Checking Into Bates Motel
by Pamela Price
Although there was a cult following of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” it was not a guarantee that A&E’s prequel TV series, “Bates Motel,” would be a surefire hit. Sometimes it’s best to leave the original untouched. But mystery, murder and suspense are key components for a handful of popular shows today. As the second season is wrapping up, it already has a third in its future. Millions are captured by the twisted story of Norma Bates, her son Norman and all of the new peculiar characters we meet from episode to episode. While the “Psycho” premise surrounds the odd relationship between a mother and her one son, the “Bates Motel” creators shocked us with a new family member, Dylan Massett, Norma’s long lost older son. Actor Max Thieriot is captivating in the role of this troubled and puzzling young man. Initially, Max was unsure how audiences would react to his character, but Dylan has undeniably become a vital part of the series. I had the opportunity to speak with Max in the height of the second season. Unlike so many actors I interview, he simply fell into the profession when his aunt sent a photograph in for a GAP campaign. He caught the attention of a manager and has been acting ever since. “Bates Motel” is not Max’s first stab at drama thrillers with a hint of horror. Among other TV and film projects, he has starred in “House At The End Of The Street” and Wes Craven’s “My Soul To Take.” We discussed his propensity for darker roles, his exciting new History Channel series and his love for racing.
Similar to the theme of the show, Dylan is mysterious at times. From an audience standpoint it feels as if you never know what he’s going to do or how he will react to something.
At first you think, this is a guy that everybody’s initially go to hate. He shows up and he’s rude and disrespectful, among many things. And it’s tricky, because we were introducing a new character into the series. For all of the people who are really passionate and invested in “Psycho,” we’re hoping that they accept this character. And on top of that, we’re kind of going through this arc of making him out to be a bad guy, and then turning him into a good guy that you hope everybody can relate to and like.
Obviously, accepting a role is always exciting, but were you wary at the beginning?
Yeah. Carlton Cuse and Kerry Ehrin are such great writers, that when they kind of explained to me what the idea was going forward, it gave me a lot of reassurance. I thought it would be fun to do. Diving into this season, he’s changing even more. I mean, the thing about Dylan is he’s kind of an emotional roller coaster like Norma, but in a different way. His relationship with Norma is constantly having its ups and downs — I mean, just when they think they’re hitting a nice stride, one of the two has to do something to basically ruin it.
This season has brought many revelations for Dylan (no spoilers).
Yes, exactly. At this point in time, Dylan doesn’t think he belongs, basically. He never really felt like he fit into the family, but now he’s really kind of having an identity crisis about where he fits into society or where he fits in anywhere. He’s trapped in this business. He likes the perks, but he’s starting to see the real dark side to it.
It definitely seems like he’s walking deeper and deeper into the dark world of drugs. Do you think that’s a comfort zone for him?
Yeah, definitely. I think he enjoys it, too, because he’s getting credit from people. People are giving him credit for basically getting stuff done and sort of taking leadership in the business. I think he’ll take any sort of pat on the back or any sort of appreciation people show him. He knows that he’s good at it, and I think that he likes the attention that he gets from the people who are working with him.
(Spoiler alert) Have you come across challenges in playing this role?
Yeah, definitely. I think the biggest challenge has been acting in episode four, probably. He had kind of the biggest scene with Norma that I have had to play as far as showing an emotional range for him. It’s a pretty heavy subject and pretty emotional for him. It’s not even just the idea that his Uncle could be his father, but also a terrible relationship where child abuse took place. But beyond that, his connection with his mom just really hurts. That’s something that I don’t get to experience very often as an actor. It’s not something that most people ever go through.
The acting process is different from actor to actor. How do you put yourself in that frame of mind?
I think just trying to be as present as possible during the scene. Also, Vera Farmiga is such a fantastic actress and makes it that much easier. But besides just really being there with her, I really try to block out the outer world and get into it enough to where I believe that this is a situation that I have gone through. I try to allow myself to express whatever emotion it is that I feel would be the right one for the situation. It’s kind of just trying to make it as authentic as possible.
How was the set chemistry been between you, Vera Farmiga and Freddie Highmore?
We really have become a family, so it’s a great set, and we’re all so close. It makes everything so easy and it makes everything kind of flow, because there are really no hold-ups and it’s just all really positive. I think there are times when that doesn’t necessarily happen with everybody. But I think I can speak for all of us that that’s not the case. On the show we’re all very tight knit.
I would hope with such a serious show that you guys sometimes joke around. I’m sure you guys have fun. Do you have any fun anecdotes from set?
We always have a lot of fun. We constantly joke with each other, too. Like there’ll be times where we’ll be doing a really heavy scene, and as soon as it’s over, we’ll kind of give each other crap, and be like ‘Oh, you should have done it like this,’ or, ‘You looked really silly when you were making that face.’ Whatever it is — we’re just constantly having fun.
Do you ever know ahead of time what’s going to happen, or are you just as shocked as the audience is?
For the most part, we’re just as shocked at the audience. I know Vera, Freddie and I try to probe a lot and try to find out and get information because they have it all set out on their storyboards. There are times when we’ll get a little bit of information. We get a little bit here and there but the big guns don’t usually break out, and then we find out about them later. We always kind of probe a little bit too, because sometimes the hair and makeup team will maybe get a script a couple of days before us and so we’ll try and see if we can get any info out of them. It’s funny. Everybody always wants to know what’s going to happen because people are truly shocked when they’re killed off.
Or when they’re sent off on a bus to just leave, like with Nicola Peltz.
Yeah. You kind of read it and then you go, ‘Oh, I wonder if they’ve read this yet.’
In one recent episode you got into some trouble with a car and a gun, I thought to myself, ‘Is he really going to die right now? They can’t kill him!’
Yeah, a lot of people kind of tripped about that. They said, ‘Is he really going to die just like that?
Have you ever feared that you were going to die in the show?
In the show, there’s a constant worry of dying. It never really ends because as far as everybody can assume, Norman’s really the only one who’s safe.
Where would you want Dylan to go? As far as looking at the future in season 3 or something like that?
I would like Dylan to go — not Norman dark — but to really sort of hit rock bottom in a sense. I think I would want him to hit this really nice sort of stride and to have that all taken away. I’m not sure what that would mean ultimately, but just want to have him go very dark.
That brings me to another dark subject. Knowing some of the projects you seem to be drawn to — or maybe they’re drawn to you — you act in shows with mystery and horror, such as “My Soul to Take,” “House at the End of the Street,” and now “Bates Motel.” Is that a choice or is it just meant to be?
These things just kind of happen. I guess I’m drawn to unique characters and I think with the three that you mentioned, my characters in those works are all pretty different. And so for me, it’s not necessarily about acting in certain genres as much as it is about what the script is, who’s involved and what the character is about. Psychopaths have always been interesting to me, because I feel like a lot of them are really complex and they’re so much more than meets the eye There’s so much going on underneath and so sometimes just a look is all it takes. Those kinds of characters are intriguing and so that’s kind of why “My Soul to Take” was a no brainer with this crazy character who has seven souls living in him by the end. And there’s Wes Craven — one of the greatest working in this genre.
How was it working with Wes Craven?
It was great. For me it was such an added bonus because it wasn’t just a Wes Craven movie or a remake of a Wes Craven movie, or a Wes Craven-produced movie — it was a movie that was written, directed and produced by Wes Craven. It was a little shocking because I was expecting him to be the man who conjured up Freddy Krueger. I was expecting him to be a little crazy, and he couldn’t be any nicer and more intelligent. He’s just the sweetest person. He was just kind of not what I anticipated.
Since it’s more about the characters, is there a specific role you’d like to play in the future?
Yeah, I’m doing this mini-series called “Texas Rising” which is a mini-series on the History Channel done by the same guys who did the “Hatfields & McCoys.” And they’re writing and producing this. It’s essentially a Western set in the 1830’s at the Alamo; about the original rising of the original Texas rangers.
Are you a Texas Ranger?
Yes. It’s always kind of been my dream since I was a little boy, growing up and playing Cowboys and Indians, to be a cowboy.
To get your spurs on.
Exactly. I’m really looking forward to this. There are so many characters and it’s a really great cast. It’s something that I have wanted to do for a long time, so I’m really kind of excited to check this off of the list.
I’ve read that you like sports and you’re an outdoorsy guy — is this all true?
Yeah, definitely. I spend most of my time outside. I grew up out in the country and for me I wasn’t great in class. I was very fidgety and disruptive. I learned more stuff that I could apply to life and what I do just kind of by being outside and seeing the marvels of the world and nature.
So acting just sprung on you out of the blue?
I fell into acting. I’m from a town of 3,000 to 4,000 people and it just was honestly an accident. I started modeling when I was 12, which was not on purpose. My aunt sent in a photograph of me to the GAP and then through that I met a manager who had connections in Los Angeles and told me that I should try to become an actor. And so I flew down, got an agent, and then started auditioning and got “Catch that Kid” shortly thereafter.
Do you love acting?
I do, yeah. I love it. If I had to pick one thing that I don’t love about it, it would be that it’s difficult to schedule your life because it’s constantly changing. Not that it’s easy for anybody to schedule out their life, but it seems especially difficult when you don’t really ever know when you’re going to be working. Planning things in advance is always a little chaotic, so you end up missing out a lot of stuff that you didn’t plan on missing. But that’s how life is.
Is it true that you are a “racer”?
I’ve raced off road for about 10 years.
What do you drive?
A class one buggy. I’ve kind of driven everything now. The Baja 1000 and the Baja 500. I’m actually racing in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.