Diane Haithman is a Deadline contributor.
During a Bates Motel panel discussion Friday, Carlton Cuse was blunt about borrowing from a classic. No, not Hitchcock’s Psycho; TV’s Twin Peaks. “We pretty much ripped off Twin Peaks,” joked Cuse, executive producer of the A&E series with Kerry Ehrin, in response to a question about the similarities from panel moderator Shawn Ryan. “If you wanted to get that confession, the answer is yes,” he continued, tongue in cheek. “I loved that show. They only did 30 episodes. Kerry and I thought we’d do the 70 that are missing.” Cuse appeared on the Paley Center panel “Inside Bates Motel: Reimagining A Cinema Icon” with Ehrin, Vera Farmiga (who portrays Norma Bates), Freddie Highmore (Norman), Max Thieriot (Norman’s half-brother Dylan), Nicola Peltz (popular teen Bradley Martin) and Nestor Carbonell (Sheriff Alex Romero). English actress Olivia Cooke, who plays Norman’s friend Emma Decody, who battles cystic fibrosis, was a no-show because of “visa snafus,” Ryan said. Once it was acknowledged that both TV shows are plenty creepy and set in the foggy Northwest, Cuse, Ehrin and the cast spent more time during the freewheeling discussion citing the similarities and differences of Bates Motel from Hitchcock’s iconic 1960 film.
Cuse said he and Ehrin were partnered up by Universal Television, which owns the Psycho franchise. The prequel series moves the action to the present (and from California to the Northwest) and imagines Norman’s teen years and his relationship with his mother before he turned her one of filmdom’s most famous corpses. There was plenty of discussion of the Oedipal relationship between Norman and his doting mom. With understatement, Brit Highmore noted that some might find it a “bit dodgy”. Farmiga said her job was to approach her smother-mother role with a degree of innocence. Norma, she said, believes she’s always doing what’s best for her odd boy. Farmiga said that in the second season audiences will find out more about what makes Norma tick: “She’s got a major floodgate (to open). Yes, it will definitely be part of the storytelling. You’ll find out in bits and pieces.”
Highmore joked that there is a certain amount of job security in portraying a budding serial murderer. Unless the producers veer radically from the movie, Norman always will be alive in the next episode. Other characters are less sure. When Ryan pointed out to Peltz that Hitchcock has a long tradition of murdering beautiful blondes in his films, she said of her character, “I hope I don’t die.” Carbonell said: “I sat next to Freddie on the plane home from the upfronts. I told him if it’s on the page, you have to protest that you won’t kill me.”
After the session, Cuse was asked if he was going to follow Hitchcock tradition and appear onscreen. “Maybe”, he said. So far he is happy being the voice at the top of each episode saying, “Previously on Bates Motel“. But obviously a student of Hitchcock, the producer couldn’t resist sharing a little story about Hitch directing the movie Lifeboat. On the set, it was nervously pointed out to Hitchcock that the camera angle made it clear that an actress “isn’t wearing any underwear”. Replied Hitchcock: “What should I do, call makeup, or wardrobe?”