LOS ANGELES (Reuters)
— While most college
students often use their year abroad to embrace the culture and
nightlife of new countries, British actor Freddie Highmore opted to
play one of the most notorious fictional serial killers, Norman
Highmore, 22, plays a teenage version of Norman Bates who
helps his erratic mother run a hotel in modern-day Oregon in the
A&E series "Bates Motel," which returns for a second season on
"Bates Motel" is the first television series for Highmore, who
is currently finishing up his final year at Cambridge
University, where he studies Spanish and Arabic. The actor
started out his career playing wide-eyed young boys in films
such as 2004's "Finding Neverland" and 2005's "Charlie and the
But playing Norman Bates has presented a new direction in
Highmore's career, playing an innocent, sensitive teenager who
begins to transition into a psychologically disturbed young man
with an abnormally intimate relationship with his mother, played
by Vera Farmiga.
"I always did want to get to play a killer, so I guess that
one's ticked off," the young actor said with a laugh.
"What's fun about 'Bates Motel' is that the characters change so
much. The Norman that we see at the start of season one is
markedly different to the end of season two," he said.
After a dramatic finale in season one that culminated with the
suspicious death of Norman's attractive young female teacher,
the second season opens with Norman trying to cope with her
demise by embracing taxidermy. The hobby of stuffing dead
animals may be an eerie foreshadowing of his future path.
"The biggest journey he'll go on is this growing sense of
self-awareness about who he is or who he might become," Highmore
At the center of "Bates Motel" is the complex and at times,
almost inappropriate relationship between Norman and his
high-strung single mother Norma, which earned Farmiga an Emmy
In the first season, the two are dependent on each other for
support and comfort as they try to start fresh with the purchase
of the motel in a new hometown, but in the second season,
Highmore said their bond will be more fraught with tension.
"Vera and I disagree, but I think our disagreements fall in line
with our characters and she sees the relationship as more platonic,"
Highmore said. "For me, I think Norman does read a little more into
it and has feelings for his mother that go beyond what most boys
The close relationship and fascination that Norman has with his
mother was made famous in Robert Bloch's 1959 novel "Psycho" that
was adapted by director Alfred Hitchcock into a film of the same
name in 1960, becoming one of his most famous films.
Norman Bates is based on real-life serial killer Ed Gein, who was
notoriously discovered with mutilated body parts in his house after
police suspected him in the disappearance of a store owner in 1957.
Working in television has allowed the character of Norman Bates to
be explored indepth, developing the origin story that leads him on
the journey to murder over a gradual arc.
Highmore said that he went back to Bloch's original source material
for season two in order to understand Norman's psychological
unraveling as he becomes more engrossed in taxidermy. But he often
found a challenge in reigning himself to play out Norman's journey.
"It's always a sense of being tempted to do more than is best to do
at this stage of the series, and you have these fantastic characters
and there's so many places you can take them," he said.
"For the series to develop well, it's much more fun and delicious to
have this tension playing out over time."
(Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy; editing by