Re-imagining of PSYCHO
Vera Farmiga was looking for a part she could get her teeth into. And when she was offered the role of Norma Bates in the television prequel series to the Alfred Hitchcock film Psycho, she says it was exactly what she had in mind.
“I was hungry for something, and sometimes they ( the writers) throw you a bone,” Farmiga says. “It is a good female character. The writers have given me a rare gift. It’s a very personal melody. It was so heartfelt and expressive of the emotion I was in when I decided to take it on.”
The Hollywood actor, who is of Ukrainian-American descent, often looks at parts she plays with a musical frame of mind. For her, the character was a lot more complicated than a rendition of Chopsticks. “I’m a pianist and I look at characters musically. She makes me think of Chopin’s Sonata in B minor.”
The series Bates Motel gives an insight into the woman behind the man – the mother of Norman Bates, the “Psycho” killer in the acclaimed 1960 thriller. Only seen as a corpse in Hitchcock’s film, Norma Bates is very much alive in the series, and slowly shaping her son’s destiny with her neurotic, creepy character and smothering attitude.
The Fox8 series is set in the present day with Norman Bates ( Freddie Highmore) a struggling teen coming to terms with being the man of the house and growing up.
Its recent launch in the US saw Farmiga’s performance met with critical acclaim, displaying the perfect mix of fragility, coldness and love, teetering on the edge of obsession. Its success in the US has seen Bates Motel commissioned for a second season.
Although the original Bates’ home from the film still exists in California, a purpose-built replica has been erected at an old dump in Aldergrove, outside Vancouver, where the series is shot.
“The building is beautiful, it really is. They followed the original architectural plans to build it. But it’s on an old transfer station – a dump – so who knows what’s buried there, sometimes you would get a really gnarly waft!”
To add to the heightened atmosphere, filming was undertaken during the monsoon season, which Farmiga says, “made it very rainy and wet during filming. I am sure the producers had the wet look in mind.”
The actor says she did not see taking
It’s the struggle to break that umbilical cord
on the role of a woman who is known by most as the dead mother of a psychotic killer as a problem.
“I wasn’t feeling hassled by playing an iconic character. What we know of Norma is presented to us through the fractured psyche of Norman Bates’ personality. I love the challenges and assumptions we may have about her.
“Freddie (who plays Norman) has to fill some big shoes. I have more slack. We don’t know who this woman is, although we can assume she played some part in the way he is. Ultimately we know she’s doomed and we’re rooting for them to make different choices, even though we know the path they’re on.”
The actor speaks highly of her on screen son Highmore, branding him a “match made in heaven” not only for her but also for the role. “He’s a surrogate son to me. He sleeps over. He plays with my kids. He teaches me how to use the iPad. I respect him so much as an artist. We adore each other. I think he is so special, so nuanced, he is a great dance partner for me. I think he looks more like Hugh Grant every day. He is amazing.”
In Bates Motel, it’s revealed Norman has an older half brother Dylan ( Max Thieriot) – and for Farmiga it is this relationship dynamic that exacerbates her stranglehold on her younger son.
“Because she failed the first time, she struggles to break that cord the second time and keeps him on a tight leash. It’s all about learning to break it. As the story unfolds you see what differentiates this mother and child from a typical mother and son,” Farmiga says.
“Norman’s at a precarious age. Teens want to separate from their mother but still have love and guidance. It’s like a pendulum that swings between the two.”
Farmiga sees playing the role as “a bit of a training ground” for her own parenting skills. She has two children with husband Renn Hawkey – son Fynn, six, and daughter Gytta, four. The family has relocated to Vancouver while the series is filmed.
Despite Norma’s obvious flaws, Farmiga sees good in her character and believes there are aspects to her which make her a good mother.
“Even though you may not agree with how Norma behaves from time to time, I hope you find some compassion for her,” Farmiga says.
“I thought it was the most comprehensive portrait of love and maternal angst. The thing with her and Norman is the struggle to break that umbilical cord. We’re all the same. We all love our mothers, but we intensely dislike them some of the time.
“She doesn’t always do things the right way, but she is resilient.”