Last week at Comic-Con, I participated in press room roundtable interviews with the cast and creators of Bates Motel, who discussed the heart-ripping last episodes of Season 4 and also looked ahead at what's to come in the fifth and final season. Topics covered included the casting of Rihanna as Marion Crane, character mindsets heading into Season 5, Freddie Highmore writing and directing an upcoming episode, and much more. [Spoiler warning if you haven’t finished watching Season 4.]
Executive producers / writers Carlton Cuse and Kerry Ehrin on casting Rihanna as iconic Psycho character Marion Crane:
Carlton Cuse: We've been talking about putting Marion Crane in the show for a long time.We were very concerned about it because we wanted to make sure that we could do our own version of it. Funny, we ran all these things, people pitching actors who looked like [Janet] Leigh. We wanted to define that character in our own way. I read this article in which Rihanna said that she was a fan of Bates Motel. I said to Kerry, "What about Rihanna?" And Kerry was like, "She'll never do it." I was like, "She can't say no unless you ask the question."
I called her agent, asked the question, they said she actually would be interested. We then had a phone conversation with her, we talked about our idea for the character and how we wanted to make it original and different from what's in the movie. She got very excited about it and we made a deal.
Kerry Ehrin: It's going to be fun. We're very excited to work with her. I'm excited to work with her as an actress. I just think that's going to be a really cool thing.
Carlton Cuse: Yeah. I think she really has the desire to expand her presence as an actor. I have a lot of confidence that that's something that she'll be very good at.
Vera Farmiga on her initial reaction to reading Norma's death scene:
I'm the opposite of Freddie. Freddie needs to know many months, many moons, in advance. He prepares. He likes to know what's going to happen and I don't want the play-by-play. I get overwhelmed with the amount of what's in store, the mountain each season that we have to climb. It's really overwhelming to me because not only am I playing a mom on TV, I am a mom to two toddlers.
I didn't know until well into the season that the demise [was] near. I didn't think it would be until Season 5. Eventually I knew it was coming and I thought I could rest on the laurels of my Eastern European stoicism because I have a good on-and-off switch. I'm not very sentimental about things, but I was slain.
I remember reading it, as Kerry slipped it to me probably around Episode 7, and it happens [in] Episode 9. I remember reading it and there's a period of shock, and then comes the grief. I didn't think I'd experience as much as I did. I wept for about half an hour and then I fell asleep for about four hours.
Then it was like, "Okay, let's just go to work and get this done." It was a very funny dynamic on set. It was a very, very funny dynamic between the actors, even the crew members. It was a really strange atmosphere those last two shows in particular.
Freddie Highmore on writing and directing an upcoming episode of Bates Motel in Season 5 after writing Episode 8 of Season 4:
Yes, I'm still ... I'm going to be writing again this season. I'm in the writers room last week and this coming week as well, pitching out ideas for the arcs of the one that I'm going to be writing, and I'm going to direct an episode too, towards the end of the season. I'm very grateful to Carlton and Kerry for giving me that opportunity.
Highmore on potentially working with Nestor Carbonell (who also directs) after Bates Motel ends, and he also jokes about how Pokémon Go could be his backup plan once the series concludes:
We should. Exactly. It's funny, now the show is coming to an end. You start thinking, "This is it. What am I going to be doing afterwards?" Apart from playing Pokémon Go. Maybe that's it. I'll just become a professional Pokémon Go player with Nestor. I should try and get my levels up so I have that as a backup plan. I'd love to just keep on working with the same group that's been on Bates. It's such a small group, and a small team of people that it's always corny. People say, "It's like a family," but on this it genuinely has been, because of the small number of people that you work with on a day-to-day basis.
Cuse and Ehrin on creating the intriguing characters of the Willcock funeral home family that appeared at the end of Season 4:
Carlton Cuse: That's a great question. It was funny because we got into this weird, obsessive thing about this family-
Kerry Ehrin: You did.
Carlton Cuse: I kind of did. I'd listen to this podcast about funeral homes and about how funeral homes were family businesses and it's a really strong business that's multi-generational. I was really fascinated with this. Then we started working on it and we ended up with this version of our own three-generation funeral home family. We had these amazing actors show up.
Kerry Ehrin: The actors were so good.
Carlton Cuse: They were so good and all of a sudden it was like, "Oh my God, we need to do a spin-off show."
Kerry Ehrin: It was fun.
Carlton Cuse: It was totally tiny in the show, but it completely delighted us, so thank you for pointing that out. That's really awesome.
Highmore on whether or not Norman is prepared to take ownership of the motel business following his mother's death:
I think so. It's a dichotomy, as you say, between appearance and performance, and how Norman portrays himself to the outside world, and what's really going on inside the house. It will be fun. I always laugh when I imagine Norman with his manager's badge, and he's so proud of it. There's a lot of humor that comes from the way in which Norman likes to pretend to be, and the Norman he puts forward to others. I find [it to be] very funny. That will be fun.
Farmiga on what we can expect to see from Norman's vision version of Norma in Season 5:
As I understand it, she's going to be as fully-etched and as robust as Norma was. All the more so the playground for me because they can pretty much do anything as it's his fractured lunatic psyche. They had me doing things that I never even imagined when I signed onto the project, that I would be singing or dancing or playing piano in the capacity I was. I had no idea. They can really turn up the volume and get away with pretty much anything, so we'll see.
Farmiga on how her real-life friendship with Highmore translates into a compelling and believable relationship onscreen:
For me, it's always essentially been a story about a mom who wants to make her child the best possible version of himself. We do have a great rapport. We have a deep, deep friendship. With friendship you can do no wrong. It's unconditional love between the two of us, so we can push each other further, we can dig deeper. After all these years, we know each other's trip switches. He's a big part of my family and I'm part of his now, so what you're seeing also is that tenderness.
Max Thieriot on how Dylan may get pulled back into the dangerous drama of his family after finally escaping it with Emma:
After such a long push-and-pull battle with his family, he kind of was at the end of his rope and was like, "I have to cut myself off," and he's found someone that he can connect with and relate to, and that he's in love with. Obviously, it seems like everything in Dylan's life, once it starts getting good, it just gets bad again. I think Season 5 will definitely be no exception to that. I don't know how they're going to play it all out yet, but I assume at some point Dylan will find out about his mom passing away, and I also assume that he will probably find out how his mom died, or who killed her. Maybe not the details. It will be really interesting to see what that does, how that affects Dylan in general, and also what it does to his great relationship with Emma. Does that totally change things for them because he's a mess now? Maybe, most importantly, what that does to his relationship with Norman and how they both handle it.
Thieriot on how there might never be a "happy ending" for Dylan:
I think that he needs to find out about his mom's death, and ultimately, I don't think there can be a real fairy tale happy ending for Dylan anymore at this point in time. I think that he's maybe going to have a lot of guilt because he's obviously going to look at it and think, "If I hadn't left...", how Dylan and Norma left off when they finally said goodbye. He's going to have a lot of stuff that he's going to have to live with for the rest of his life. Hopefully he finds some sort of silver lining in it all, and a little bit of hope, because I think at this point, he's kind of the only real hope left. Everything [has] spiraled out of control, and we got to see this fantastic relationship between Romero and Norma, and that obviously came crumbling down and left him in a terrible place. The devastation and loss of his mom are all real things that he should experience as a character. I hope for him that maybe he can find some slight level of peace at the end.
Carbonell on getting to direct his third episode of the series in Season 5:
Thankfully, it's been a gift. This show has given to all of us in so many ways and I've never anticipated ever getting to direct on the show. It's just something that Vera just sort of put in my head, after we talked about when we blocked out scenes, and then I brought it up with Carlton and he was really enthused, he sort of championed me. He and Carrie and the network and A&E and Universal took a shot on me and thankfully, I didn't royally screw it up, so they had me do it a second time and now I'm lucky enough to get to do it the third time.
Carbonell on what to expect from Romero going into Season 5:
I know sort of the broad strokes of what my character's going to go through. I can say out of the gate that I think, yeah, he's still reeling over his loss and over Norman essentially, ostensibly getting away with it. I imagine he's going to be struggling with a purpose to live, to move on, after baring his soul to a woman, being close for so many years. I mean, my character didn't smile for three seasons, so finally opening up to a woman in that way and to whom he believes is the love of his life, only to be completely shattered by it. I think right now he probably is seeking, finding, looking for a purpose to live and either he will shut down emotionally, because it's too hard to deal with, or he'll put all his energy into trying to hunt Norman down, or eventually get to him. We'll see where they take it, but I imagine it'll be a more active role. I imagine I'll be going after him.
Carbonell on how the death of Norma affected the cast and crew:
As Carlton was saying in our panel, he had emotion on a plane crying while he was writing her death. I didn't think I'd get so emotional just reading it, and I did, and so did the crew. As we were shooting this scene, even leading up to it, I saw a number of crew members just cry. It dawned on me, I go, "I'm not the only crazy one here. We've all fallen in love with Norma Bates. We've all found this character, as dysfunctional as it is, somewhat lovable."
As an actor, I didn't have to emotionally prepare as much as I usually would for a scene like that, because, for four seasons I'd grown attached to that character. It was pretty much my M.O., was to eventually get her to open and trust me. She finally did and then she goes and dies on me. That's heartbreaking. It didn't take much for me and for others around me to feel that.
Carbonell on staying involved in the post-production process when directing, including editing over FaceTime:
It's funny, the two episodes I got to direct, I was actually in them quite a bit. Thankfully our production team was able to carve out four days for me to edit, which is the standard, for the first episode. This last time, I actually only had a day and a half, but the wonderful thing, Sarah Boyd, who also directed an episode, she's one of our amazing editors, I was shooting one day, I had to be in Vancouver, and I don't think she'd ever done this, I actually FaceTimed her and we cut on my phone. I would just say, "Can you cut here? Can we play with this here?" for eight hours before I went to shoot another scene. That was a new one, but it worked out. Thankfully, it worked out. She's an extraordinary editor as well as a director.
We're all so invested in this show. We're all so in love with this world. We're all so emotionally attached, it feels like a surrogate family, but it feels like a very strong family. The writers feel the same way and the editors feel the same way, so when we collaborate, even through FaceTime, you can't give enough, because you want to give back, because so much is coming your way.