There was always something a little off and unexplained about the relationship of Norma (Vera Farmiga) and her eldest son, Dylan (Max Thieriot). She seemed so uncomfortable around him and like she could not bear the sight of him most days. So finding out that Dylan was likely the product of Norma’s brother Caleb (Kenny Johnson) forcing himself on her finally shed light on a very painful secret Norma has been hiding and running from for a very long time.
In a recent press conference call, stars Max Thieriot and Kenny Johnson talked about their complicated and damaged characters and the dark path that they seem to be caught up on as they get deeper and deeper into Norma and Norman’s lives.
What has it been like working with each other on BATES MOTEL?
KENNY: It was kind of amazing for me because when I showed up on the set, Max came right up to me and said, “It’s going to be a pleasure working with you and I can’t wait.” And he was really down to earth and connected. I had been a huge fan of this show the prior season and really been intrigued by his character. So I had this whole thing honed in on Max prior to getting offered this role. So there was some striking similarities and mannerisms and things that were going on between us that made it real. It just seemed familiar and it made it incredibly real for me and for the character Caleb. He’s been seeking and searching a connection with his family member and when he finds out, obviously, Max is Norma’s son; this is something that opened up and happened naturalistically between the two, for me. I thought it was pretty wild.
MAX: Yes, definitely. I think from the minute Kenny showed up, the two of us really hit it off off-screen, so that really translated over to all these scenes where I know of him as Uncle Caleb and we’re bonding and he’s connecting back into the family and I’m being able to reach out and find out more about the family that I’ve never known. So a lot of that came naturally and I think that Kenny and I had a good flow and gelled through all of our scenes because we were able to connect on and off screen and relate to each other.
How did you originally become involved in the series?
KENNY: What happened was I got a call from one of the new writers and consulting producers who I had worked with on PRIME SUSPECT and I know there was a character there called Caleb and she said it’s Norma’s brother. She’s like, “I think you’d be perfect for it, but Carlton and Kerry obviously are going to be the ones making the decision.” And so, a description was given to me and I was really psyched because, again, it was my favorite show from the year before. So to be able to be a part of it, I was just super psyched. About two or three days later I got a call from Kerry and Carlton and Kerry had explained what she wanted to do with the character and who he was and I was jumping up and down. So it was a blessing that I got the offer for it. And yes, it was beautiful.
What were some of the initial acting challenges you found stepping into the Dylan character?
MAX: I think the biggest challenge is, for me, to grasp and understand, first, we bring in the character that is really not liked for the first few episodes. And so, I thought definitely that one of the challenges would be bringing in a character that everybody instantly doesn’t like and then trying to go through this arc and turn him into somebody that ultimately the viewer can relate to and understand and see through him into the lives of Norma and Norman as this window. And so I thought that that would be, maybe, tough in hoping that everybody accepts the character, but also for the people who are Psycho fans I guess my concern was coming up with a new character that wasn’t in the movies and then being curious about how he would be accepted on the show and if people would buy into it and would basically be welcoming to a new Bates family member. But I think, at the same time with that, there was also a little bit of an easiness to that aspect just because there wasn’t, I felt like, as much high expectations because I’m not redoing a character so we get to start new and fresh and come up with this guy. So I think it was just a lot to think about going in, but ultimately I think the writing is so great and everybody who’s a part of the show and all the other actors that we were able to introduce this new character and have him go through all these different trials and ultimately I think it’s obviously worked out so far and people have been able to understand this guy and relate to him.
Can you tell me a how do you approach Dylan as a person? How do you relate to him to bring that performance you do?
MAX: I think the thing about Dylan is he’s constantly in this rollercoaster, this up and down of his emotions and what he goes through in life. And he’s constantly conflicted between family and business and his love life and all these things. So for me, one of the big things about Dylan is the way that he is able to face a challenge and overcome it and the way that he takes a lot of things head-on and is willing to — even though maybe emotionally deep down he’s hurting and he’s going through all these things — physically still march forward and overcome a lot of really unfortunate and sad, disturbing scenarios that he’s given throughout his life. And so I think the thing about Dylan is showing all these different sides to him because he’s a tough kid. He’s grown up by himself and working on oil rigs and is just a roughneck, I guess. At the same time, we finally get to see in last week’s episode a really emotional side to him, and that’s this want for his mother’s love, basically, and as soon as he thinks that maybe he’s starting to receive her affection, his outlook on life is twisted and taken from him again when he finds out Caleb is potentially his father. So then he comes to the realization that maybe this is why he’s never felt like he totally fit in and Norma’s just been battling with dealing with this herself her whole life. And he says it, that it puts a lot into perspective for him. But I think he’s constantly changing and the thing about Dylan is even though sometimes he shows that he’s consistent on the outside, he’s never really consistent on the inside.
How is the reveal going to affect Dylan’s relationship with Norma? Will they connect more after this?
MAX: Well, I don’t know, but it’s a big trial moment now for Dylan because obviously they’ve had so many speed bumps in their relationship in general, but now this is probably the biggest thing that he’s going to have to try and cross if he does want to get over it. And at this point in time where we are in the show, I think it’s a realization for him too because I think he’s all of a sudden realizing maybe this is why he’s always felt like an outsider. Maybe this is why he never really fit in and he felt like he was always on the back burner to Norman in this, because of where he came from. And maybe he was born out of a little bit of hatred. So right now, obviously, he’s just extremely angry and frustrated and confused and going through a million different emotions. So I think definitely this is a changing point for Dylan. Basically he has to decide how he’s going to get past this because there’s so many different ways that he can approach this information that he’s been given.
It looked like Caleb was packing a bag and leaving town at the end of the last episode. Is it the bombshell of thinking that he may actually have a son or does he totally not believe Norma?
KENNY: That’s a good question. I haven’t seen Norma for twenty-odd years and seeing Norma’s son — I don’t know. It was a pretty wild reality-check and at that point I think he’s just more curious and he doesn’t leave town because I think he wants to somehow reconnect with Norma. I think it’s really important for him to face some of his demons from his past or what they had maybe gone through and you can run for only so many years. And finding out that might be his child; Dylan is obviously a shock in that moment and I’m sure makes him think back to what happened in high school. Who is this boyfriend, the timing of everything and it’s a whirlwind for him. When he goes, it just seems like he’s overwhelmed by all this information and he just realizes it’s affected everybody in not a very positive way and it was everything not what he expected or probably had hoped for going into the town. So I think he just needs to get out and clear his head and wrap his head around it at that point. For the moment that’s what’s going on.
Have we seen the last of Caleb this season?
KENNY: You haven’t seen the last of Caleb. I can’t tell you when, but you haven’t see the last of Caleb.
Despite the fact that Dylan found out he was the child of incest; he seems to be the only sane person in your family. Do you play it a certain way because of that or is that something that you just ignore?
MAX: I think Dylan is the window for the viewer into the life of Norman and Norma, the behind the scenes they wouldn’t be able to see otherwise. But I’ve always said that — and everybody says that — Dylan is the sane one. But if you look at some of Norma’s issues and quirks and the things that make her who she is, Dylan is still her son. And so I think underneath all of it there’s still some of that gene and it flares up every once in a while. But I think for the most part he’s just trying to survive and get by, but he definitely still has some issues like everybody else in the family. And now, obviously, it’s tough too. It’s tough for Dylan because it seems like as soon as he starts to hit his stride and when everything’s okay, his world comes crumbling down again and it’s a constant rollercoaster for him of ups and downs in his relationship with Norma. At this point he’s basically gone up as high as he has possibly every gone and now he’s really taking the fall this time. So I think it’ll be a really trying experience for Dylan that will ultimately define his character — this knowledge of what he’s come to know or maybe think he knows about his uncle and his dad.
How early did you know that Caleb was Dylan’s father and how did that affect your performance this season?
MAX: I think even still up to this point, he doesn’t want to believe that this is true, but deep down I think he knows — besides the resemblance and all the similarities and the traits — that this makes sense. And as much as it doesn’t, it does. I think what’s awesome is as soon as Kenny showed up, we’re such a tight-knit family on the set between Vera [Farmiga], Freddie, and I. And Kenny showed up and he fit right into the family. It was like it all made perfect sense and so then when these scenes were being played and acted out, it all had such a nice flow to it. As the season goes on, you can definitely see this change throughout Dylan as he slowly digests this information over the episodes and figures out how to deal with them. But I think the first time that he really hears it is obviously when he’s fighting Norman at the end of episode three – or lack thereof of fighting Norman – of getting beat up by Norman. I’m still trying to add it up. Everybody goes: how does he beat you up so easily? I don’t know.
KENNY: Yes, because he’s Norman, so who knows. Well, adrenal kicks in and you never know.
MAX: I was like: he’s not a superhuman. He’s just crazy.
KENNY: You were just getting smacked around. He just wears the beating you give him.
Was there anything about your character Dylan that wasn’t originally scripted for you but you’ve added to him for your interpretation?
MAX: I don’t know. I think a lot of stuff ends up being added to the character just inevitable and I think it’s also a constant battle of trying not to bring yourself into the character and trying to let the character be its own thing. I don’t know. That’s a tough one. I try and make each character that I play unique and different from the next and whether this is done by the writing of the producer and creators of the show or something, some quirk that I change and add in. But I think the thing about Dylan is that Carlton [Cuse] and Kerry [Ehrin] kind of created this character that’s so unique and already has such a tremendous foundation that it didn’t really require me to pick it apart and come up with something because it was really already there on the pages.
What was it like acting opposite Freddie [Highmore] as Norman slipped into his Norma persona?
KENNY: Yes, it was pretty wild. He was able to filter that whole thing, which it really kind of stung me. And at the beginning, Caleb is looking at him like: what the hell is this kid talking about? And the more he got into information, the more I realized that he was filtering Norma through him, which was really intense and wild and a really tricky scene, I think, to play. But he did it beautifully, and Freddie’s one of those guys that commits a thousand percent in what he does and it was fun. When you get to play opposite of Max and Freddie and there are people that are so incredibly 1000% right there and real in those moments, I just find it pretty awesome to react to that and to go with it. And he really gets into his Norman character. It’s pretty scary.
Now that we’ve seen Norman go into the Norma persona, how much of that is going to figure in the rest of the season? Because I imagine they don’t want to have him go full-out all the time because there’s still a lot more story to tell before we get to that full transition point.
MAX: I think he’s starting to realize that he has some problems and he’s not really quite sure what they are and he’s not really ready to admit that. But obviously we want to delay some of these things and Norman can’t go all out right away. And so it’s always a constant battle of high school Norman and psycho Norman and those two people fighting inside of him. And obviously psycho Norman also happens to have a lot of Norma in it. But it’s cool because we get to see. The thing is that Freddie plays Norman on edge a lot of the time and he gets easily frustrated with other characters throughout the show, like Cody when he raises the tire iron or something at her. And he is constantly yelling and gets heated and it’s interesting because you never really know when he’s going to snap. But we do get to see him snap, so is he going to lose it right here or what’s he going to do? I don’t know.
Dylan has grown into someone fans want to root for. Should we expect to see a shift in that line of thinking after everything that’s happened? Will Dylan still remain sympathetic?
MAX: I hope not. When Dylan showed up first and I read it from the first couple episodes, I thought, everybody’s going to hate this guy. But that’s what was so interesting was you introduce a character that, initially, everybody wants to hate, and then you try and make the transition into a character that everybody is supposed to sympathize with and understand and maybe relate to in certain ways. And I think this isn’t the change of Dylan as to where we change how we feel about him. I think, if anything, because of this experience and what he’s going through, we see more – because he always puts on this tough façade and so we get to see more of this vulnerable human side to him that we don’t get to see. And I think, if anything, it brings the viewer — in a very tough bunch of scenes and environment — a little closer to Dylan and just understand a little more about him and see another side to him that’s possibly another good side, a very positive side to him.
Right from the start Caleb has been the trait of this monster from Norma’s past. Would you say there’s any hope of redemption for Caleb or is he past the point of no return, no forgiveness?
KENNY: I don’t know. That’s obviously up to where they’re going to go with it. He was hoping for some sort of redemption for the whole thing. And he is being painted as a monster obviously by Norma. It’s funny how we view our childhoods and how people remember it. And some people take on these sides that something was so horrific and horrible and this other person was so bad to them, and the other person viewed it as something different. And again, Caleb’s got his own history between Francis and Ray — which are their parents and ourselves growing up in Akron, Ohio, and then she’s got hers. And Caleb has been away for twenty-four years and you think the past can go away, but sometimes it just sits there and haunts you until you face it. And this is his chance to face it and so far it’s gone horrifically wrong and he found out a bunch of things. It’s like throwing him into a little whirlwind in his head. So, I don’t know. We’ll see where it goes from there and how people are going to like it.
What do you think it is about BATES MOTEL that’s really hooked fans?
KENNY: I just find it really raw and authentic and unapologetic with where it goes. I believe that it explores these young kids and this mother and this world we all live in a world that’s not perfect, anyway. I find the relationship, obviously, between Freddie and Vera to be so incredibly intriguing and you don’t really know what’s going on underneath. And even in this last episode, the way that Freddie just watches Norma and the closeness between them, I just find it super intriguing and to have a character like Dylan as the outsider. I always want to view what’s going on inside the family, and then to get to see it through a character like Dylan, yet see him not completely accepted within the family — it’s just the dynamics are unbelievably intriguing to me. And again, nothing’s made up. These actors are brilliant. When you read the script and then you see what they actually come up with, the acting’s amazing. The writing’s awesome and it leaves an open door for these guys to just creatively dive into this world that has got so many colors. I watched it all of the first season and it was like I was hooked. Every week I was hooked until the next week and I couldn’t wait. It was my only show that I watched on TV and me and my wife just sat there and we loved it. Sometimes you can’t explain it, but I just found it insanely intriguing.
Have you enjoyed the instant feedback you’ve been receiving on Twitter after each episode?
KENNY: Yes. It’s funny because sometimes you don’t know if they’re already people who are fans of yours, so they’re going to like your guy or take your side. But there are definitely some people getting on there like, “I hate you. Leave Norma alone. I don’t ever want you to talk to Dylan again.” And I’m going, “Oh god.” But most of the feedback’s been really interesting and positive. Again, I have no idea how people are going to take this character, nor is it my job to try to think how they’re going to take him. I’m just trying to make the guy human and hopefully people will respond. What Max has to deal with now is just pretty insane and challenging and I think it’s huge. It’s awesome.
The film “Psycho” is one of the major milestones of pop cultural history for the past 50 years. As new characters, you are basically given a chance to be a part of a new chapter of the whole “Psycho” legacy. Does that ever give you a whole lot of pressure or is it exciting to do that?
KENNY: I think it’s exciting to do that. Knowing the whole “Psycho” history, you never see another son introduced and then to have Norma be alive throughout this whole world and to have a brother come in and expose some of her history, at this day and age it’s been so many years since the original movie was shot that I think people are a little more open to play a little bit. Personally, I think it’s brought the whole thing to another dimension. I love it and it doesn’t put any pressure on me. If anything, they’re either going to love you or hate you, but the writing’s so good that it sets it up anyway. It’s such an interesting world. It feels like, in this day and age, everybody’s really open, so they’ve been pretty amazing with the show so far.
Should we be worried for Dylan going forward given how the drug situation is playing out and also that he may be in not the best state of mind moving forward?
MAX: Yes, definitely. I think given what he’s just learned about himself and the history of where he came from, I think it’s definitely a concern as to how he approaches situations now and if he goes in guns blazing trying to take on the world. I think it’s definitely a concern because he’s already battled with having not a lot to live for throughout his life, and so this is another one of those things thrown in. I think besides that, it’s always been a concern in his business, especially with the war that’s started going on between these two families. As he’s climbing the ranks of his business, the higher you get on the totem pole, the more your head’s worth.
In the first season we could also see some details this weird town White Pine Bay has secrets. Are we going to see some of that? Is that going to be more explored in the second season?
MAX: I think we’re going to. Yes. There’ll definitely be more secrets to come out and this town just has so much that’s going on in the community. And I think one of the big things we’ll get to explore will be the dynamic between the two drug families that really make up the core of the town and the funding and where the money comes from and how these people are able to survive. We get some more into that, yes.
In terms of other new members of the cast for the season, how has it been working with them? What is the role they’re playing and how do they affect the dynamics of the Bates family throughout the season?
MAX: The great thing about BATES MOTEL is we’re constantly introducing new characters that are really so dynamic and different and unique. Each character that is introduced in the show, I think, is really unique and that’s what makes it awesome is because they all really stand out by themselves. And I think probably more than any other character that’s introduced this season is Kenny’s character Caleb who is a basically a new Bates family member that we’re introduced to. And I think any time when we’re only really ever seeing these three members of this family, it’s really interesting because of the way that the original three are written and created. And so obviously, the thing about introducing Caleb is you don’t really know what to expect. He’s such a wild card. Is he going to bring good to the family? Are there going to be negative things that he brings? And just being able to figure out what that means because obviously it’s going to mean something.
KENNY: Yes, and it seems like the whole show is so based on the family dynamics and the tension within the family and the sexual undertone and all these uncomfortable situations between the three characters. To me, that’s the show and the thing is like a locomotive train and it’s so electric that it isn’t just think to throw another whole character that came out of the blue that nobody knew about — to throw a wrench into what already exists which is so rich on screen.
MAX: Yes, and everybody’s affecting the lives of these characters. Kathleen [Robertson] comes in and she’s a part of the drug world and as people are taken out in that world, there’s obviously new people coming in to fill these voids. And you’re always wondering, what are they going to be like? And so it’s cool, you’re just constantly being introduced to new characters and watching them change the dynamic of the show.
Can you give any hints as to what we can expect, specifically, from the next episode that’s coming up?
MAX: Obviously the Bates family is in shambles right now. Everybody’s torn apart. Norman has just had another Norman kind of blackout. Norma is struggling with dealing with her social life in the town, dealing with her brother showing up. Everybody’s going through some struggles and Caleb is struggling with being here in this environment that he’s thrown himself back into, which is obviously not what he expected to walk into. And so we’re going to pick up and episode five will also deal with more of the stuff of Zane and figure out why he wants us to go pick up this load of guns, what is he planning, the battle that’s ensuing between him and Sheriff Romero. There’s really a lot going on.
All new episodes of BATES MOTEL air Monday nights at 10:00 p.m. on A&E.