The "cocktail of madness and maternity that is Norma Bates" may seem like a psycho, but "Bates Motel" star Vera Farmiga defends her character.
"I admire her tenacious love for her child," the Emmy nominee told me during a conference call for the show's second season. "She goes to extreme lengths to give her child the life that she imagines for him. And that is really valiant to me."
In the first season of A&E's modern-day "Psycho" prequel, those lengths included moving across the country to run a motel in White Pine Bay, Ore., just to give oddball Norman (Freddie Highmore) a better life. Oh, and she lied, seduced, cajoled and even killed to protect him.
"Yes, there is the flip side of Norma Bates. Her hardware is working; her software is a bit faulty," Farmiga admitted, laughing. "Look, she does wrap Norman in bubble wrap all the time.
"This is a story, after all, about family dysfunction. ... For me, the name of the game is to present to you a woman who lives every day in the trenches of maternity, and also in the trenches of her own stubbornness and denial."
An uptick in the motel's bookings may have Norma feeling more optimistic as the new season begins at 8 p.m. March 3, but she'll circle the wagons even closer when a series of stressors exacerbate Norma's own neuroses. Construction on the bypass that threatens to stop traffic to her motel is proceeding. Norman is spending way too much time in his basement taxidermy workshop. Her estranged brother, Caleb Calhoun (Kenny Johnson), comes knocking on her door, which Farmiga said will bring up "poisonous feelings."
And there's the question of whether Norman killed his high school teacher, Miss Watson (Keegan Connor Tracy).
Despite meeting Christine Heldens (Rebecca Creskoff), her first friend outside her relationship with Norman, and being open to romance with George Heldens (Michael Vartan), Norma still is preoccupied with Norman.
"Imagine it for yourself," Farmiga said, "the faint-heartedness, the doom, when you discover or suspect that there's something not quite right neurologically with your child. It's not a job for the faint-hearted, so every ounce of energy is her struggle with raising Norman as a typical child, doing it as single parent."
Farmiga believes Norma is doing the best she can. The actress, who with her musician husband Renn Hawkey has two children, 5-year-old son Finn and 3-year-old daughter Gita, says Norma's negative qualities help her to be a better parent.
Being a parent and wife, she added, keeps her grounded and relaxed while playing Norma.
"There's so much pardon from work in the love of my husband and children," she said. "I'm a very lucky woman. My home life is storybook. My kids are so cool. And my husband is so hot and gorgeous and cool and loving. But honestly I just fall into their arms. And it's all good."
Farmiga and "Bates Motel" executive producer Kerry Ehrin answered a variety of questions from reporters during the conference call. Find more of their answers after teh video below.
MORE FROM THE CALL
- "I admire her generous heart; she has really disarming honesty. These are amazing qualities that she possesses."
- "With Norma there's like this wonderful pendulum-swing of dishonesty and disarming honesty."
- "This is a woman who's been abused by her father, abused by her brother, ... unneeded by her older son. She clings to the one man that has been her protector, her confidant, her consolation, the light in her life. And it is Norman. And she's totally too involved. And she's unable to cut the cord."
- "These poisonous feelings that she has are embedded so deep in her psyche. And she's never uprooted them. She has this vault, this sort of burial chamber ... where she squashes all that sadness and stress and torment."
- "It is a coping mechanism. She has an incredible sense of denial. Or she herself may look at it as creative visualization. She shoves everything inside this vault. And she just takes on this fresh and fabulous outlook on life."
- "There's already a negative association with her and what's happened at that hotel. So her mission at the start of Season 2 is to sort of change that. And that involves sort of being more involved in the community."
- "I think Norma is the mother of all mothers. ... Every mother I've ever known, they just have this passion for making everything OK for their kid, for like stuffing the shit that doesn't work out under the rug and stomping on it ... She's absolutely just valiantly doing the best that she [bleeping] can. You have to love that. And that, to me, is being a mother."
- "[There are] times when you just have to cut through the bullshit. And I think that's what Norma has this great instinct for doing—which is really funny considering how much of her own internal psyche is so discarded."
- "[Norma and Norman] might actually get what they want. And the things that start to screw it up are more inside them."
- "Norma has a longing for normalcy. And normalcy ... means you have a mate. ... She believes she has room for love in her life ... and there is a very interesting person that shows up this season."
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