Warning: This interview for the “Marion” episode of Bates Motel contains spoilers.
Negan gutted him on The Walking Dead, Norman Bates stabbed him in the back (and dozens of other places) in an homage to the classic Psycho shower death scene on Bates Motel. If it’s been a particularly harsh primetime season for Austin Nichols, it’s certainly been a memorable one, too.
The actor, who followed his Season 7 TWD death as Spencer Monroe by becoming Norman’s latest victim, the philandering Sam Loomis, on Bates, talked to Yahoo TV about both casualties, his makeout scenes with Bates guest star Rihanna and his unusual meeting with leading lady Vera Farmiga, the Friday Night Lights connection that landed him on the A&E drama, and how, understandably, he wouldn’t mind a little more comedy in his next role.
Well, congratulations, and I’m sorry. It’s a great episode. And yes, Sam dies, but in the TV series version of one of the most iconic movie death scenes of all time.
I know. I can’t believe it. I feel so lucky to somehow become a part of Hitchcock’s world. I knew that I was going to die when they offered me the job, but I had no idea that I was going to be in the shower. I didn’t know what the writers were going to do with that and with Marion and with all that iconic stuff from Psycho. It was a really, really pleasant, beautiful surprise to get that script and to read that, and then to go and shoot it. It was really cool.
But for your next role, even if you’re playing a chef, I think that you need to set a rule that there can be no knives involved.
[Laughs] I’m getting used to these gruesome deaths by giant knives. I didn’t even realize it until I did The Walking Dead, and now Bates Motel, that I don’t think I’ve ever died in anything that I’ve been a part of, for 16, 17 years. Then I get this really crazy gruesome death from The Walking Dead, that’s really iconic to the fans because it’s really important in the comic books. And now, right after that, Bates, in maybe the most iconic death scene you could ever imagine.
When you signed on for Bates, you said you didn’t know how Sam was going to die. At that point, did you already know what was happening with Spencer on The Walking Dead?
Yeah, I’d shot his death. We had already finished. I think I already even moved out, everything was done. Then I came back to Los Angeles. I remember I actually had flown to Austin, Texas for a few days. Then [Bates producers] called, and they offered me [the role of Sam]. I was like, “Awesome. That sounds great.” I was on the phone with Carlton [Cuse] and Kerry [Ehrin]. They told me loosely about Sam and Madeleine and our story. Then that I was having an affair with Marion Crane. I was like, “Wow. We’re catching up with the movie. That’s very exciting. Of course I want to be a part of this.” Then, I jumped on a plane. It happened really fast. I went up to Vancouver and started really quickly after The Walking Dead actually aired. It was almost back to back.
At what point did you find out Sam was going to die in the shower scene?
I’m trying to remember if they told me or if I just read it. I think I just read it and was surprised. I knew that I was going to die in that episode, but I think they surprised me with just letting me read it. Which was a really fun surprise.
How complicated was it to film the shower scene? It looked very choreographed, like there was a lot to making it happen exactly the way it did.
The thing that springs to my mind the most is how cold it was in there. We were in a sound stage in Vancouver. Everybody in the crew’s wearing coats and sweaters and hats and stuff. It was freezing. For the first [part] of shooting, all that shower stuff, the shower murder, we had the roof on the set. It was much warmer. Then we had to go back and shoot a bunch of shots where the camera turns around and is on the other side. We had a crane looking down into the shower stall. They had to remove the roof from the set for that, and then it became completely freezing. I had to keep showering and showering and showering. Getting through that was no big deal, but then we were finally coming to the very last shots. It was a close-up on Freddie [Highmore]. The hot water disappeared, and freezing cold water started coming out of the shower. I was already dead down on the floor. They were just doing all this stuff shooting Freddie’s face, super tight, all these close-ups of Freddie’s face while he’s stabbing, stabbing, stabbing. Then, I remember being down in the shower for like five minutes just playing dead, being nailed by cold water for what seemed like an eternity until they said, “Cut!” That was pretty much the end. We got to do the famous shot that pulls away from the eyeball. It’s straight out of Psycho. It was super technical and super fun. It was a really, really cool thing to do.
Did they arrange you specifically for how Sam fell when he died, half in the shower and half out?
Yeah, there were certain things that we really wanted to duplicate. One was the hand coming towards the camera and grabbing the shower curtain — the way Sam’s fingers wrap around the shower curtain in a very specific way. The shot of the rings ripping off the shower rod. Definitely the eyeball. I think there’s blood going in the drain. All that stuff, really just copying those shots, almost exactly the way they were in Psycho. All the while, I’m standing there naked. It’s really weird.
The other thing that was really funny was, I never did a scene with Vera [Farmiga] at all. I think I met her briefly inside of my first three episodes. Then I remember standing naked and cold in the shower stall… no, I was lying there dead, and she comes in. I’m like, “Hey,” and I’m lying on my face dead. I reach up to shake Vera’s hand. I’m like, “Hey, how’s it going?” Pretty strange. I wish I could have been alive and done a couple scenes with her alive. The cast is phenomenal. Everybody was great. Also, just one of the greatest shows to work on when the camera’s not rolling. One of the greatest shows I’ve ever worked on. First of all, you’re in Canada, where everybody’s extremely kind. Then, I don’t know, I’ve never been a part of something that was such a well-oiled machine. Everyone was so kind. It also feels like you’re making an independent film, but one that has time. I don’t remember being in a terrible rush. We’d do a lot of takes, way more takes than I’ve ever usually had in television. Usually, it’s one or two, three at the most, and then move on. I remember doing six, seven, eight takes on this show. They really love playing with performance, giving you some extra time to play with it or do something different. They also embrace strange choices, which is rare in television. They love the strange choice. They love the weird take you did. That’s the stuff they end up using, which is super fun. That just doesn’t happen that often.
The show is so great at those dark humor moments. You have some really good ones, beginning with the “David Davidson” introduction to Norman. It’s a great scene, one that makes it so clear right away that Sam and Norman are not going to be friends.
In a show like this, where you know people are going to die, it’s funny to watch those moments where just one phrase or one word toward Norman, and you just go, “Oh, this guy’s done. He’s toast.”
There’s also a great moment in this episode where it has all come crashing down for Sam. Marion has trashed his car. Madeline has thrown wine on him and locked him out of the house. He’s standing outside for a moment and just closes his eyes and lets out this big sigh. It’s the perfect reaction, like his, “Yeah, this is what I got myself into” moment.
Absolutely. That was one of the things that drew me to the show — the tone. It’s a dark, dark show that has this really fun, comedic dark tone. It’s really hard to nail that. This show, and I think Vera and Freddie in particular, their performances really embody that and nail that tone. I wanted to make sure that I could play in that world and do that right and do that the way they wanted. Honestly, one of the ways that I did that was just really depending on the directors. The directors for the show are so great. I really leaned on them and asked them, “Is that right? Is that what you guys want? Is that how you guys do it here?” I just wanted to make sure I was living in that world the right way and nailing that tone.
What was your favorite Sam moment?
I think I probably have two. It’d probably be getting down with Marion and getting killed in the shower.
You did get to make out with Rihanna…
That was not a bad day at work. She was incredible. She was actually a real pro. Everybody was super impressed and happy with everything she did. She was fantastic. Everyone loved her.
Were there any other moments for Sam that were especially fun to shoot?
Yeah, I actually think the stuff after Marion trashes my car, and I run outside, and I head back up to the house. Like you said, Madeleine throws the wine on me. I remember those [takes] were a lot of fun. The actress who plays Madeline, Isabelle McNally, kept missing with the wine. The glass had a weird shape, and the wine kept shooting out at different angles. She couldn’t hit me right in the chest with the wine. We just couldn’t get it. Sometimes when you’re shooting a movie or a TV show, the most ridiculous things hold up the show. At one point, there was three of us practicing throwing wine out of a glass so we could try to show her how to do it properly. Then, it got so ridiculous they ended up just pulling the camera much closer on my close-up. Then they had a prop guy just drench me with red wine. He finally hit his mark. I think he hit me right in the face and the chest. It went everywhere.
Another trademark of Bates is that even the characters who would be straightforward villains in other shows are written to be more complicated here. Even Sam. He, obviously, has been messing with both of these women and has done some shady things. But you still kinda are charmed by him, by his interactions with Norman. He isn’t as charmed by Norman as other people are. That’s kind of funny. And Sam’s got good instincts there. How did you approach that? Again, he could have been a character who was just completely villainous, but I don’t think he was.
Yeah, I’ve played a character similar a few different times. Kerry Ehrin was a writer on Friday Night Lights, where I played a character that was a teacher. The coach’s daughter had a crush on me. It was very easy, a character that’s very easily immediately hated or thought to be doing something shady. Characters who are villains, who have strange ideas, I always find that it’s more interesting when they’re a real person. I mean, you hear actors talk about this a lot, that you want to find the humanity and find something real in everybody, so that it’s not just, for lack of a better word, a villain. It’s a real human being. Sam has real reasons for having an affair, [reasons] that are real and justified to him.
I guess Kerry remembered me and liked me from Friday Night Lights and wanted me to come play this guy. I think a lot of what they do that makes the show work is in their casting, who they choose and what kind of people they bring in to play these characters. I remember wanting to really almost dig into Sam more as a villainous character. My instinct was to even go a little bit further. They actually pulled me more toward [playing him as] a likable guy. That’s what I’m saying, a lot of that leaning on the directors, really trusting them and listening to them, because they’ve been directing the show for five seasons. They’re all coming back and really understand the tone. I really just trusted them and put myself in their hands.
It is interesting, though. It’s one of those things where you’re sometimes not quite sure just how it’s going to come out. I remember feeling the same way on The Walking Dead, playing this guy who’s kind of, not kind of, who’s pretty horrible. I get messages from the fans all the time saying that they like him or miss him. I think if you’re doing that, then you’re doing your job. It’s more interesting to have a character like that than playing an awful human being with no point of view and no real experiences to back it up.
What’s on your wish list for your next role? Two gruesome deaths in one TV season… do you want to do something lighter?
Yeah, I would. I’m not closed off to that. I tend to really like drama and high drama a lot. Some of the time, I don’t know what it is, but when I do comedic things, they are in shows like John From Cincinnati and Ray Donovan and Bates. It’s funny, my agents always have pushed me and wanted me to do comedic stuff. I do comedy stuff… it just appears in different places.
Bates Motel airs Mondays at 10 p.m. on A&E.
Read More From Yahoo TV:
‘Bates Motel’ Postmortem: Producers on the Rihanna Arc Twists, Including the One That Shocked Them
‘Bates Motel’ Postmortem: Nestor Carbonell on Rihanna, Norman’s Realization, and Romero’s Revenge
‘Bates Motel’ Postmortem: EP Kerry Ehrin On Norman ‘Coming Apart at the Seams’