‘Bates Motel’: Star Freddie Highmore on Writing Monday’s Pivotal Episode
It’s not enough that Freddie Highmore plays two characters on Bates Motel—teen-age Norman Bates and Mother, his alter ego version of his real life parent Norma (Vera Farmiga). He’s also written this week’s episode! The 24-year-old British star of A&E’s reimagined story of a boy and the mom he loves to death and the show’s executive producer Kerry Ehrin talk about the pivotal episode and this chilling season of Bates Motel.
Lots of actors direct episodes of their shows, but you went for the hard stuff. Why did you want to write an episode? It’s much less glamorous.
Highmore: I like the lack of glamour. (Laughs) It’s great to sit in a room and discuss story and characters with intelligent people like the writers and producers Kerry and Carlton [Cuse]. I am incredibly lucky that they gave me that opportunity. The desire was born out of this sense of wanting to be involved in the wider process of Bates Motel. It seemed odd to go home for hiatus and leave the show that you care about so much behind. It just seemed to make sense. Whilst my name is on the script, it’s certainly a true team effort.
What’s Norman’s journey in your episode? And Norma’s? We know from last week’s show, that while in Pineview psychiatric hospital, Norman found out that Norma had married Sheriff Alex Romero (Nestor Carbonell) and he made sure to get himself released. Scary thought.
Highmore: For both of them, there’s a weird sense of “What are we returning to do now?” There’s a desire to go back to normality, but there’s awkwardness and the episode is coming to terms with the fact that things genuinely are different. The deeper truth of what they’re genuinely feeling comes to the surface.
Will Norma try to continue her life with Alex Romero that she started while Norman was locked up?
Ehrin: If she was a mentally healthy person she could handle this in a different way, but with Norman back in the house, she feels it’s more that “I could lose this person that I’ve been with my whole life who’s like my foundation, if I choose to have a normal romantic relationship with this guy who’s my husband.” It’s scary for her. She’s trying to navigate that.
How will Norman navigate the new situation with his mother’s husband?
Highmore: There’s more a sense of Norman being in control. There’s a clever, Machiavellian side to him now. As he said in the last episode, “I know how to make people think that I’m normal.” There’s a certain cunning that’s married with a sense of delusion that he has as to Romero’s true intentions . He’s wrong about that, but also incredibly right when he says there’s no room for anyone else in his relationship with his mother. That’s the tragedy of the entire series.
What kind of challenge is it playing this character as he gets more cunning and more delusional?
Highmore: It’s great fun. The key is always trying to maintain our sympathies for Norman,which gets trickier over time. The scene when [his friend] Emma (Olivia Cooke) visits is key because we see Norman acting as a genuine human being and not a psychopath. He really doesn’t want to be a killer, even when he’s outside the house with an axe and the hated Romero comes looking for him. He’s striving to not be the person we know he can’t avoid becoming.
Kerry, this year we’ve seen a lot of Norman in therapy. What were you trying to do with those sessions?
Ehrin: The goal is to do really compelling sessions, which was super challenging because therapy isn’t the easiest thing to film. (Laughs) Damon Gupton, who plays the therapist has amazing chemistry with Freddie. The goal is to peel away some of the things that actually made Norman who he is, so you could understand it.
For instance being under the bed where his father raped his mother!
Ehrin: That was terrible but the heart of the story is people who have become codependent in the face of horrible dysfunction. There’s a little moment where he takes her hand under the bed and you understand the bond between them. You understand when where she’s pretending like, “Alex Romero is my husband now!” and Norman responds, “What the f—? No. We have a sacred bond that you can’t just remake now!” That’s why this episode is so incredibly important.
When Norman was in the hospital, was Norma genuinely happy with Alex?
Ehrin: Yes, but it couldn’t have happened if Norman was in the house. Her anxiety level had to calm down enough so she could have a relationship with a guy.
It’s not just Norman that Alex should be worrying about it, is it? Are there eventual consequences that Alex murdered the drug kingpin Bob Parrish and stole his money?
Ehrin: Things are definitely heating up in Alex’s world. Things will be coming at him from all sides.
Norma’s older son Dylan (Max Thieriot) is planning to move to Seattle with Emma,now his girlfriend. Will he still be part of the show
Ehrin: Well, Dylan has lost patience with his family and that’s coming to a head with him. He needs to confront that. But he’s not leaving the show. In a lot of ways, Dylan is the every man who looks in on the situation.
Freddie, what’s been your favorite scene this season?
Highmore: The scene in episode five when we see Norman transition into becoming Mother during therapy with Dr. Edwards (Gupton). It’s fun to explore that other side to Norman’s personality while keeping it grounded in reality. You see the transition sort of take place on Norman’s back and he’s up against the wall and he looks up and he’s become Mother. But there’s a couple of really great scenes with Vera coming up that I’m incredibly excited for people to see!
Bates Motel, Mondays, 9/8c, A&E