EP Carlton Cuse: 'Bates Motel' 'is one part 'Friday Night Lights,' one part 'Lost' and one part 'Twin Peaks"

A&E

A&E

Tonight at 10pm, A&E debuts their highly anticipated Psycho prequel/reboot Bates Motel starring Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air) and Freddie Highmore (Finding Neverland) as Norma and Norman Bates, respectively. The show is a complete modern day re-imagining of the Psycho world, so fans should be prepared for a new vision of the Bates universe. EW talked to executive producers Carlton Cuse (Lost) and Kerry Ehrin (Friday Night Lights) about what’s in store for the first season.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What made you want to revive this franchise?
CARLTON CUSE:
I was approached by a couple of executives at Universal television asking if I would be interested in rebooting the Psycho franchise. They had had a script written a few years ago, and I read that and I just started thinking about how I would do this. It’s one of those things where the more I thought about it, the more ideas came into my head, where it just started to click. It felt like there were all of these really interesting elements that could be kind of re-combined in a brand new way. I was thinking a lot about Christopher and Jonah Nolan and the reboot of the Batman franchise, and really felt like that was a real lesson in how you could take a franchise and feel really liberate it. That really got me inspired.

So I started thinking about what if Norman Bates has a brother, or this weird drug town. So I pitched back some of these ideas to Universal and they were very positive. And then they wanted initially to do six episodes, and so I was looking for someone to collaborate with on this, and then Universal suggested that I meet Kerry. I sat down and I sort of told her my ideas, and then she started telling me a bunch of her ideas, which I thought were all fantastic, and it was one of those things where they fit really well together. And it was like, “Oh my god. This is like a marriage made in heaven.” It was just this fantastic collaboration, and all of a sudden, we were filming episodes and stories.

KERRY EHRIN: It became a world pretty quickly.

Did you base it at all on Robert Bloch’s original book Psycho?
CC: One of the original things we both agreed on is we didn’t want to do an homage. We thought there was no value in retelling a story that we were never going to tell as well as Alfred Hitchcock. We just used these characters as a point of departure. Kerry had this idea, thinking about this in terms of being a tragedy, which I instantly responded to. We just made it ours. It really became our story, taking these characters as launching points.

We know Norma loves her son but does she LOOOOOOVE her son?
KE: Well, she’s not attracted to him. She loves him in a way that’s more like you would love a husband. She has certain emotional and psychological expectations of him that are more what you would lay on a husband. I think that because he’s the age he is and he’s a teenage boy, it’s more confusing for him. And I think she plays into that without knowing it.

The show is set in present day, but something about it feels like the past. We’re not quite sure what the time frame is. Is that on purpose?
CC:
Yeah I think basically we wanted Norma and Norman’s relationship to have a timeless quality and we almost kind of saw them as bantering characters out of a ’40s or ’50s movie.

KE: In some universe these two people are actually really good together, likable together.

CC: And then what happens is their relationship, which exists sort of out of time, collides with the real world. We wanted, stylistically, to create a sense of their world is its own world and then yet they have these collision points with modern 2013 town. Ultimately part of their tragedy is that they can’t be together.

The town they move to, White Pines Bay, feels very Twin Peaks-y.

CC: I would say that the content of the show is probably one part Friday Night Lights, one part Lost and one part Twin Peaks. I think that Twin Peaks was definitely an influence for both of us. It was a show that was super intriguing and seemed to have tremendous possibilities.

KE: And also the really cool thing about Twin Peaks is the town of it allowed people to act in a strange way without judging them. That’s important in this, too.

CC: We also liked the idea that there’s two parts to every person. There’s the superficial veneer, which in this town is the very beautiful bucolic place and everybody seems great, but underneath that all these characters have these dark desires and secrets. We felt like that would be a wonderful territory in which to land Norma and Norman.

Will Norman go full-blown psycho by the end of the first season or is it more of a slow burn?

KE: I think this is a little more of a slow burn. Like any mental illness, it’s erratic. It doesn’t necessarily have a predictable progression to it. And I think it’s going to act out in certain places, and then I think it can be dormant for a space of time. I think it depends on the circumstances that are stressing him in his life as well as just his physical make-up.

CC: He certainly is not the guy from the movie at the end of the first season. There’s an arc that’s going to get him to that point eventually, but our hope is that you’ll really fall in love with these characters and we want you to be in sort of exquisite agony and love Norma and Norman and be hoping that they’re not going to meet their inevitable fates.

What can you guys say about what we’ll see in these first ten episodes?

CC: I think that the most important thing is to realize that it’s a whole new story. It’s not a remake or a retelling of Psycho. That’s the most important thing, because again, I don’t think an audience wants to see just another version of a story they already know. This is a new story. I think we really also one of the other primary things we wanted to do was subvert the audience’s expectations about the mythology. I think that if you were to ask somebody, “How did Norman Bates become Norman Bates?” You would say “Well he had a crazy insane mother who berated him and drove him to insanity.” But having seen the first three, you’ll recognize that we actually spun it in the exact opposite direction. Norma couldn’t love him anymore. Is she odd? Does she have her own quirks of personality? Absolutely, but I think the audience is going to be surprised when we explain the origins and you’ll get a much better sense of what exactly happened in their lives: who Norman Bates is, how he operates, what’s going on, what the mythology is behind this. And the mythology that we imagined is our own creation. It’s not what was in the movie.

KE: And Norma Bates is just an amazing f***ing character. She is. She just gets better and better, and Vera is absolutely brilliant.

Read more:
‘Bates Motel': Freddie Highmore on playing a young Norman: ‘People will probably start hiding the kitchen knives’
Bates Motel Is Back in Business 
‘Bates Motel’ first preview

Follow Tim on Twitter: @EWTimStack

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