BATES MOTEL: An Interview with Producers Carlton Cuse & Kerry Ehrin
A&E's Bates Motel, the contemporary prequel to Alfred Hitchcock's classic horror film Psycho, will make its debut on March 18th. The Hollywood Reporter caught up with executive producers Carlton Cuse (Lost) and Kerry Ehrin (Friday Night Lights) to discuss the show.
The series stars Freddie Highmore (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) as destined-to-kill Norman Bates, and Vera Farmiga as his mother, Norma, who plays no small role in pushing him towards his final destiny. What follows is an excerpt from that interview.
THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: What drew you to do Bates?
CARLTON CUSE:As an artist, when an idea gets under my skin, they just do. When [producer] Universal approached me and said, 'Would you consider rebooting the Psycho franchise?' I started thinking about it and getting more and more ideas. This idea of doing it as a contemporary prequel was really was engaging. I kept thinking about it and that's usually my testament. I've been getting a ton of ideas since Lost; most of the time, I don't end up thinking about them. But this one, I did. I came up with a bunch of ideas and pitched them to Universal and A&E and everyone was really excited about moving forward with it. Then Universal put Kerry and I together, and we sat down and started from scratch. Our ideas lined up incredibly well. We have slightly different skill sets and different backgrounds as writers. This show has elements of Lost and Friday Night Lights in it; it meshes in a really interesting fashion with an element of Twin Peaks, which we're both inspired by.
THR: It has that family dynamic that is prevalent in FNL.
KERRY EHRIN: Yes. When I was first told about the idea, I started thinking about the mother-son relationship and what that was about. Was there anything that was beautiful? Was it good and functional? The idea of telling a tragedy took hold and became its own thing.
THR: You also gave Norman an older brother.
CUSE: Norman's half-brother a new character to the mythology who for us was a window into this intense, mother-son relationship. What better way to observe it than through the third party of this other brother who is kind of an outsider.
EHRIN: I wanted to tell more of his story and the functional history of this family, which is pretty interesting.
THR: Was there anything that was off limits to you both?
CUSE: The idea of doing an homage -- neither one of us wanted to feel like we had to lock into the cannon of the previous Psycho movies. We wanted to take these characters and come up with our own mythology about how they were connected to each other; what was going to make Norman the guy he was going to become. Immediately we both thought, We're not going to slavishly owe ourselves to the preexisting mythology. That was liberating. There's this expectation that: Norman was berated by his mother into becoming crazy and that wasn't interesting to us. What was much more interesting was creating this positive, loving, 1940s movie kind of relationship for these two.
EHRIN: We also did not want to do a body of the week show. There was something really good about Norma and Norman together, but it was too close; it was too inappropriate for a mother and a son. In another universe, they could have dated.
THR: You definitely sense a hint of incest in the promos. Was that something off-limits?
EHRIN: It's very subliminal. It goes back to the idea of why that became a famous branch of psychology, because it exists in everyone. I'm going back to that and playing it in subtle ways. It's much more interesting and, in a way, it's creepier. If it's over the top, it's gross. Who wants to look at that?
THR: This isn't the first attempt at a Psycho prequel. Did you look at [Showtime's] attempt [Psycho IV: The Beginning]?
CUSE: I didn't; I looked at the original, at the second Psycho and a few minutes of Psycho III. At a certain point, I thought it wasn't that relevant to what we were doing; we didn't want it to affect our storytelling. We took a lot inspiration from the original movie. For instance, the lengthy sequence of cleaning up and disposing of the body -- the almost, real-time quality of that -- was very Hitchcock-inspired. The general movements of our show parallel the original Psycho. There's a murder, a cover up of a murder and people investigating the murder. Those are beats that exist in the original movie and in our story. Beyond those big touchstone moments, we felt that working under the title of Bates Motel with these characters gave us this opportunity to tell the story of these two tragic and flawed characters. If you went in and pitched it as its own original thing, I don't think anyone would ever buy it.
THR: Bates is the established franchise (NBC's Hannibal, ABC's Once Upon a Time to a certain extent) to get the TV treatment. What's so appealing about revisiting these franchises?
EHRIN: It's a trend to dissect fairytales and tell different versions of them, like Wicked. When you have a fabulous, iconic story, it's fun to take it apart and look at it from different points of view. It has a built-in interest because people know this subject is interesting. I don't know why more of them are happening. Bates is like our version of Wicked -- because it's telling the story of Norma Bates who didn't exist in Psycho.
For the rest of this interview, follow the link in the usual place.
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