Between now and June 28, the deadline for Emmy voters to submit nomination ballots, EW.com will feature interviews with some of the actors and actresses whose names we hope to hear when nominations are announced on July 18.
A&E’s freshman drama series Bates Motel by Carlton Cuse, Kerry Ehrin, and Anthony Cipriano had a lot to live up to as a prequel/modern remake of Psycho. But Freddie Highmore steps out of Anthony Perkins’ shadow in his humanizing portrayal of the doomed Norman Bates. It also helps that Vera Farmiga is the one to breathe life into Norman’s infamous mother, Norma. Highmore spoke with EW about filming with Farmiga and what it’s like for both of them to play Norman’s version of “Mother.”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What scene or episode was significant for you or particularly fun to shoot?
FREDDIE HIGHMORE: I guess in episode seven there’s quite a few interesting things for Norman. We see for the first time the real splint in personality between him speaking in his own voice and then speaking through his mother’s voice, and in turn, her personality. It’s a big moment because you realize he isn’t actually in control all the time of what he wants to be doing. His mother’s influence on him is kind of sub-conscious and that’s even more dangerous—the fact that she’s spoken to him or she’s put this influence on him that he himself can’t even control. We worked on it a lot. That was one of the key things Vera [Farmiga] and I had to do together as a team because I think we shot the scene where Norman says Norma’s lines first. Then we had to work out how Vera was going to be saying it in a way that would be immediately identifiable when Norman did it later on. And come up with the voice that Vera saw as being in Norman’s head and he would speak through it, so that was a fun process.
EW: How aware is Norman of his dark impulses and violent actions?
I think we start to see more of that, not that I know very much about what happens in next season’s stuff, but that’s a scene that is developed more towards the end of season one and that will be picked up later on. What is Norman’s reaction to this, or is he completely oblivious? He certainly doesn’t seem to remember a lot of the trances he’s been in, but perhaps he’s aware that he goes into these trances. That’s kind of equally scary, wondering, “What am I doing at this time that I can’t remember?”
EW: Is Norman’s behavior and thoughts due to mental illness, or Norma and his father’s parenting?
It’s that argument of nature versus nurture, isn’t it? Is Norman always destined to become that person right from birth? Or is it the circumstances and principally his mum’s influence that turns him that way? I think, for me, it’s a combination of both, and there’s certainly something physically or scientifically, diagnosably wrong with him. Perhaps despite the fact she might feel that she’s protecting him maybe, maybe his mum isn’t the best influence to be there to support him through that and keep him on the right track and out of trouble.
EW: Let’s talk about that finale. Norman and Miss Watson’s interaction did not go where I thought it would go. What do you foresee the fallout from Miss Watson’s death to be?
Well, I have no idea. I guess it’ll have to be resolved. I think that who everyone thinks killed Miss Watson is Norman, and unless they decide to dramatically change that, I guess that’ll be the case. You’ll have to wait and see. People always ask me as if I know the answer, but I don’t really know the answer myself. So we’ll have to see, but I think he probably did her in. But whether or not he remembers it or whether or not he has any recollection of it, is something different.
EW: Throughout the season, the show has some unexpected humorous moments even at the most intense scenes. Was that an intentional decision that to stay consistent with as the season developed?
I found in television you have more sort of responsibility [to stay consistent] in some ways as an actor because the producers/writers aren’t on set and the directors come and go, so the only real people that are there all the time are the crew and the actors. Vera and I discussed the dark humor that was present and actually identified that as something you can push more throughout the season. You work together in highlighting those moments. I guess the writers see that and think “Oh yeah, I think this is interesting. We can write more of that.” So it’s definitely a conscious thing. I think it’s even there in the first episode coming right after the rape scene and then the stabbing of Keith Summers [W. Earl Brown.] They have to dispose of the body, so they’re sort of struggling down the steps with this body and blood is going everywhere. Then the Sheriff [Alex Romero played by Nestor Carbonell] comes in, and he’s peeing while they’re all waiting to get rid of the body and that we found funny. In fact, they had to cut a lot of the lines when we were going down the steps because it was too amusing. So, that was there from the start. It was just a case of kind of pushing it out and making sure it stays there throughout.
EW: What’s next for you?
We’ve got the next season, actually. We start in mid-July. It comes around really quickly, actually—back to Vancouver. And then when that finishes, I’m going straight back to University for my last year at Cambridge, and then I’ll be graduating this time next year. That’s the plans for the next year—get my degree.