The young actor who plays the new Norman Bates commented casually, “We all go a little mad sometimes.”
There is something of a difference between, you know, having-a-bad-day mad and Norman Bates mad.
But the overriding question posed by the new series Bates Motel – which debuts Monday, March 18 on A&E – is, how and where did that terrifying Norman Bates-style madness begin?
“It’s that sort of argument between nature versus nurture,” said 21-year-old British actor Freddie Highmore (pictured above left), who plays the 17-year-old Norman in Bates Motel.
“Is he who he is, and will he always become the person that he will become? Or is it because they move to this dodgy town and there’s a sort of weird relationship – or certainly a close, intimate relationship – between Norman and Norma (Norman’s mom, played by Vera Farmiga, pictured above right)?
“That challenges the audience to think, ‘Well, if I were in that situation, if I had the upbringing that Norman had, would I be slightly different?’ You know, we all go a little mad sometimes.”
Bates Motel, which is co-executive produced by Carlton Cuse (Lost) and Kerry Ehrin (Friday Night Lights), is a contemporary prequel to the classic 1960 Alfred Hitchcock film Psycho. So that means Bates Motel exists in modern times, even though the story pre-dates the events that occur in the film.
“I remember seeing Psycho for the first time, I guess, when I was 13 or 14,” Highmore said. “Was that too young? You seem surprised. Too young.
“I haven’t seen the original house. I haven’t done the (studio) tour at all (in Los Angeles). But maybe now I will. It does make me laugh, though, when you see the house in Vancouver (where Bates Motel is shot), the exact replica of it. Not that it’s laughable.”
You may recognize Highmore’s now-grown-up face if you saw films such as Finding Neverland (2004), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005), August Rush (2007) or The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008). Bates Motel is Highmore’s first regular role on series TV.
“I’m very lucky – aren’t I? – yeah, playing Norman Bates, yeah,” Highmore said. “I guess, as you say, big shoes to fill.
“But I feel more that if there is any pressure to kind of do as well as you can with a character, it comes more from the character himself, rather than by previous people who (played that character).
“Of course, Anthony Perkins (who played Norman Bates in the original Psycho and is pictured below) has done an iconic take. But the character of Norman Bates is also iconic. So I guess I just want to do him justice and, yeah, make sure we get the best Norman we can.”
That being said, comparisons are inevitable, right?
“Certainly, for me, the idea of people being able to identify with Norman from the start is interesting,” Highmore said. “He kind of indirectly challenges the audience, because we all know where he’s going to end up. It doesn’t give anything away to say that he’ll go on to be psycho.
“But is that necessarily because of his upbringing?”
The answer lies in the creepy crevices of Bates Motel.