Interview: Freddie Highmore and ‘Bates Motel’ Writer Carlton Cuse Unleash the Psycho

Preston Barta // Film Critic

Bates Motel,” 45 min.
Creator: Anthony Cipriano
Stars: Freddie Highmore, Vera Farmiga, Max Thieriot, Olivia Cooke and Nestor Carbonell

The season finale of A&E’s “Bates Motel” is tonight, but before you venture down that road tonight, read our interview with Norman Bates himself, Freddie Highmore, and one of the show’s writers/executive producers, Carlton Cuse.

You got your acting career started at an early age, doing films such as “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “Finding Neverland.” Now, as a young man, you’re taking the iconic role of Norman Bates and I was wondering how your style of acting has evolved as a child actor into a young man. Was it hard to break free from that kind of cute kid mold to do something a little bit more darker like “Bates Motel?” How have you avoided the pitfalls others have fallen into?

Freddie Highmore: “I guess in terms of the last thing, I’ve always remained I guess relatively distant from the sort of film while growing up whenever I wasn’t doing one myself. And so, I carried on sort of going to normal school. Right now, I’m just a couple of weeks away from doing my final exams at the university. And so having always combined acting with my studies and always having to come back here in England, I think that’s given me a kind of nice sense of distance in terms of not falling into the pitfalls that you mentioned.

In terms of evolution, I guess you become more aware as you get older of how lucky you’ve been to sort of been on these fantastic sets. And also aware of the learning process that goes on kind of subconsciously just by being on the set from a young age and learning from actors. Having never been to acting school myself, I guess you become more aware of the things that you learn and traits and other actors that you see to sort of replicate or ways that they’ve approached, you know, certain scripts or material that you find inspiring.”

And then finally I guess for the – yes, Norman Bates certainly is different, but I never sort of transitioned from a sort of child actor to a young adult. So I don’t elect it to be sort of particularly problematic in the sense that I just saw it as a natural thing. You know, as you get older you start to play all the characters and so I wouldn’t say I’m kind of doing anything different now than I did before, it just seemed natural to me.”

Makes perfect sense. Carlton, Given that we all know the source material, how wedded to that are you in terms of we know where these characters – or at least Norman – Norman and Doug. But I think we’ve also become so invested in them – in the series that we don’t want them to end up there. Is that possible or do they need to end up there ultimately?

Carlton Cuse: “You know, I think that I’m very happy to hear you say that because I think that’s the key to a great tragedy, and tragedy is a great storytelling form.

It worked extremely well for Shakespeare, it worked extremely well for Jim Cameron – ‘Titanic’ as a tragedy and, you know, in that movie, you kind of hope that Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet don’t meet their inevitable fate. I think that that tension between sort of your expectations as to what’s going to happen to these characters and what’s actually occurring now on their journey is that dramatic tension. I think that is the essence of what we are trying to accomplish as writers.

And I think that Freddie and Vera – no one could do a better job than the two of them executing that. We do foresee that there are some bad things that loom ahead for Norma and Norman, but I think it would actually rob the audience of the enjoyment of the journey to be too specific about how we’re going to play that out. I mean certainly we think that a literal necessitation of the events of the movie would not be fully satisfying.”

Without giving away any spoilers, how do you think this season finale is similar or different from the first season?

Highmore: “I think the whole Arc of the second season has been fantastic for Norman and there’s always a sort of time that you need in terms of establishing a character and seeing them as they are before they start off on this journey.

And I think towards the end of this season we certainly see Norman – I mean Norman was a lovely guy, but I think in the tenth episode especially and perhaps No. eight that we’ve already see, we start to see this small manipulative side to Norman that starts to question whether or not, you know, question our allegiance to him and sort of support and backing of it, which has been great fun as an actor to play because you play against the sense of what people thing Norman should be like.

But then there comes a point where I think, you know, to what extent can you continue to support his actions? And with Norman’s kind of growing realization of who he is and who he might become and what he’s capable of comes this sense of power for him. And what I think is great about the tenth episode is, you know, to what extent would that power Norman take as sort of self solicit decision or a selfish decision. And by the end of the episode do we – are we still with him or not?

Norman and Norma are usually so close, but the secret that she’s been keeping about his blackout and really driving a wedge between them. Will their relationship kind of continue down the strained path or is there reconciliation in the near future?

Cuse: “Norma and Norman’s relationship is at the very heart of the show and so, you know, that I don’t think ever will change.

That’s what makes the show so wonderful: the dynamic that exists between these two characters as portrayed by these two actors. I mean, that’s the very heart and center of the show. The nature of that relationship, however, will evolve over time and I think what’s really interesting is that Norman is going from being sort of a boy to being a man; that’s part of his journey over the course of the show.

And I think that as he becomes more of a man, you know, that has cumulative consequences in terms of how he and his mother relate to each other – so I think it would be, you know, Kerry and I certainly don’t see that relationship as being static but we definitely see it as always being very close and very intense.”

Alfred Hitchcock once said that the best way he could rid his fears was to make films about them. So I’m curious if you could make a movie about your greatest fears, what would they be about?

Highmore: “Well, I’m going to come up with something corny aren’t I? You know, losing people that you love or, you know, the fear of death or something.

I can’t think of something intelligent. I mean, certainly a big fear at the moment is whether or not my soccer team is going to make it into first place. But that – every year, I had the same fear last season, but we managed. Getting fourth place – I think that’s a pretty dramatic ending to the primary season and certainly one that would make sort of a great film.”

We always mention “Psycho” as an influence, but how much has Alfred Hitchcock’s larger body of work influenced the tone of the show or just in the way that you write things?

Cuse: “Oh, I mean, I think Hitchcock is one of my favorite filmmakers and I think his ability to kind of find suspense in very human moments and kind of connect them to characters.

There’s just so many ways in which I’ve been influenced by him in terms of what he does as a filmmaker. I’m just kind of thinking in my mind of, you know, working on the show and just thinking about ‘Rope’ or ‘Vertigo’ or ‘North by Northwest.’ He’s just such an amazingly talented filmmaker in terms of his ability to tell these sort of stories that were sort of deeply suspenseful but also deeply psychological at the same time. He had this incredible ability to both really put characters in really tense and dynamic perilous situations. But also, really get you inside their psyches and really get you, you know, make you feel kind of – just kind of the way in which he connected his characters to the psychological and physical dilemmas of storytelling is something that was a huge influence on me.”

The season two finale airs tonight on A&E.

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