NEW YORK — Vera Farmiga has some advice for Norma Bates, her character in the new series "Bates Motel": "Honesty is always the best policy."
Honesty — or the lack of it — is a key theme in the 10-episode prequel to the classic Hitchcock film "Psycho." The A&E show, which premieres Monday at 10 p.m., reveals just what drove Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) over the edge.
In an interview Monday, the Oscar-nominated actress said Norman and his mother, Norma, are "harboring a dark secret which will unfold as the series continues." Along with the everyday angst most parents experience, Norma "knows something about him that I think makes her hyper-protective," Farmiga said.
Farmiga didn't have a lot to go from to create her character. In "Psycho," Norman's mother was a skeletal role. (Although Farmiga did reveal that in an upcoming episode she dons the same hairstyle as Norman's mother from the original film.)
Farmiga, who has two toddlers of her own, said she studied hers and other maternal relationships around her to help her get into character. She says in her mind Norma is a mother who is trying to be a good influence.
"Yeah, she's insane as any mother goes insane sometimes," Farmiga said. "It's a very typical portrayal of maternity and its function and dysfunction and its victories and defeats. She doesn't always make the right decisions."
The actress said she also looked to the theater, where she began her career, for inspiration in women in Chekhov and Ibsen plays.
"It just reminded me a lot of the heroines and the yearning to start over," she said. "Our story is that: What lengths will a mother go to to give her child the life that she envisions for him?"
In the series, Norma Bates has another son, Dylan (Max Thieriot), with whom she says Norma "failed miserably." That explains why her relationship with Norman is "so tightfisted, so entwined," she said.
"You could say these two still have an umbilical cord like wrapped around the two of them and for an audience to decide and take that journey to decide how close is too close," Farmiga said.
Anyone who has seen "Psycho" knows that it does not end well.
While Farmiga acknowledges that the characters are doomed she says "Bates Motel" wants the audience to root for them, "to hope against hope that maybe things turn out differently."