Vera Farmiga: Why Norma Bates Is One of the Most Challenging Roles She's Played

03/09/2015 03:47 pm ET | Updated May 09, 2015


Oh, the winds of fate blowing into Bates Motel are about get even more twisted. Season 3 of the hit A&E drama premieres tonight, and any doubts about whether this prequel to the famous Hitchcock Psycho juggernaut (now set in the modern day) has any strength to keep the creative stabs coming should be eliminated. By the looks of it, Season 3 goes psychologically deeper and even more unsettling as it continues to chronicle the emotionally troubling relationship between Norma Louise Bates (Vera Farmiga) and her intense son Norman (Freddie Highmore).

Here, Farmiga opens up about the iconic role and the road ahead in Season 3.

Greg Archer: You brilliantly bring to life such a complex character. What's the best thing about stepping into Norma's psychological shoes?

Vera Farmiga: One of the best things about the Vera-to-Norma morph is donning Mrs. Bates' wardrobe -- so ridiculously chic and enchanting. My oh-so-esteemed costume designer, Monique Prudhomme, takes Vogue patterns and custom-tweaks them into wonderful contemporary variations on a '40s and '50s theme that fancifully support the female figure flawlessly. On the outside? Cherubic golden curls and pristine garb. On the inside Norma Louise has a brittle spirit crushed by her sordid history. Her heart is in pieces, her gut wrenched, having to confront her son's present darkness. I revel in this contradiction. It's a real hoot to fight demons in glass slippers.

Greg Archer: What's most challenging about portraying this particular character?

Vera Farmiga: The monumental challenge for me has always been to appeal Norma's case before the grand jury of a contemporary audience, that she is a sincerely devoted, typical mother. The original Pyscho left an indelible, wicked impression of Mother Norma: We learn of her through ... Norman's fractured psyche and assume she was a nasty-assty, rejecting mommy. Continually, Norma throws down a gauntlet to the [Bates Motel] audience, challenging them to forgive her, admire her, and root for her even in the face of her foibles and transgression, her shortcomings and deceit. What's been really exciting to explore this season is simultaneously the height of righteousness this character possesses and the depths of depravity and manipulation she is capable of. The pendulum swing is challenging and fun like a chancy trapeze act.

Greg Archer: How has it stretched you as an actress?

Vera Farmiga: It has stretched me like Gumby to the Moon and back. The role demands super-stamina and emotional tenacity. Emotionally, Norma blasts off from 0 to 60 in two seconds flat, ricochets like a bullet, tacks with the tempestuous wind. Her life is a continuous, desperate series of emotional rebounds. I feel like a whirling dervish of emotion, spent from the previous day's spinning. And each morn' I gotta get up and do it again. It's relentless, the emotional temperature of this role, effing feverish. More than any other role I have ever played, Norma requires Herculean athleticism and mental gymnastics.

Greg Archer: Norma has been through quite a bit since we met her. What's her biggest challenge this season?

Vera Farmiga: Norma is scared, plain tired and worn out, and sick of being taken advantage of. She is ready to do whatever it takes to succeed and achieve her vision of a successful, happy life. Normalcy, peace, and beauty is all this woman has ever wanted to achieve. It's dawning on her that it's her beloved Norman that may be standing in the way of her achieving that goal. The biggest challenge is that she is growing emotionally afraid of Norman.

Greg Archer: You and Freddie have terrific chemistry. Can you describe more about working off him? Best things? Interesting things? Things that surprised you, perhaps?

Vera Farmiga: Freddie is one of my best friends in all the world, a goofball of the highest order, my heart's delight. Our alchemy is in large part the writers' magical composition, one part our philosophies and work ethic, one part astrology, one part mysticism, and a whole lotta parts camaraderie. The best thing about working with him, from a technical standpoint, is his prudence in learning my lines. I can always rely on him. He has a near-photographic brain.

Greg Archer: No doubt there must be a big shocker this season; it's Bates Motel! Without giving it away, on a scale of 1 to 10 on the surprise meter, how surprised will viewers be?

Vera Farmiga: Viewers can expect matters to hit the fan in White Pine Bay, like when excrement makes physical contact with an oscillating air-distribution device. When those chunky surprises hit them, expect astonishment and stupefaction. Most def 10 on the meter. Season 3 is a bolt from the blue.

Season 3 of Bates Motel hits A&E Monday, March 9, at 9 p.m. EDT/PDT.