Premiering on Monday, March 18 date, “Bates Motel” explores the story of a teenage Norman Bates, and how he became the fictional serial killer made famous from the 1960 Alfred Hitchcock film “Psycho.” The series stars Freddie Highmore (“Finding Neverland”) as a young Norman and Vera Farmiga (“Up in the Air”) as Norma, his controlling mother who we all know eventually winds up in skeletal form as her crazed son goes on murderous rampages impersonating her.
Executive producer Carlton Cuse (“Lost”) acknowledges that there was a lot on the line in pulling off an origins story about such an iconic character. “There is a high degree of difficulty and you could belly flop the dive really easily,” he says. “That was the part that was scary.”
While co-executive producer Kerry Ehrin (“Friday Night Lights”) and Cuse admit that “Bates” drew inspiration from “Psycho,” don’t expect the Norman origins story to follow what you know of him from Hitchcock’s classic film. “There were definitely certain pieces of the mythology that we wanted to utilize but we didn’t want to make it too meta,” Cuse says.
Adds Ehrin (“Friday Night Lights”), “We didn’t want it to take you out of the reality of the world. Once you think of it as a movie it’s not real anymore.”
But without drawing completely from the source material, why set it in the “Psycho” world at all? Ehrin says that with the audience’s understanding of the inevitability of Norman’s downfall, there’s a heightened sense of drama and suspense. “It’s knowing where it lands,” Ehrin says. “That’s why framing it in a way as a tragedy makes so much sense because it’s the story of how those events unfold and wanting them to end differently.”
“Bates Motel” opens on the mysterious death of Norman’s dad Sam, prompting Norma to relocate the two of them to White Pine Bay, a sleepy coastal town with a dark underbelly, where she hopes to start fresh by taking over the Bates Motel. Of course, not all is what it seems in this world, and viewers are in store for a “suspenseful, thrilling, and unexpected” ride, Cuse reveals.
The buzzy, engrossing thriller has already been garnering critical praise, with TV Guide’s Matt Roush admitting that he was “pleasantly surprised and intrigued by this offbeat show.” The Hollywood Reporter’s Tim Goodman described “Bates” as feeling “new and not derivative, coming across more ‘Twin Peaks’ eeriness than full-on ‘Psycho.’
In an interview with XFINITY, Both Cuse and Ehrin previewed what viewers can expect when “Bates” premieres on Monday, March 18 at 10/9c on A&E.
Watch the Pilot Episode of “Bates Motel” Before It Airs on TV:
It’s Not an Homage, But Do Expect At Least Some Meta Moments: The iconic imagery the towering Bates mansion looming above the one-level motel was an obvious and necessary set piece (and one that took over 200 construction workers and carpenters 5 weeks to erect in Vancouver, according to Cuse). There will also be some nods to the film, like a very Hitchcockian scene in the pilot shot from the top of the staircase; and the creepy, intrusive cop played by Nestor Carbonell. And in case you’re wondering, Norman will wind up being exposed to taxidermy, through an encounter at the father of a schoolmate’s oddity shop. “Lost” fans may even get their very own easter egg, too, as Cuse admits he’d like to include a stuffed polar bear in the shop.
Norma and Norman’s Relationship Is Complicated: At the center of the show is the disquieting, bizarre relationship between Norman and Norma. It’s one that viewers will at times feel uncomfortable watching. Of course the challenge was to make sure that both characters were sympathetic. Initially audiences may side more with Norman, who seems trapped by his controlling mother. But that might not always remain true, especially as viewers learn the truth about what happened to Norman’s father Sam, which will be revealed in Episode 6. “I think you’re going to learn more about what their relationship is all about and I think the audience is going to go, ‘I want to know more about what makes them tick,’ Cuse reveals. “That opening scene in the pilot, there’s much more to what happened there and we’ll get the whole story about Sam’s death and then that may surprise you in what happened.”
It Was Always Vera and Freddie: Both Ehrin and Cuse say that the Oscar nominee was always their top pick, and they feel blessed to have landed her on the show. “I was definitely writing to Vera,” Cuse admits. “When we were still in the conception phase, I said, ‘You know who the perfect prototype for Norma Bates is? Vera Farmiga.’ I didn’t know her at all, but I’d seen her in ‘Up in the Air’ and ‘The Departed’ and I felt that she had this combination of she was really attractive and really smart and an immensely talented actress, so we had all this ambition for who Norma was – that she was gonna be funny, that she was gonna be unpredictable and dangerous and obsessive, but we also wanted her to be sexy and nurturing. She had to be so many things. Sometimes as a writer find yourself writing defensively to the holes and limitations in individual actors and it just didn’t seem like there were any holes in any of Vera’s performances. She just felt so authentic and complete.” As for casting Highmore, he was one of the first actor’s that they saw for the role. During an initial Skype conversation with Highmore, who’s based in London, Cuse said his instinct was, “Oh, he’s utterly charming. He’s perfect. He’s the guy.” Yet they still felt the pull to audition others. Ultimately, Highmore won out. “No one was even close,” Cuse reveals. “He was so head and shoulders above everybody else for us. Then it was difficult to get the deals done and then we got them done. We would have just been so totally screwed had we not gotten Freddie and Vera.”
Go Behind the Scenes of “Bates Motel”:
It’s Contemporary, Yet Timeless: Cuse says the decision to set this story in the present-day was imperative. “Right from the get-go, I would not have done the show if it was period,” he reveals. “Then I think you can really feel the pressure to be living literally in the shadow of the movie and that felt way too confining.” There’s a distinctly retro vibe in the initial scenes in the pilot, from Norma’s Mercedes wagon to the muted yellow and orange color palette. Cuse says those visual elements were calculated. “It was intentionally meant to feel timeless until the scene where you see Norman at the bus stop when he puts his earbuds in. When you’re in the house and in the motel you do feel like you’re sort of floating in this timelessness and that was sort of a stylistic choice for sure.”
The Town is Not What It Seems: For a seemingly laid-back sleepy town, White Pine Bay sure does have a lot of creeps. Cuse says that there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to the townspeople and what they are up to behind closed doors. “The town and the weird kind of nefarious culture that is under the surface of this beautiful town is a big part of the storytelling,” he admits. “Everybody’s kind of got dark secrets and desires.” As for the cause of such darkness? “Too much flouride [in the water],” Cuse jokes.
What to Expect from the End: Both Ehrin and Cuse promise that the first season, which encompasses a period of a few months, will end have a gratifying conclusion. “We think we provided an ending that is satisfying and provocative,” Ehrin admits. Given his familiarity with fan outrage surrounding the series finale of “Lost,” Cuse is hyper-aware of not alienating viewer. “We definitely don’t want to leave the audience annoyed,” he says. “We want to leave the audience good annoyed, which is like, ‘Oh, I can’t wait to see the next season.’ But it’s definitely conclusive.” As for the series end, whenever that may be, Cuse does have an idea in mind, and it will most likely jibe with what viewers know of Norman’s serial killer fate. “I think it inevitably will end with a version of what we know of the character from the movie,” says Cuse. “We know that it’s a tragic ending but the specifics of how that tragedy plays out is something that we have a general idea about but will be informed as we go deeper downstream. And how that works again won’t be literally the same as the movie…What’s interesting for us is that it’s the journey and when we get there it’ll be horrible and tragic,” he says, adding solemnly, “But you know, the end of ‘Hamlet’ is pretty horrible and tragic, too.”
Who the Show Will Appeal To: “I could seen teenagers liking this show,” Ehrin admits. “But I feel like it’s got broad appeal.” As for Cuse, he has a very specific brand of consumers he’d like to see watching: “Teenagers, genre fans, and Lionel Richie fans.”
“Bates Motel” premieres on Monday, March 18 at 10/9c on A&E.