Freddie Highmore talks about Bates Motel, a new TV prequel to the Hitchcock classic.
It’s a brave departure from fairy tales and kids’ fiction, but former child actor Freddie Highmore (Finding Neverland, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), makes depravity look easy in US TV series Bates Motel. Here, the 21-year-old British actor talks about his role in the prequel to Hitchcock’s seminal film Psycho.
Was it daunting or exciting to bring this iconic character to life?
Oh, exciting. There was pressure because you have all the Psycho back story and Anthony Perkins’s take on Norman Bates was brilliant. But more of the pressure was from wanting to live up to the script’s potential. That storyline and vision, and chance to work with Vera [Farmiga, playing Norman’s mother], were crucial.
What were the challenges of working with Vera in such an intense relationship?
We did work on it together – that becomes clearer as the show moves on, as Norman’s personality starts to split. This other side, this trance-like state he can’t control, is influenced by the words and thoughts of his mum. So we had to come up with a voice that was clearly hers.
Do you remember first watching Hitchcock’s film Psycho?
I was 13 or 14, which people think is a bit young. But there’s nothing explicitly wrong with seeing it at that age – it’s more about the psychological thrill and the suspense you build up. That’s what we wanted to replicate in Bates Motel. It’s driven by intrigue, as opposed to, ‘who’s Norman going to kill this week?’.
Did you practise being Norman in front of the mirror for hours?
No – you come up with ideas, then run with them. The nice thing about doing a television show is that you can build on work you’ve done previously within the season and the show. With a film, you have to plan it out beforehand, because you shoot everything out of sequence. By going chronologically, you can see that progression. And the best thing about being Norman Bates is you know he’s going to be there at the end. It’d be a big surprise if they decided to kill off Norman. Even Norman’s mum isn’t looking so good at the end of Psycho.
How weird does Bates Motel get?
The basic story is: what made Norman Bates a psycho? The nature versus nurture argument – was he always destined to become a serial killer, or was it his mother and the dodgy town they moved to? I often say Bates Motel is a bit Twin Peaks-y, because I hear people say it. Although having said that, I haven’t actually seen Twin Peaks!
Does the final series end with the opening scene of Psycho?
I hope so. I see that as the end.
How do you juggle working with studying languages at Cambridge?
I’ve just finished my third year, which was overseas. The requirement is to spend eight months in an Arabic or Spanish-speaking country, so I did two-and-a-bit months before the shoot, then finished it off after the shoot in January. I’ll be back [in Cambridge] for my last year.
Bates Motel. From Dhs110, available at www.amazon.com.