A&E and Lost executive producer Carlton Cuse try to answer those questions on its “prequel” (though set in the present) to the horror movie, new series Bates Motel, which stars Freddy Highmore (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Finding Neverland) in his TV series debut as Norman Bates and Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air, The Departed) as his mother, Norma.
“We sort of want the audience to fall in love with these characters, particularly Norma and Norman, and yet we know sort of their inevitable fates,” Cuse says of the series’ goal at the Television Critics Association in Pasadena, Calif. on Friday.
“And that tension of knowing what their fate is and sort of seeing how they get there was something that we, as storytellers, just thought was really compelling.”
Here are six things the producers and cast revealed about Bates Motel:
1. Psycho is the inspiration for Bates Motel, but the movie isn’t the series’ bible. “The idea of doing a contemporary prequel made it clear that what we were doing was something that was inspired by Psycho, but not an homage to Psycho. And that was a big difference to us,” says Cuse.
“We just wanted to sort of take these characters and the setup as inspiration,” he later adds. “So, no, we don’t really view any of [the original movie and its remakes and previous adaptations] as canon. And, in fact, the mythology that you think is what dictates the relationship between Norma and Norman is probably not what it’s going to turn out to be.”
2. The series is set in Northern California, but shoots in Vancouver. “[Vancouver has] a nice moody quality,” producer Kerry Ehrin (Friday Night Lights) explains.
“Well, Vancouver also has a lot of different looks to it depending on where you go in the city and the area,” says Max Theriot (who plays Dylan Massett, Norma’s son from her first marriage and Norman’s older brother). “You have the coast. If you go east, you can get into kind of plains. And there’s just a lot of different looks, and I think that helps a lot.”
3. Farmiga plays to Norma Bates’ more admirable qualities.“I got into this wanting to defend who that woman was,” Farmiga explains. “I was sent the first three episodes, and she was just such a beautiful portrait of valiant maternity to me, therein I saw the challenge. She’s just a real head turner. To me the story is just a beautiful love letter between a mother and her son. And that’s how I perceive the character. That’s how I approach it.”
4. Highmore wants the audience to identify with 17-year-old Norman. “It doesn’t give anything away to say that he’ll go on to be psycho, but is that necessarily because of his upbringing?” the British actor asks. “It’s that sort of argument between nature versus nurture. Is he who he is and will he always become the person that he will become, or is it because they move to this dodgy town and there’s a sort of weird relationship between or certainly close, intimate relationship between Norma and Norman. And that challenges the audience to think, ‘Well, if I was in that situation, if I had had the upbringing that Norman had had, would I be slightly different?’ You know, we all go a little mad sometimes.”
5. Don’t expect elements of fantasy. “There’s no supernatural elements in play,” Cuse says when asked about comparisons to FX’s American Horror Story. “We view this as a psychological thriller, as a very character based thriller type of story.”
“It’s very grounded,” Ehrin adds.
6. Lost and Ringer fans, don’t be discouraged by Nestor Carbonell’s lone scene on the pilot episode. “Nestor’s very much a part of the show and increasingly so going forward,” Cuse assures reporters. “It was a thrill for me to work again with Nestor after Lost. And he’s got a great role, which will become really important, particularly in the last couple of episodes of the season.”
Bates Motel premieres Monday, March 18 at 10PM on A&E.
Have the producers and cast piqued your interest on their Psycho “prequel”?
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