Freddie Highmore and Kerry Ehrin Discuss Bates Motel Season 3 [INTERVIEW]
[Warning: General spoilers ahead.]
Bates Motel wasted no time setting up the main arc for season three, and luckily we had the chance to join a press call with series star Freddie Highmore and co-creator Kerry Ehrin to chat about what’s next.
Similar to the discussion with Vera Farmiga last week, the conversation was threaded with talk of how to tell Norman’s story, achieve that very careful balance and tone, and essentially put it down at the end of the day so it’s not all-consuming.
Highmore says that before each season, he rewatches Psycho.Â “In some way [I try to implement] what Anthony Perkins brought to the role, especially as the show continues, because Iâ€™ve always seen the end of Bates Motel not necessarily as the end of Psycho,” he explains. “But the end of Norman is a lot closer to Anthony Perkinsâ€™ version than the boy that we saw at the start [of the series]. I donâ€™t think any of us feel tied constrainingly to Psycho or to any performance that came before.”
For Highmore, the second season finaleÂ held a couple ofÂ significant turning pointsÂ for his portrayal ofÂ Norman. “The scene in the woods and also the scene…at the end when Norman kind of looks up and looks into the camera. Thatâ€™s the way to enjoy…the two sides of Norman really,” he says. “[That] build-up of him with mother Norma appearing and helping him to pass the test because I think really you need to do two things in order to know who Norman is because thereâ€™s this bifurcating of his personality that continues in the third season.”
Having a replica of the hotel and house on set in Vancouver helps with the character, too. “I think the first time I stepped on the set, it kind of has this weight already behind it when you look up and you see a very similar version of the house and the motel to the one that was in the original,” he says. “And then, over time, it seems to come [into] view with your own memories and events that took place in Bates Motel. Like from the set, for example, leading up, thereâ€™s still the blood stain or whatever they used to pretend to be blood from Deputy Shelbyâ€™s death. So there are little reminders to us all of how far heâ€™s come.”
That history is also tremendously helpful to Ehrin when she’s scripting episodes. “When Carlton [Cuse] and I were writing the first episode of the season, and you face a blank page for the first time…[you wonder if]Â it is going to feel awkward…or great. [Then] youÂ write two sentences on the page and itâ€™s almost like you slip into a drain,” she says. “Itâ€™s like its right there and I think thatâ€™s exactly what Freddie is saying about thereâ€™s a history in it because weâ€™ve all emotionally lived through it. Thereâ€™s part of it thatâ€™s just in us now so I think itâ€™s kind of easy to go inside and outside of it.”
In the premiere, Norman decides it’s time for he and Emma to date, and Highmore and EhrinÂ say the rationale there will unfold throughout the season. “I guess the reasons behind that become clearer as the season goes on and it is entirely, …purely out of the feelings that he has for her, but a lot of it is also out of feelings for his mother in the way that he feels like he should feel dating Emma,” Highmore says.Â “Â And not only does he on some level want to, he also feels like heâ€™s doing the right thing by asking her out.”
“Emma [has] done some growing up, as Norman has and…when Norman first met her, she was very much in many was still kind of a little girl, very idealistic. I think lonely…and really grateful to have this friend who was Norman Bates,” says Ehrin. “And I think as she grows older and she has to deal with the reality of her health, which clarifies a lot of things in life when you have a crisis like that. She starts to mature and part of her story this year is her starting to understand things about Norman that are concerning to her.”
Ehrin and Highmore also touched on the challenge of writing and acting Norman as a sympathetic character. “[When] you write these things, we love the characters and in a way…actors have to love the character they portray…because they have to do the best version of it from that personâ€™s point of view and I think the writing is kind of similar,”Â explains Ehrin. “If youâ€™re going to take on a bad guy, you have to get inside of them and feel the world through them and no one…wakes up in the morning and says, ‘Hey, Iâ€™m a bad guy. Iâ€™m going to go out today and do bad things.'”
“Everyone wakes up in the morning and lies to themselves, so Norman is no different. Heâ€™s been through a lot that people would have a lot of sympathy for, empathy for. [A] tough, very violent childhood, home life and…dysfunctional family. No father figure present. A mother who loves him to pieces but is very emotionally needy.Â Heâ€™s been through a lot of terrifying things and heâ€™s very endearing because he always tries to do the best that he can. And I think that we love him for that. He doesnâ€™t want to be a bad guy.”
“[Norman] does become, in spite of his best intentions [a bad guy] over the course of the entire show, but moving towards that in the third season,” adds Highmore. “[So] I feel it was especially important to set Norman up in the first two seasons as someone we supported and whose side we were on [to]Â make us challenge whether we were right to get on his side and to start supporting him in the first place.”
Both said that despite the dark overtones, they do find joy working together. “[Vera Farmiga]Â isÂ such a key part of everyday on Bates and I think where the release is to be found…is in the humor that we always end up laughing about. Like that scene of, ‘Move over you silly woman,’ and the various takes toÂ amuse us and keep us sane, kind of laughing at our own characters in the way in which theyâ€™re behaving,” says Highmore. “And sometimes [with] those bed cuddling scenes, which do return through season three and end with a nose rub or more, the joy is doing them with Vera and then pushing them up to the point where they seem to be believable. And thatâ€™s kind of when we end up laughing.”
“So the joy of being on set every day is constantly bouncing ideas off Vera both during a take or off it and, of course, sheâ€™s essential to that dynamic working and we often look at each other and say, ‘Oh, weâ€™re just so lucky that we get along,’ because we really couldnâ€™t imagine doing it with someone that we didn’t really get along with.”
“We do laugh a lot. If you have to deal with something sad, thereâ€™s always parts of life that renew you.Â [My] kids are like an amazing haven of happiness,” says Ehrin. “I stepped outside my kitchen this morning and orange blossoms were blooming. [Thatâ€™s] the stuff thatÂ keeps you out of a black hole.”
They both add that they take advantage of the Vancouver climate to bond in close company.Â “We all huddle together around the fire in the living room and tell each other stories,” says Highmore. “And laugh a lot,” finishes Ehrin.
Whatever they’re doing, it’s working in spades.Â Bates Motel airs Mondays at 9/8c on A& E.
Here’s a sneak peek of tonight’s new episode:
Additional reporting by Kara Howland.
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