British actor Freddie Highmore discusses his new role as Hitchcock’s infamous Psycho character Norman Bates in Universal’s new 10-part prequel, Bates Motel (Thursday)…
We know how Norman ended up in Hitchcock’s 1960 film Psycho – what’s the appeal of doing this prequel series?
“The basic storyline is what made Norman Bates psycho? That’s the intrigue behind it. It’s that argument of nature over nurture – is Norman Bates always destined to become a serial killer, or is it because of the relationship with his mother and this dodgy town that they’ve moved to?”
Do you remember the first time you watched the original Psycho?
“Yes! I was 13 or 14 – which people have said is a bit young, but my parents are great, and I don’t think there’s anything explicitly wrong with seeing it at that age. It did scare me, as did Rear Window. But it’s more the psychological thrill and suspense you build up yourself, which is what we wanted to replicate in Bates Motel.”
Is it daunting bringing Hitchcock’s iconic Norman Bates character to the small screen?
“No, it’s really exciting. Because of the Psycho back-story and Anthony Perkin’s brilliant, iconic take the pressure came from wanting to live up to the scripts’ potential.”
Did you study Anthony Perkins performance, or was it something you wanted to divorce yourself from?
“It was certainly a source of inspiration, but there was never an attempt to mimic him exactly. I have tried to build a few quirks and traits of his into my performance but we also felt free to reimagine Psycho and bring our own ideas into Bates Motel. There was a certain amount of liberation in that.”
So you didn’t practice giving filthy looks in the mirror for hours!
“No, obviously you come with ideas about how you’d like to do something. That’s the nice thing about a 10-part television show, you can build on work you’ve done previously, as opposed to film where you don’t have as much freedom to change your character.
“The great thing about playing Norman Bates is you know he’s going to be there right at the end. All of the other actors are looking around thinking ‘is my character going to be done in?’ But it would be a surprise if they decided to kill off Norman!”
The motel on the hill is iconic in the film. What did you think the first time you saw it on set?
“The first thing that struck me was there was no roof! They have a couple of floors built and then add the roof in CGI later. Also, the whole place stinks because the mound the house is built on is an old rubbish tip – and there’s a new tip across the road, so it gets a bit smelly!
“I like the way the house has this timeless quality that’s reminiscent of the past and history Norman Bates, as an iconic character, has.”
You had a star-studded beginning working with Kate Winslet, Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. Do you still stay in touch?
“I’m still in touch with Johnny and a few people. One of the trickiest things about doing films is you become so close to lots of people but it’s impossible to keep in touch with everyone. That’s another nice thing about doing Bates Motel – we get to go back and work with everyone again in the second series! ”
So do you think the final series will end with the opening scene of Psycho?
“I’ve always seen that as the end. As the first series moves on you see Norman’s personality start to split. He doesn’t have control over his mum Norma’s influence (played by Vera Farmiga) and starts speaking in her voice. His mum’s thoughts sort of infuse into his and the descent into insanity takes place!”