By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film “Psycho” told the disturbing story of a son’s deadly obsession with his mother. The modern day TV series “Bates Motel,” which airs on A&E, is essentially a prequel to that 1960 horror classic, featuring a teenage Norman Bates (British actor Freddie Highmore) and his overbearing mother Norma (played by Oscar nominee Vera Farmiga), who run a roadside motel in rural Oregon. Bad things tend to happen to guests who show up there.
The drama series, co-created by Carlton Cuse (“Lost,” “The Strain”) and Kerry Ehrin (who also serves as the series’ showrunner) is now in its third season. Dark and sometimes creepily comical, the critically acclaimed series aims to explain what led up to Norman’s serial killer behavior by exploring his troubled past and his odd relationship with his mother.
One of the characters that was introduced in the first season was Norman’s half-brother, Dylan (the offspring of an incestuous union between Norma and her brother Caleb that was not part of the original film).
Max Thieriot, a Los Angeles native who began his career as a child actor more than a decade ago, appearing in family friendly films including “Catch That Kid” (opposite a young Kristen Stewart) and the Vin Diesel starrer “The Pacifier,” has since spent much of his career playing roles in horror movies and thrillers including “Chloe,” “Disconnect” and “House at the End of the Street.”
The 26-year-old is much more well adjusted in real life than many of the characters he plays onscreen. He has been happily married to Lexi Murphy, whom he dated for eight years, since 2013, and he divides his time between working on the series in Los Angeles and his home in bucolic Santa Rosa, Calif. He recently spoke about his complex and evolving TV character in a telephone conference call.
Q: Dylan started out as Norman’s antagonist but it now seems he’s in better favor with his half-brother. Can you talk a little bit about Dylan’s arc since he arrived and where he is now?
Thieriot: Yes. It’s funny, because when I first got the script—I was sent three scripts, actually—and in all of them Dylan kind of just showed up and he’s a real prick. (He laughs.) He shows up and he’s really rude to his mom, which doesn’t really jibe very well with me. I didn’t get it at the beginning. My initial thought was, “Wow, everybody’s going to hate this guy. I show up and I’m a total dick to everybody.” I wanted to know what’s redeeming about this guy.
(The show’s executive producers) Carlton (Cuse) and Kerry (Ehrin) really kind of know what they’re doing and had a bigger picture and plan for Dylan. Carlton just kind of said to me, “Look, it’s all going to change and he’s really going to kind of evolve.” And so I sort of took the jump. It’s been cool because all of a sudden we’ve seen him change and become (SPOILER ALERT) the leader of the drug cartel in town and we’ve seen him change and bond with this mom and his brother.
Ultimately, Dylan is kind of like this sign of hope in the show. We also don’t know his fate, even though we know what’s going to happen to Norma and we know what’s going to happen to Norman. And so he kind of gives a little sense of hope that something good can come out of all this.
Q: Do you think that your character’s relationship with Norman has changed? Norman didn’t want to be held back and he was very emotional about it, so do you think they’re like completely on the outs now?
Thieriot: Honestly, Episode 6 (of Season 3) kind of answers that question. It sort of explains now what’s going to happen and what they’re relationship is. That’s hard for me to really say. (What happens in that episode) definitely changes their relationship for sure.
Q: Do you think that Emma (Norman’s friend played by Olivia Cooke)and Dylan can be together romantically in the show?
Thieriot: I don’t know. Anything’s possible. But I think that has kind of always been an interesting idea and I always kind of thought that it’d be interesting if (the show’s writers) explored that. Both Emma and Dylan kind of the outsiders of this relationship between Norma and Norman and they’re always kind of kept a little bit on the outside. so I thought that it would be interesting if they could be together. You never know. I think it would be fun to watch.
Q: Is there something in Dylan that you identify with or find in yourself?
Thieriot: I don’t know. There’s definitely some stuff. My family is such an
important thing, maybe the most important thing in my life. Obviously, no matter what Dylan goes through and how he’s treated and everything, he always sort of comes back to his family and wants family. I guess that’s a similarity.
Q: Actor Ryan Hurst (previously on “Sons of Anarchy”) joined the cast this season as Chick, a badass ex-con with an intelligent, dark and menacing quality. What do you like about that character and working with Ryan?
Thieriot: Chick is a really cool character and really interesting. I think we were all really excited when we heard that Ryan was going to be on the show.
Q: How much of what Dylan has been told about his father, Caleb (played by Kenny Johnson), do you think he actually believes at this point?
Thieriot: Well, that’s hard to say. In the beginning, obviously, he didn’t believe all that much of it because Norma has a way of being very dramatic and sort of making up a lot of stuff. When they have the conversation at the table at the farm, he asks him straight up, and Caleb is honest, even though Caleb may have sort of like a shady past and a little bit of a dark side to him. Dylan can kind of see Caleb’s heart and is able to see that like he’s being truthful and he’s being honest and sincere with him and I think he’s just able to see all the good that’s in him.
Q: Depending upon what Norma does, does Dylan take the high road or the low road? It seems like he’s either going to go the family way or he’s going to take Chick’s way.
Thieriot: I don’t know. It’s interesting because I think Caleb constantly battles with this. Norma and Norman not really approving of him being around for the most part. But he wants so badly to just to have everything be okay and to be a part of this family and to be a part of Dylan’s life. That’s something that’s totally going to be explored and stuff. So, yes, you’re going to find all of that out.
Q: Totally off-the-wall question: Have you ever eaten something like boar jerky as your character does on the show?
Thieriot: (laughs) It was Elk jerky and sausage.
Q: If you were writing the show, how would you like to Dylan’s relationship evolve and ultimately resolve with Norman?
Thieriot: If I was writing the show, the big reveal would be that Dylan kills Norman and wears his skin and then he actually becomes Norman. (He laughs.) Boom. Drop the mike. Everybody’s mind is blown.
I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t know how I would write it. Norman, obviously, eventually ends up by himself. But how does he get there? Does he kill everybody?
Is everybody eventually, a piece of taxidermy or taxidermy art or whatever in the house. Who knows? But I don’t know. I think that they’ve been so kind of creative up until this point that. I’ve heard some of the ideas that are all cool and exciting.
Q: What can you preview for us for the rest of the season? What’s something that people should look forward to?
Thieriot: All the family dynamics just get tested even more. I mean I think they probably keep going. Kerry (Ehrin) and Carlton (Cuse) have a great way of just going in these directions and then pulling you back into a completely opposite direction. It’s just the push-pull type of thing is pretty amazing for the characters and also the family dynamic. I’m always just fascinated and intrigued by the family dynamic and they just push it about as far as I think they could. Obviously, because it’s “Bates Motel.”
Freddie (Highmore, who plays Norman Bates) does an amazing job this year with his transformation. He’s elevated it to a whole new place. Between now and the end of the season it’s just going to take you to yet again a whole other place. You’re going to find out a lot more about (the character) Chick. You’re going to find out a lot more, like, who is this guy?
“Bates Motel” airs Sundays at 9 p.m./8C on A&E.