Arts & Culture

Five questions with Vera Farmiga

Vera Farmiga

Hard to believe, but Vera Farmiga admires many of the parenting skills of her TV alter ego. It’s surprising because the character is Norma Bates of A&E’s Bates Motel (8 p.m. Monday).

As we all know, Norma’s teenage son, played by Freddie Highmore, will grow up to be a Psycho killer. But Farmiga, an Oscar nominee for 2009’s Up in the Air, insists on accentuating the positive.

“I admire her tenacious love for her child,” says the actress, who has two kids of her own, ages 5 and 3. “She goes to extreme lengths to give her child the life she imagines for him. I admire her generous heart and disarming honesty. She lives every day in the trenches of maternity.”

Ah, but the flip side of the equation is her clinging, controlling nature. Norma puts the mother in smother. As Farmiga puts it, “Her hardware is working, but her software is a bit faulty.”

1 Norma will never win Mother of the Year honors, but you earned a best-actress Emmy nomination for your performance in Season 1 of Bates Motel . What did that mean to you?

It was a really wonderful surprise. But it’s the writers who have the hardest part. They start off with a blank paper. For all the blood, sweat and tears that I shed, the writers are also sitting there by their computers, screaming and crying, too, when Norma does these things. Without the writing, I have nothing.

2 What initially attracted you to the role?

  The cocktail of madness and maternity that is Norma Bates. I feel like she’s kind of driving the bus from the back seat. But she can function in society or in life only so far driving from the back seat.

3 Can you relate to what Norma is going through?

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  It’s unnervingly relatable. My inspiration for the role’s development is always, point blank, myself. I see the way my strengths and my weaknesses shape my babies. And that’s what this story is about.

4 Is it hard or easy to juggle your family life with this demanding role?

It’s tough. I’m so tired that oftentimes it’s just submitting to that weariness. We work at such a rapid pace. Sometimes we shoot eight scenes a day, plus more. You’ve got to be prepared. But I never feel as prepared as before maternity. The biggest challenge is the on and off switch and not worrying about how am I going to prepare for tomorrow’s scenes when all I want to be is present and available for my own children. Balancing that is probably the hardest thing. I am constantly learning lines on the way to work.

5 Any complaints about all the screaming you have to do as Norma?

I’m a screamer by nature. My mom will tell you that I did a lot of screaming as a child. And it’s like a valid therapy. But I never quite know how it’s going to come out. It’s like taking a jump off the high dive in the pool. You’ve just got to go for it. Drop your lower mandible and let it rip.

— David Martindale, Special to the Star-Telegram

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