Things are really ramping up on Bates Motel, the best show you
may be missing on TV. The fourth season has been had a whirlwind of
actions and repercussions as the series sets up its penultimate season.
The legendary mother and child characters, Norma and Norman Bates (Vera
Farmiga and Freddie Highmore) are increasingly at loggerheads as
Norman’s mental condition seems to be eroding. Finally, after three
seasons of covering for her son, situations call for Norma to have her
Because she did not have health insurance, she entered into a marriage
of convenience with White Pine Bay police chief Alex Romero (Nestor
Carbonell), however the romantic tension that has bubbled between the
two of them boils over and Norma believes she may have finally found
true love. Unfortunately, Norman does not approve of the relationship,
which has her unsure. At the same time, one of the chief’s morally
ambiguous acts has him in the sights of the DEA.
As season four winds down, we had the opportunity to take part in a
conference call with star Nestor Carbonell and show creator Carlton Cuse
to get a look at what life is going to throw at the Bates.
Nestor, are you ready for wedded bliss or are you rethinking giving up
the money as your character is changing here?
What I love about that, every season, is that every character has
obviously evolved in different ways, largely impacted by the people that
they interact with. For my character, certainly, the biggest impact has
been Norma. This season she seems to have absolutely softened and he’s
completely fallen for her. At the same time, as you mentioned, old
habits die hard. This is a man who has his own codes and one of them
apparently is if it’s Bob Paris’ money and he’s no longer around, then
now it’s my money. So the big question is: he’s made such a huge effort
to hide that money, to what end is it? He’s a got a sort of a fluid
moral compass. Where will it go to next? You’ll get some answers
certainly in the next couple of episodes regarding that.
Carlton, I know you keep in touch with your fans on Twitter and social
media. Are you liking the feedback that you’re getting with all this
Absolutely. [Co-creator] Kerry [Ehrin] and I had put together, fairly
early on, a five-year plan for the show. Season four is something we’ve
been looking forward to for a long time, because we’re activating these
major elements of the show’s narrative. One of which is: Norman, is
really descending into being pathologically a character that is similar
to the one in Psycho. Secondly, really finally getting to let
Norma/Romero relationship blossom. It’s really, really fun. It was
really, really fun for us to see the audience embrace both of these
events which are really huge advancements in our storytelling. We’ve
always envisioned the show being five seasons. So we’re really entering
the critical phase of the show now as these two story events unfold.
Your five-year plan, has that altered at all dramatically, based on what
you have seen fans embrace about the show? Or is it the same thing that
you set out with from season one, the path that you’re taking to get to
that finale of five?
There are some changes that occurred in that. In certain ways it’s been
enhanced by what’s happened with the actors. We discovered, for
instance, that there was a really nice chemistry between Dylan and
Emma’s characters. That really pushed us towards engaging those two
romantically, which was something that wasn’t planned from the very
beginning. In terms of Norma and Romero, that was something we really
thought about from the beginning. What we didn’t anticipate was the
incredible chemistry that existed between Nestor and Vera. So that story
line was amplified. It became so much more heated up by the fact that
the two actors are so amazing and so connected. It just feels so real
and believable. It is a level of combustion that we didn’t expect.
We know why Norma tries to protect Norman. But why do you think that
Romero feels the need to? Is it simply because he cares so much for
Norma? Or is there something deeper in there?
Go for it. No, No, please.
No, you start. I want to hear your answer.
All right. I’ll tell you what, and steer me right where I’m wrong, but
my take on it is that he feels a certain kinship with her. In that they
both have a sordid history. They’ve had a tough upbringing. The both of
them have had, not equally dark, but there were both very dark pasts
that they’ve had to battle. So they have that in common, but more than
that. Then the way they’ve dealt with it. They’re both strong and
assertive personalities that have had to fight for everything. I think
Romero sees his counterpart in Norma in that respect. She’s a woman who
has come to this town and is completely bucked convention in the town.
Gone against all of the things that you’re supposed to. The council,
[for example]. Just the typical ways you’re meant to go about doing
things in this kooky town of White Pine Bay. I think Romero loves that
in her and has certainly warmed to her. His struggle with her is that
she’s not able to trust him. That’s a struggle with him for three
seasons up until this season, where I think he finally feels, at least
in this last particular episode that aired, that he’s finally broken
through. That’s my take on it, but I want to hear Carlton’s thoughts.
Yes. I think that there’s a deep level of empathy in Sheriff Romero. He
feels that he has a very strong grasp, an understanding of people. As a
result, it has given him license to set his own morality and draw his
own line in the sand. His deep level of empathy for Norma is one which
he really understands how important Norman is to her. Therefore, because
he really deeply loves this woman, he wants to help support Norman as
well. So I think it’s everything that Nestor said. Then I would just add
that it’s really sort of a deep reading of Norma that also kind of
motivates him to be her ally here.
In past years, I’ve asked both Vera and Freddie about this. But how does
the experience of being on a such an iconic set add to the whole
atmosphere of filming? I know it’s a re-creation of the original set,
but it is so accurate to it.
It’s extraordinary. We have an amazing set that was built by Mark
Freeborn and his crew who... correct me if I’m wrong, Carlton... I think
built the entire exterior of the set of five weeks. In Alder Grove which
is a border town, a U.S./Canadian border town, in Canada. It’s much
larger than the original set in Universal. And the detail is…
The one that’s on the Universal lot is actually is a scale model. It’s
not full size. Our set was built using the original blueprints that were
taken from the Universal archives. It is a full-scale replica, built to
the specifications that were from the Hitchcock movie. It is, when you
actually go there, the spatial relationship and connectivity I think
gives you a sense of realness that’s really great. I’ll let Nestor speak
to that from a performing aspect. It really grounds that. It just makes
it feel real, even though those sets are so iconic from the world of
cinema. There’s also the sense of reality when you actually have them
built. This big spatial relationship exists. So much movie making is
trickery. We actually have these things you can walk into a motel room
downstairs. There’s the office. You go up the stairs you go into the
house. It’s wonderful, other than the fact that it’s built on a landfill
of a garbage dump. (Nestor laughs,) Other than that, it’s
I think that only adds to it. You’re absolutely right. It is largely a
practical set and has become more practical as every season has gone on.
The crew had built more rooms and added a roof to the second season.
Yes, as Carlton said, the minute you step on the set you can’t help but
already be in the that world because it is so beautifully realized by,
has been by Mark Freeborn and his crew. The other thing too is I would
add is that we have to drive an hour and a half from downtown Vancouver
every time we shoot at the motel. So there’s something to be said for
that drive as opposed to driving to a lot. Where you’re driving to a
place pretty far away, pretty remote, on a border town, that as an actor
certainly gets you in the mood to say I’m going to this remote motel out
there. It is out there. There’s something about that. We shoot
predominately during a winter, the winter and the fall. So you add the
gray skies of Vancouver to the mix. That only adds to the impending
thrill and doom element to it.
Carlton, I really feel like separating Norma and Norman this season has
propelled the story and the characters forward. How has that separation
has allowed Norma to evolve and change and perhaps reach the turning
point that she did in last week’s episode?
Sure. For Kerry and I, we felt like this was a very important story
moment. There were a lot of things that were serviced at all the same
time. We wanted Norma to confront this idea that she’d never had
actually gotten any professional help for her kid, despite a lot of sign
posts that he needed psychological help. The fact that she does that was
important. Also, we wanted to hold out this hope that Norman being in
this place where he’s getting mental help is possibly a really
optimistic event for him. Also really untethering Norma from Norman and
gives us an opportunity to explore the character in a different way.
She’s suddenly freed from the 24/7 obligations of her kid and this
really allows her relationship with Romero to flourish. We want to in a
way give her the sort of thing she’d always wanted.
She’s a character who her whole life has wanted to find some pure
manifestation of love. She’s instead gotten involved with the wrong guys
and been the victim of a lot of horrible circumstances. Now for the
first time everything seems to be going right. She’s with a guy who
loves her. Who is really at his core, we believe, a very decent guy with
his own strong sense of morality. Someone who fiercely cares about her.
This relationship is really blossoming. Yet, you have Norman who’s in a
mental institution and is a ticking time bomb. It just felt narratively
that it was a great opportunity to put the characters in some different
circumstances that allowed us to push some of our storytelling in new
Nestor, I wanted to ask you that just heartbreaking scene where Norma
confessed that her brother Caleb was Dylan’s father. I feel that was a
turning point for Norma. Was there anything out of the ordinary for you
preparing for that scene?
It was driven by Vera’s incredible performance. It was on the page. I
remember welling up, crying, reading that scene. Thinking, “Wow, this is
going to be a tough one.” Vera, she’s so incredibly well prepared and so
emotionally available. She got me in the first take. Thankfully, the
camera was on her, because I was like I’m going to lose it here. It was
definitely a tough scene to shoot. What was interesting is we, as a
viewer, knew everything she was saying. We’d heard it. She had to reveal
it to Dylan as well. So while she had revealed it before, having he see
the impact on the character that she had fallen for, having her see the
impact on the character, that was something completely new. What it
meant to their future and to her future in particular was, I think,
particularly important. I love that about the scene. It is her reveal,
my response to her, and then her response to that was particularly
moving. Like “Wow, finally, there’s someone here who doesn’t care. Who
will take me warts and all.” Yes, it was a particularly tough scene to
shoot. But, when you have Vera driving something like that, she makes it
Oh, don’t cut yourself short. When you asked
“where are we going?” with the packed bags, that was a kicker
I know, that’s such a great moment.
The mythology behind the character of Norman Bates and Hitchcock’s
Psycho obviously marked the series. But the show’s been a great
success. What was it like preparing for a production like this with that
history, both for Nestor as an actor, and now doing an upcoming
directing job? And Carlton, as a writer and producer?
Well, obviously, there was some trepidation about taking on this very
storied franchise. Psycho to me is in that category of a perfect
movie. It’s one of my favorite all-time movies. It’s just, it’s
impeccable. The sequels and other projects that had fallen behind it,
not so much. I mean they weren’t so great. So, obviously there’s a
little fear about trying to walk in the footsteps of that movie in a way
that will be entertaining and hopefully original. That spurred this idea
to embrace the idea of really changing it up. To not make it period, to
make it a contemporary prequel. To just take these iconic characters and
iconographic images of the house and motel and tell most really a brand
new story. In fact, Kerry Ehrin and I sat down and we started talking
about it. The thing that really interested us was really subverting the
audience’s expectations. If you watch that movie, Norma Bates is one of
great characters of cinema who we actually really know nothing about,
But I think from the movie your expectation is that she is this horrible
shrew who berated her son into becoming crazy. We thought: what if we
actually flipped that completely around? Then she’s an incredible loving
woman whose son has this fatal flaw in his DNA and she sort of smothers
him with love and affection. Maybe that actually has the opposite effect
in that it helps catalyze his this flaw in his DNA. What if we told the
story not as a typical serial killer story but as a incredibly tragic
love story? Those ideas seem to counterweigh the dangers of taking on
the Psycho franchise. We just got so excited about them. We
thought that they had so much potential. That really allowed us to go
and make it.
For a while and even honestly to some degree now, I don’t think the show
gets its just due because it’s under the Psycho moniker. I mean,
honestly I will put this season on Bates Motel up against
anything on television on a quality level. Hands down, I think it’s as
good as anything on television. I think there’s some people who ignore
the show because it’s some Psycho remake in their brains. They
haven’t watched it and seen that really it’s an original show that
borrows from the mythology of the movie. But we’re not retelling the
same story. We’ll telling our own brand new, original, unique story. I
think we’re doing an incredibly good job. I’m so proud of Kerry and my
other fellow writers and the actors on the show. I really get frustrated
a little bit because I don’t think the show is as recognized as it
should be, on a quality level.
I agree with Carlton. I think you put it so well. The taking on this
iconic feature, I’m sure was daunting. Your take on it, your and Kerry’s
take on it, exploring a dynamic that we only imagined in the movie.
Norman and Norma and exploring that that sort of Oedipal relationship.
Obviously turning it on its head and making her extraordinarily
sympathetic. That to me was where the show takes off. Exploring that.
Then you add a brother and all these characters. It’s a reimagining. You
took some license there. Adding Dylan into the mix and making that
dynamic even more complex. Then exploring the town the way you did to me
was extraordinary. I remember you sent me the first six scripts when you
called me to see about joining. I was up until I think four in the
morning because I couldn’t put them down. They were so extraordinary
well written. Obviously, like any good writing, character driven. So
that was another thing that obviously jumped off the page to me is that
everything is motivated through character. From my part as an actor,
Sheriff Romero was a completely new character, even though there was a
Sherriff in the original. I had a fairly blank canvas to work with. I
didn’t have the onus that Freddie did, to take on the iconic role.
Knowing that you’ll forever invariably be linked to
Psycho, is that something that makes you happy? Or do you mind having
You know, I feel that we’ve used the Psycho moniker to tell this
great, sprawling, pulpy romantic tragedy. That would have been a hard
sell without the Psycho label. I’m grateful that the label
allowed us to tell an original story that probably wouldn’t have been
made without out it. So on that level, yes. My hope is that, one of the
great things about television is that shows get discovered over time
now. The Wire, for instance, wasn’t a huge hit when it first came
out. But I think it’s universally acknowledged as one of the best, if
not maybe the best show, ever on television. Because people started
watching it when they could binge it. I think binging Bates Motel
is going to be a really rewarding experience, because I think some of
the things people questioned or didn’t understand at the beginning now
make a lot more sense in the context of four seasons of storytelling. It
will be super interesting, just because of Freddie Highmore, for
instance, his evolution. He started the show as a kid and he’s really
this teenager. He’s grown across... we’ll have been working on the show
for about six years by the time we finish it. He’s matured and become a
I think that actual physical transformation exists concurrent with his
evolution as a character. It will be really evident and really
interesting when you are actually binging the show. Because we will have
made that show over basically five to six years. You have seen the
physical changes in that character which corresponds with the change in
his psychology. I think that’s really great. Again, I just feel like all
of the things that we did, this weird cocktail of this sort of nuanced
romantic tragedy played against the pulpy crime story of this town, it
all makes a lot more sense in the context of seeing a lot of episodes
than maybe it did to people right at the very beginning. I hope it
becomes one of the shows that people say, “Oh, my God, I got to binge
Bates because I think it will be a really rewarding experience.” We
have some incredible stuff coming up this season that I think will make
the show even more binge worthy for audiences.
Nestor, I was really happy to hear that you’re going to be directing
another episode because I loved “The Deal,” the episode you directed in
the third season. Coming back behind the camera for this season, was
there anything that you learned from directing that episode that you
applied to the single episode that you directed?
Well, thanks Eric. Yes, continually, I have taken this. This completely
due to Carlton, I got this incredible opportunity. This is something
that Vera had suggested I do. In the middle of season two, she said,
“You should try directing. You really should.” When I broached the
subject with Carlton he said, “Yes, absolutely. I think that would be a
great idea.” I suggested maybe shadowing. Then lo and behold, he said,
“Well, if someone falls out would you be willing to step in?”
(laughs) I said, “Sure.” Sure enough, someone did fall out last year
and then I had the daunting prospect of actually having to do it, having
not gone to film school.
But the great advantage I have is, outside of amazing scripts to work
with AND a phenomenal cast, an extraordinary crew that helped me a lot
last year. I learned so much from that particular episode from Tucker
Gates, our producing director, who really established the look of the
show. The dolly tracks, mostly. Nothing longer than a 40 millimeter
lens, so that pretty much it’s a single camera show. So that the whole
world is mostly in focus as you’re shooting it. I wanted to certainly
pay respects to what Tucker was doing.
I got enormous help from the crew. That particular episode last year was
fairly stunt heavy, so I learned a whole other thing, on top of just
getting behind the camera. So yes, I took as much as that as I could to
this episode which was, as you’ll see without giving anything away,
tonally a very different episode then the one I got to direct last year.
Which is another bonus for me getting to do something completely
different as a director. But our head operator Mike Rensch is enormously
creative and while I might suggest something, he’ll come up with
something on the day too. Quite often we will freestyle. I learned, and
I continue to learn so much from working behind the camera. Carlton in
this particular episode suggested that I take a look at one movie in
particular, an incredible film, Son of Saul, as a way to
potentially shoot a certain sequence. Again, I won’t give it away. That
was enormously helpful. Borrowing from someone’s style and someone’s
point of view. I learned a tremendous amount just from that whole
What’s your favorite part of portraying Sheriff Romero this season?
This particular season what’s been a lot of fun is... Carlton and I
talked about this stuff in the beginning... [it] is the arc of a
character. He wasn’t necessarily particularly sympathetic when we first
met him. He was bit of a bulldog. Knowing full well that eventually he
would wind up with Norma, it was nice to be able to track as an actor,
that trajectory so that you can play as hard as you want initially,
knowing full well that eventually he will soften. His guard will come
down. Knowing that it was because of Norma that he was going to soften
made that choice that much more interesting because of my dynamic with
Norma and with Vera. This particular season what’s been rewarding is
finding the ways for him to slowly break that guard down.
What Carlson and Kerry and the writers came up so cleverly with was: how
do you do that after three seasons of a pretty hard-nosed guy? The only
other time we’ve seen Romero drop his guard was when he’d been drinking.
So Kerry, Carlton, and the writers cleverly had me go out on dates and
have a few cocktails and suggested Norma drink as a way to loosening up.
That let the walls down initially. I love what Carlton and Kerry did in
terms of bridging, or having these two get together. It was a product of
a false marriage first that turns into passion, that turns into liking
each other. Then eventually it turns it into declaring love for each
other. It’s a backwards way to enter a relationship. I think it’s in
keeping with how these two are.
Norman is obviously becoming more and more unstable this season. Now
that Romero has married his beloved mother, do you think it’s inevitable
that there’s an altercation coming down the line between the two of
Carlton, you want to take this?
That is, I think, the very definition of a leading question, Jay?
Yes, a bit...
But yes, we clearly constructed this narrative so that these two
characters are on a collision course. How that actually plays out, we
obviously don’t want to spoil what’s to come. But yes, the idea that
while Norman’s away, Norma will play, is obviously a very loaded
scenario. Norman, the degree in which he is willing to accept Romero
into his life and to accept the fact that Romero and his mother are
romantically involved is something that’s [real.] It’s a question that
just looms large across the show and will definitely be addressed in
You’ve also have been saying obviously the show is very different than
Psycho world. But obviously those that have seen the movie know
what’s apparently coming for Norma, which is obviously even harder for
us to deal with now that we’ve gotten to know her. Do you think the
Bates Motel ending could be completely different? Do you think of
that as a separate entity?
Kerry and certainly don’t think it would be rewarding to deliver up to
the audience the exact same ending of our show that you saw in the
movie. However, the tension of all great tragedies is this idea of
hoping against hope that characters don’t meet their inevitable fate.
That’s the essential tension of tragedies. If you watch Titanic,
you know the ship is going to sink. But you’re hoping, “Oh man, do Kate
[Winslet] and Leo [DiCaprio] make it?” We want our audience to feel that
same tension. Are Norma and Norman going to make it? Is Norma going to
make it? What’s going to happen? We like to think of the idea that we’re
crisscrossing with the mythology of the original movie.
But it is certainly not our desire or obligation to exactly align our
storytelling with what goes on in the movie. The tension of what you
should or shouldn’t expect is something that we’re very aware of. We
want you to feel that tension but I certainly don’t want to tell you how
we’re planning to pay it off – pay it out. (laughs)
Next year’s going to be the final season for this show. How does it feel
to see the end coming into view? Are you already sort of getting
nostalgic even though you’re still in the middle of it?
I mean I’ll let Nestor answer as well. But for sure. It is a really
mixed thing because it’s absolutely best for the storytelling. I mean,
this is a story that just is so much better with a closed ending,
knowing that there is some finality to it. The tension of that finality,
what that finality’s actually going to mean is what really helps engage
the audience. But on a personal level, it’s an absolutely blessed
experience. I’ve never worked with a cast that is more connected, more
aligned, more professional. Everyone is so lovely and talented and the
work experience is so satisfying and rewarding for everyone involved.
It’s really painful for that to come to an end, you know? This
assemblage of actors is so special and rare. The way everyone treats
each other and the respect that everyone has for everyone else and for
the process is so high, that it is really a serious bummer that that’s
That’s not the case on many TV shows or films or anything. Where you
have this level of connectedness. So that part’s going to be sad because
whenever you make a show, you have a fictional show. But it leads to the
creation of this sort of real world family behind the scenes that
actually makes the show. The fact that that’s going to be coming to an
end in the near future is sad. Nestor?
Again, yes, I completely agree. I’ve told you this too, Carlton, that I
hold this up in the same way as I held Lost. This has been one of
the most special experiences I’ve ever had creatively, and then
personally too. Like you said, the people are extraordinary. Working
again obviously with you and Kerry and the incredible crew and the cast.
It’s the old cliché thing which is true, it’s like a family. Justis
Greene, our line producer, put together and amassed the most incredibly
talented and sweetest crew that you could imagine. We spent many hours
together. So it’s going be extraordinarily hard to see the show end. For
some of us, we don’t know when it ends. You’ll have to find out as a
viewer for some when that end comes. But so far it has been, like I
said, one of the best experiences that I have ever had professionally.
Another upcoming episode that I’m really looking forward is one that
Freddie Highmore wrote. I’m just curious, did either of you guys give
him any advice? Also with the writing process and also what it is was
like to see his story come to life?
Freddie is a multi-talented guy who is different than a lot of actors in
many respects. He has a degree from Cambridge University. In languages,
he’s fluent in Spanish and Arabic. I honestly think he’s with MI6, but
that’s something he will neither confirm nor deny. (Nestor laughs.)
He, like Nestor, I think has the potential to be a significant
artist in an area behind acting. I think for Freddie it was a great
experience to come and sit in the writer’s room and work with our
incredibly talented group of writers on the construction of the story.
What was really interesting, and it was a first for me, was to see a
script come together from the perspective of someone who’s writing it,
who actually really inhabits one of the main characters in the show.
His perspective on Norman and the writing of the script was something
that Kerry and I are really taken with, because we’re the progenitors of
that character. But he’s the person who’s playing that character and
inhabiting it. It was interesting to see the ways in which he would have
Norman react in a certain circumstance versus what we would imagine the
character would do. In a collaborative way [we] found our way towards
using the best of both. Using our ideas about how the character would be
in combination with insights that Freddie brings to the table playing
Norman day in and day out. It was a real learning experience for
Freddie. And, something I’m sure he’ll talk about when he has his call
next week. He did a great job. I believe when you are engaged in a
process like making the show, particularly as a show runner, you look
for opportunities to really you know nurture the talent in the people
you work with. See the ways in which that talent beyond extends the job
that they’re currently doing. I think that Nestor has turned out to be a
phenomenal director. He’ll have a healthy career as a director alongside
his acting career. Freddie has definitely shown the ability to do more
than act himself.
Thank you, Carlton. That’s very kind. Again, I would not be in this
position if it were not for you. I mean, you literally made this happen
and I can’t thank you enough for that. It’s been extraordinary. I love
that you’ve fostered that and you’ve helped Freddie through this process
too, as a writer. I know he will have a chance to go beyond that and
direct next year. Yes, he was extraordinary. It was great to work with
him and great to see him even in pre-production. I would sort of bump
into him when he was prepping for the episode. He would ride on the bus
with scouts and everything. He really wanted to learn every aspect of
the process. I love that. I loved just giving him a hard time when we’re
doing scenes. You brought this up, Carlton, that I did, at one point
we’re doing a scene and I said, “These words are just not sayable. I
mean, you just don’t say these things.” (Carlton laughs) So that
went over really well. Said, who wrote this, man? No but it was a lot of
fun. Just to see his level of excitement and how invested he was in
every aspect of it was great. He’s an unusually gifted individual and an
incredibly warm person. So it was just amazing to see him succeed on
this level as well.
CLICK HERE TO SEE WHAT FREDDIE HIGHMORE
AND KERRY EHRIN HAD TO SAY ABOUT SEASON FOUR OF BATES MOTEL IN