Re-imag­in­ing of PSY­CHO

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - TV Guide - - Cover Story - – Zoe Nau­man

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.”

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