Bates Model is a modern re-imagining and prequel to the movie ‘Pyscho’. The story begins with the earlier years of a teenage boy Norman Bates, and his mother Norma who live in an old house overlooking the adjoining motel which they are renovating. The house and hotel both come with secrets of their own as does the new town which the Bates’ now call home.
Vera Farmiga – best known for her role in ‘Up in the Air’ with George Clooney, talks to us about her character and this exciting new series
What was your reaction when you first heard about this project?
VERA FARMIGA: Well obviously when there’s a commercial offer that your accountant will be very happy about it’s always very pleasing. And it’s always very appealing when you read it and you’re challenged by the material. I hadn’t felt that way in a long time so I was just really psyched to roll up my sleeves and bite down on a juicy character. I didn’t know we were filming in Vancouver when I first heard but I met my husband in Vancouver and have romantic associations in the place. I knew it’d be a tough winter but well worth it once the cherry blossoms came in the spring and we enrolled the kids in school and basically we lived there and we’re Canadians for the moment.
How did it affect your approach that we knew Norman from Psycho, but not your character?
VERA FARMIGA: My invention goes as far as the writing, what the writers invent for me in that storyline. The writers give such complexity and gradation of what it means to be a mother, and that perfection and imperfection and what that bond of maternity means, in sickness and in health, through thick and thin. So we’re not going to like her all the time and yes, she makes some bad decisions, but always my approach to the character is that they stem from a genuine place of yearning for her child to have a life that she imagines for him. He’s a very sensitive son, they’ve gone through this tragedy and she’s accepted her responsibilities as a single mother. I think our assumptions from Psycho are through Norman’s warped psyche which is not entirely trustworthy. I very much approached her as a typical mother who just wants their child to have a life that isn’t handed to them, a life that he can achieve his growth and potential, who is concerned for his safety and well-being and creating a better life for him. It’s a story about beginnings and fresh starts. And what I admire about this character is that ineffable quality of resilience that allows some people to get knocked down and come back higher than ever. Norma has that and I think that’s what’s so admirable to me.
The movie was based on a book about the serial killer Ed Gein. Did you read the book?
VERA FARMIGA: No, I think I took inspiration more from other literary resources, and these are resources that have random things throughout but it wasn’t anything specific. I would say that Ibsen and Chekhovian heroines are more of an inspiration to me than anything I could find in Psycho or reading anything off the Internet that I had read about Hitchcock developing Psycho or
reading about the initial inspiration for Psycho. So it’s stories like Medea and Oedipus Rex and stories like Aladdin – not the Disney version because the mother was wiped away completely – but these have informed me in various ways. Nora from The Dollhouse and Hedda Gabler; these are little inspirations that I’ve had along the way and my own mother was a huge inspiration for the role. My own relationship with her was a huge inspiration.
What is your take on Norma Bates?
VERA FARMIGA: I think she’s an amazing mother. I really do think that. That is my approach…that is my interpretation. I’m sure it will be misinterpreted and misconstrued, and the thing about maternity and as a mother you can say this; you do not know for many years whether your theories about child-rearing were correct. And she is doing what she thinks is right. I would have handled that very delicately, with the rape scene, in an entirely different way. But she’s doing what she thinks is right as a protector; she missteps.
What’s been the most challenging part about playing this character?
VERA FARMIGA: It’s a very emotional role and I suppose I’m finding that balancing that with maturity has been very difficult for me because I find that the first thing that’s compromised is my immune system and the kids bring stuff home all the time from preschool and we film on top of a dump so the actual house and motel are built on an old transfer station and I don’t sleep these days, because I have an insomniac two-year-old so my biggest challenge is just making sure that I have enough energy for the kids and that it doesn’t interfere with my health. The material is so fun to play and the words are so sharp and precise, and these characterizations are so well-etched that it’s a real treat but it does require a lot of effort because of the emotional demands of the role.
So how would you describe this show to people not familiar with Psycho?
VERA FARMIGA: Emotionally, it will be horrifying. There will be horrifying moments. But I would say it’s an anxiety-inducing suspense thriller and from my perspective a love story, that’s essentially what it is for me and that’s why I signed on to do it. It is an exploration of that particular and dynamic kind of love between a mother and a son.
Bates Hotel premieres 29 May at 10.50pm on Universal Channel (Starhub Ch 512)
Interview and images courtesy of Universal Channel
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