'Bates Motel' star Vera Farmiga discusses her role as one of cinema's most famous mothers

'Bates Motel' actress Vera Farmiga said her character, Norma, 'knows something' about her son Norman that makes her overly protective. 'Bates Motel' is a TV prequel to the seminal horror movie 'Psycho.'

Joe Lederer/A&E/AP
'Bates Motel' stars Vera Farmiga (r.) and Freddie Highmore (l.).

Vera Farmiga has some advice for Norma Bates, her character in the new series "Bates Motel": "Honesty is always the best policy."

Honesty — or the lack of it — is a key theme in the 10-episode prequel to the classic Hitchcock film "Psycho." The A&E show, which premiered Monday at 10 p.m., reveals just what drove Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) over the edge.

In an interview Monday, the Oscar-nominated actress said Norman and his mother, Norma, are "harboring a dark secret which will unfold as the series continues." Along with the everyday angst most parents experience, Norma "knows something about him that I think makes her hyper-protective," Farmiga said.

Farmiga didn't have a lot to go from to create her character. In "Psycho," Norman's mother was a skeletal role. (Although Farmiga did reveal that in an upcoming episode she dons the same hairstyle as Norman's mother from the original film.)

Farmiga, who has two toddlers of her own, said she studied hers and other maternal relationships around her to help her get into character. She says in her mind Norma is a mother who is trying to be a good influence.

"Yeah, she's insane as any mother goes insane sometimes," Farmiga said. "It's a very typical portrayal of maternity and its function and dysfunction and its victories and defeats. She doesn't always make the right decisions."

The actress said she also looked to the theater, where she began her career, for inspiration in women in Chekhov and Ibsen plays.

"It just reminded me a lot of the heroines and the yearning to start over," she said. "Our story is that: What lengths will a mother go to to give her child the life that she envisions for him?"

In the series, Norma Bates has another son, Dylan (Max Thieriot), with whom she says Norma "failed miserably." That explains why her relationship with Norman is "so tightfisted, so entwined," she said.

"You could say these two still have an umbilical cord like wrapped around the two of them and for an audience to decide and take that journey to decide how close is too close," Farmiga said.

Anyone who has seen "Psycho" knows that it does not end well.

While Farmiga acknowledges that the characters are doomed she says "Bates Motel" wants the audience to root for them, "to hope against hope that maybe things turn out differently."

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.