architecture is taken from the plans of the original house. Every single mullion on the windows. The trim package on the house. Everything. That's the authenticity. But it's also the environment, you know what I mean? This idealistic White Pine Bay, it's so beautiful in Vancouver. (laughs) The only down side is they built it on an old burial ground in a transfer station. So it's fetid in the warmer months that we shot and the damp months, which also adds this kind of ambient strangeness in the air. (laughs)
Kerry Ehrin: And Mark Freeborn also... I'm sorry. Go ahead.
Vera Farmiga: Yes, no go ahead.
Kerry Ehrin: I was going to say Mark Freeborn did an amazing job of designing the interior of the house in a way that it fits with the original, but it is contemporary. It pulls in this whole other aspect of Norma, which was not an easy job when you look at the interior of the house in the movie. That was just genius on his part.
Vera Farmiga: It is. But you can even take that into what else inspires me. In Hitchcock's film what played an integral part in the anxiety-induced thriller was fashion. actually. Each costume was so meticulously planned to enhance the plot and make the girl in question, whoever that was, like look achingly chic. The same thing with Monique Prudhomme, the costume designer, who designs these [outfits]. It makes up for me as an actress for playing a character that goes from like failure to failure. (They both laugh.) At least she looks good. I don't know another woman who gets to dress the way that I do on television. In this incredibly chic, beautiful, feminine and playful way, which is such a contradiction to the internal life of the character. So it is just the sum of its parts, in addition to Mark, Monique's costume design. Even just standing out there on the porch wearing one of her fabulous summer dresses, which you get to see more this year, it's such a treat. It immediately puts you in a time and place.
Vera, a few years ago you directed the film Higher Ground. Would you like to do some more directing, maybe on episodes of Bates Motel?
Vera Farmiga: You know, I think even contractually I have that option. Carlton asked me last year. For me, tonally, I feel like I'm still grasping the tone. I feel like I'm more fortified [in the] second season than I felt the first season. I felt like, in hindsight after watching the episodes cut together, and see what the editing flare was on it, coming from a directorial perspective. I'm still trying. Because it's balancing. Kerry and Carlton so skillfully balance these multiple tones to create this like strange tonality of drama, melodrama, mystery, horror, psychological thriller, dark comedy, screwball comedy, oddball comedy, altogether.
It shifts on a dime, the wind. I'm still getting bonked by the... What do you get bonked by the wind shifts on a sailboat? That thing, when it tacks? The boom. When it shifts and you're not watching, it chucks you in the water. It's like that sometimes is still how I feel. I just finished watching the tenth episode of a second season. It's solidifying for me. This is the tallest order I had as far as demands of the character emotionally, physically, spiritually. (laughs) It's epic, this role. I rely a lot on my directors.
I love being directed for this role. I cherish each one we have. What's wonderful is that we have Tucker Gates, who is a consistent sort, but we also have a new coming director that has second season. It's just been, it's been such a treat to be directed by John Coles and Ron... oh, God I can't remember. I don't have a good short term memory. But I cherish direction. I rely on it. I want to be maneuvered out of comfort zones. I don't know if I have the time to prepare. I mean I don't. (laughs) That's not to say that I [won't ever]... I don't know. Not yet. I'm not ready yet. I'm not ready. Ask me in another season. There's the short answer. (laughs again) I'm apologizing for not being ready yet.
What's the most difficult part about playing Norma?
Vera Farmiga: To me it's very simple. It's just being earnest in my emotions. The writing is so demanding. They really want you to cause shock waves. It's just mustering that earnestness and keeping yourself honest is really hard and most challenging. Performing the role at this pitch requires an enormous amount of endurance and perspiration. I think honestly it has nothing to do with my time on set. This material is all on the written page. All I'd have to do is take it off my scene partners. They're that stellar.
Really, for me it's going home and forgetting about it all. Being present for my own children, which I don't have a problem doing. It's a job. It's an on and off switch that I'm super passionate about. But for me actually the biggest challenge while I'm doing it is to just this on and off switch. Just throwing it all away and not worrying about how am I going to prepare for tomorrow's scenes when all I want to be is present and available for my own children. This has nothing to do with the role. It has to do with my real-life role of being mother. I treasure and value it. It's my favorite role in all the world, of any role that I'll ever have. Also my role as wife. And it's just like balancing that is probably the hardest thing.
After just one season your playing this character attracted an Emmy nomination. Was that something that surprised you coming up so quickly?
Vera Farmiga: Yes it did. It was a really wonderful surprise. I don't know what to say about that. Yes. It's like the biggest pat on the back. (laughs) It always feels really, really good to have the support of your peers and to have that acknowledgment. And selfishly I don't want... I mean it's the writers have the hardest part. They start off with a blank paper. It's nice having that acknowledgment. But for all the blood, sweat and tears that I shed, Kerry is also sitting there by her computer and these words are coming out. She's screaming and crying too when she does this. (They both laugh.) She's unloading as well.
Kerry Ehrin: They're exhausting these scripts. They are. They're exhausting to write. They're exhausting to perform.
Vera Farmiga: I mean it's like that pat on the back, I was happy because I just share that with them. Without their writing, I'm nothing. I have nothing. So it was a victory for all of us.
Is there going to be like a certain quality or personality trait of Norma that will be brought more to the forefront in the upcoming episodes to highlight on?
Vera Farmiga: Just so I'm clear, what has everybody seen? Has anybody seen any preview? Have you been privy to any of the new season or not? I forgot to ask that question at the start.
Yes. We saw the season premiere.
Vera Farmiga: There are a couple of new characters that ignite and awaken new personality traits and new responses and different ways of reacting in Norma. Yes, new characters show up [and] I think where you get to see like different sides of Norma. Distortions of Norma.
What do you do to relax when you're done at the end of the day? Or do you even have any time?
Vera Farmiga: (laughs) What do I do? Honestly, my children are that for me. There's just so much joy there. There's so much... what's the word? Reprieve. Is that the word I'm looking for? Amnesty. There's so much pardon...
Kerry Ehrin: Sanctuary...
Vera Farmiga: Yes, there's just so much pardon from work in the love of my husband and children. I'm a very lucky woman. My home life is storybook. (laughs) My kids are so cool. My husband is so hot and gorgeous and cool and loving. (They both laugh.) Honestly I just fall into their arms and it's all good.
[Also], what I have been doing, I'm really serious about boxing these days. (laughs again) Boxing is a great way for me to get out of my head and get out of my heart and just like sweat it out, honestly. I'm very serious about it. If I didn't have the insurance, I would honestly start sparring and start competing in boxing, because I'm that serious and love it. It's a huge passion of mine.
And I am in Vancouver, which is beautiful. I'm just constantly running through Pacific Spirit Park in the ocean air, surrounded by this ocean air in Vancouver. It is so medicinal. I don't know. I'm a nature girl at heart. We're just making the most of the idyllic life that actually Vancouver is, holds and provides.
There's a scene at the very end of this first episode for season two where Norma's at the City Council. She is getting railroaded in the meeting. She's stops them and calls the guy a dick, which made me laugh out loud. Her sort of blatant honesty and lack of a filter, do you think that the world could use a little more of that?
Vera Farmiga: Candor you mean? (laughs)
Vera Farmiga: Frankness, forthrightness, yes. Honesty. The way that creeps up. It's like with Norma she has this wonderful pendulum swing of dishonesty and then disarming honesty with her. It's either this way or that way. (laughs) There's nothing in between. I don't know. Kerry, what can you say about this?
Kerry Ehrin: I think there's times when candor is useful. Obviously, we can't all go around being totally honest with everybody, because there would be plenty of fistfights a day. (They both laugh.) Times when you just have to cut through the bullshit. I think that's what Norma has this great instinct for doing, which is really funny considering how much of her own internal psyche is so guarded. But that she can't just lash out sometimes with the truth in the middle of that world of chaos inside of her is kind of poetic. I mean it's kind of beautiful.
Vera, what was your favorite part of season one?
Vera Farmiga: Season one, season one, season one. (They laugh.) Oh my God. I'm like just sobering up from season two. Season one, what happened in season one? (laughs) My favorite part of season one? (long pause)
Did you have a favorite scene?
Vera Farmiga: Let me think. Oh my God. It's a distant memory. It's so crazy how my brain works. I'm trying to call it up right now. Season two is so vivid in my brain. I don't know if there is a scene. It's like choosing your babies, man. It's like Sophie's Choice. (laughs) You can't. It's really hard to pick a scene. I really love the aftermath of the rape scene. That was really challenging to play. To find this mixture of dark comedy and the whole lugging the body down the staircase. Certainly that was my least favorite scene because I mean if I could show you, I photographed of these bruises from that scene. (They laugh.) It was really the most physically challenging thing I had ever done. It was so hardcore. But, to me I really loved the comedy that ensued, like the dark comedy. To me that was real representative of what the show is. The whole scene when Norma and Norman are struggling with the body down. Trying to put him in the shower. That energy really encapsulated what it is. All my scenes with Norman, I can't choose a favorite. I look forward to every single scene with him. But also it's not even... I don't know... I can't figure out what are my favorite scenes. I also cherish my scenes with Nestor Carbonell. Man I love that. I love that dyad. Those two characters, that's a really fun relationship that again gets explored.
Kerry Ehrin: I was just going to say there was a scene that I think I just have like a huge fondness for from the first season. You and Norman in the car. It was at the top of episode six where you have just found out about Shelby. (laughs) You're trying to just get over to Shelby's house and like kick his ass. Norman jumps in the car while you're trying to drive it out.
Vera Farmiga: Oh, yeah! Oh my God.
Kerry Ehrin: I love that scene.
Vera Farmiga: That was so much fun. How could I forget that? And I can't believe they let me do all my stunt driving. The Stunting Association of Canada doesn't do this, but they gave me what they call a tuque, like a cap that says "Vancouver Stunts." That's only because I do it all. They allow me to do it. And Freddie is such a good sport. Literally we were making donuts around the Bates Motel sign when half his body is hanging out the window. We're struggling to gain control of the car. It's pure shenanigans. I can't believe they allowed us to the stunt. They wouldn't if they didn't trust my driving and didn't think that [I could do it]. Yes. That's good too. It's true. We had lots of shits and giggles over that one, yes.
Before Norman leaves for the dance, Norma tells him about her brother. What was her purpose for doing that? What did she hope to gain by telling him that?
Vera Farmiga: Kerry, you start.
Kerry Ehrin: We felt like there could be a number of different reasons. I mean the one thing with a character like Norma is you don't always have to have a logical linear connection to the impulse. In her mind it just wanted to come out of her right then...
Vera Farmiga: Totally, I agree with that. The impulse is what this lady goes by. And that impulse was like a dam burst of veracity. It was just the moment. It's also because there was this impending sense of doom. Her life's been threatened. Her children's lives have been threatened. And so that ache, it's true. I love what you said about impulse.
Kerry Ehrin: It's like you get to look at her and go: Well did she do that because she feels like she might die, and she doesn't want to die with a secret from the person she's closest to in the world? Is it part of her that's just pissed that he is going to a dance? It's like who knows with her?
Vera Farmiga: It's both. Yes.
Kerry Ehrin: It's coming from all these places. It's just blowing up inside of her. It has to come out of her mouth.
Vera Farmiga: Yes. I love that murkiness. I love it. I know, it's true. There's nothing black and white. It's all this murky gray matter that...
Kerry Ehrin: That's bubbling.
Copyright ©2014 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: March 1, 2014.
Photo Credit :© 2014. Courtesy of A&E Network. All rights reserved.
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