‘Bates Motel’: Austin Nichols Dissects That Shocking Sam Loomis Scene
[Spoiler Alert: Read no further if you haven’t watched Bates Motel: “Marion.” Major plot points are revealed.]
Wow! Austin Nichols sure has been involved in some epic TV send-offs this season.
First, the actor was knifed in the gut by The Walking Dead‘s ubervillain Negan, just like in the iconic comic. Now, in Bates Motel’s March 27 episode, Nichols became part of a radical departure from an even more legendary movie scene from Hitchcock’s masterpiece Psycho: Norman’s maniacal stabbing of Janet Leigh’s Marion Crane in the shower.
As fans now know following Monday’s episode, Marion, played on Bates by superstar singer Rihanna, survived her encounters with Norman (Freddie Highmore). Instead, the infamous momma’s boy slaughtered Nichols’ character, the adulterous Sam Loomis, for hurting two women Norman thought needed protecting.
TV Insider talked to Nichols about his experience on Bates, playing Rihanna’s boyfriend and his second fatal onscreen stabbing this season.
When you signed up for the show, did you know Sam would be a goner?
Austin Nichols: Yeah. I got on the phone with [executive producers] Carlton [Cuse] and Kerry [Ehrin] to learn about the character, and they told me Sam would die somehow in episode 7, as would Marion. [Laughs] I had no idea that they would swap out Sam for Marion. That was a really cool surprise.
Well, that didn’t happen. Sam died in the sixth episode, and it seems that Marion won’t die at all. What was your reaction when you learned that it was your character whose blood would be splattered in the shower?
I was silent, then I began getting excited because I felt that I was suddenly part of Hitchcock’s whole world! You feel that just by being part of the show, but then to reproduce maybe the most famous murder scene in cinema history is the coolest thing that ever happened to me in my whole career. There’s no words to describe how thrilled I was.
Were you expecting some fans to be angered at the bait-and-switch?
No. I thought they’d be happy that Marion got away this time. Of course, there’s always angry people on the internet, but I thought they’d like the switch.
First TWD’s Spencer and now Sam! Are you being stereotyped as someone particularly good at dying horribly?
I’m waiting to see if the next role is also death by stabbing to feel I’ve got a problem! [Laughs] It’s pretty odd that these two iconic deaths happened back-to-back to me.
What was in your mind during the scene when Norman was maniacally stabbing Sam?
It was definitely strange for a couple of reasons. You’re in ballet underwear. Somebody walks by, you look naked, but there’s nothing down there. You’re like this weird mutant cartoon character. This is the first scene I’m working with Vera [Farmiga], and I’m standing there in nude ballet underwear. It’s like “Hi, Vera!” And then she’s stepping over me and I’m dead. I’m thinking, “This is my scene with Vera Farmiga? Great.”
What’s also weird, is when Freddie’s stabbing me, the camera is really tight on our faces. He used either a rubber knife or a knife handle to simulate a blade going in, and we were two grown men standing there, grunting and crying and snotting on each other. At the same time, there’s blood being thrown at us.
How was that done?
The director, Phil Abraham, literally had a paint bucket and a paint brush and was splattering us the whole time. It was like a B horror movie. We’d say, “Phil, we have professionals who could do this.” He’d say, “No, I always wanted to do this.” Then, of course, there’s water coming out of the showerhead that periodically would get very cold. All together, it was about one-and-a-half days in that shower.
Hopefully on the more pleasurable side, you got to act as Rihanna’s boyfriend. What was that like, and how was it working with her generally?
She was awesome. Everyone loved her. It was really fun because she said that Bates was her favorite TV show. She came in, got a tour of the sets and she was very excited, like a little girl. She just wanted to do a good job. She said to everyone, “I’m not an actor, I don’t do this professionally, so please help me.” She was very kind and really wanted to be good. Everyone was happy to do whatever they could. It was a great experience.
Our first scene together was in bed. But she came in on the weekend, and we all got together and did a read-through of Marion’s scenes. We had her for two episodes, and we had both directors there, and we’d splinter off and do scenes from one episode with a director, then do scenes from another episode with the other director. So we had sort of a rehearsal day which was really helpful. Rihanna then had five days of non-stop shooting because she had to leave and go do something else. It was really intense and fast, and we had to cram a lot into a short period of time.
What kind of prep work did you do to play a character that was in the original Psycho? Did you go back to the movie?
I didn’t. I’ve seen Psycho a number of times, but it has been a few years. I actually wanted to keep that distance because we were doing something new, though we do have some shots straight out of Psycho in the shower scene, like twisting away from the eyeball. The important thing to me was to bring a new and different Sam to the table. So I didn’t watch the original again.
Sam cheated on his wife Madeleine [Isabelle McNally] and on his lover Marion, who didn’t know he was married. You could say that he deserved to die.
No! He didn’t deserve to die. That’s actually really funny, because once the episodes started airing, you get messages on twitter or online from the fans. “Sam, you f*** with Norman, you’re dead! “Sam, you’re done.” I was thinking, “You guys are cheering for a serial killer!”
C’mon, he’s played by the adorable Freddie Highmore!
I know, Freddie’s fantastic. He’s such an amazing guy.
You’re sort of defending your bad character, which actors always do.
Everybody has their faults and trespasses. Madeleine too. Remember that awkward scene when Sam and Madeleine and Norman had dinner? Right in front of Sam, Norman and Madeleine were seriously staring at each other. Sam definitely pushed Madeleine away, but she doesn’t do the right thing either. [Laughs]
Sum up your experience on Bates.
I had a blast. It was like doing an independent film, but with time. We had so many opportunities to do extra takes; it didn’t feel rushed. It’s also very actor-friendly. They want you to embrace the different, which is rare on television. So often, I feel that we’re tamped down and pushed to do something safe. On this show, it’s the opposite—“Go do your weirdest take.”
You’ve played in a number of top-shelf shows so far. Besides The Walking Dead and Bates, you did Deadwood, Friday Night Lights, Ray Donovan, among others.
They keep bringing me back on Ray Donovan. I love playing Tommy.
What’s next for you?
I don’t know. I’m reading scripts and looking around. I’ll find something good.
Bates Motel, Mondays, 10/9c, A&E