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Max Thieriot and Kenny Johnson Talk Incest, Drug Wars, and Family Dynamics at Bates Motel

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Max Thieriot and Kenny Johnson Talk Incest, Drug Wars, and Family Dynamics at Bates MotelWe’re only four episodes in, and Season 2 of “Bates Motel” has already put series co-star Max Thieriot (Dylan) through the ringer. And it sounds like things are only going to go from bad to worse for him…

A few days ago Thieriot and guest star Kenny Johnson, who just joined the show in Episode 2.03 and plays Dylan’s uncle… er, father… er, let’s just call him Caleb, took part in a conference call interview in advance of the upcoming Episode 2.05, “The Escape Artist,” to tease a bit of what’s in store for fans tonight and as the season plays out.

They touched on the hot button topic of the past two eps, incest, of course along with the volatile Bates family dynamics, both in terms of Dylan and Caleb’s relationship with each other as well as individually with Norma and Norman. Have we seen the last of Norma’s wayward brother? And what about this drug war that’s going down? Is Dylan getting in too deep?

There’s a lot to take in – and this is the edited version! – so settle in and spend several minutes with Max and Kenny exploring the dark and twisted world of White Pine Bay.

Q: Max, can you talk a bit about how this reveal about your real father is going to affect your character’s relationship with Norma. Can he get over it? Can they connect more after this? Because obviously they’ve not been close.

Max Thieriot: 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. And 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… [he has to] basically 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.

Q: Kenny, it looked like you were packing your bag and leaving town. What can you talk about without giving away too much? Is it the bombshell of thinking that you may actually have a son, or do you totally not believe Norma? Are you staying in town? What can you tell us about that?

Kenny Johnson: Yes, that’s a good question. I haven’t seen Norma for twenty-odd years and seeing a son — Norma’s son — it’s… 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 — what happened in high school? Okay, 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, yes, 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.

Q: Max, despite the fact that you found out you were the child of incest, you seem to be the only sane person in your family. Do you play it a certain way because of that, or is that something you just ignore? Can you talk a little bit about how you interpret your character?

Max Thieriot: 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. And at this point he’s basically gone up as high as he has possibly ever gone, and now he’s really taking the fall this time. And 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.

Q: Kenny, what was it like acting opposite Freddie [Highmore] as Norman when he slipped into his “Norma” persona? That scene was amazing.

Kenny Johnson: Yes, it was pretty wild. He was able to filter that whole thing… 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, it just makes it… I just find it pretty awesome to react to that and to go with it. And he really gets into his… his Norman character. It’s pretty scary.

Q: For Max, how early did you know that — for sure — Caleb was Dylan’s father, and how did that affect your performance this season?

Max Thieriot: 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, it was… 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. And I think… I don’t know… 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 3 – 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…I was like, he’s not a superhuman. He’s just crazy.

Kenny Johnson: You were getting smacked around. He just wears the beating you give him.

Max Thieriot: Exactly.

Kenny Johnson: That was funny, man.

Q: Max, your character has really 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 you still remain sympathetic?

Max Thieriot: 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.

See Several Stills from Bates Motel Episode 2.05 - The Escape Artist


MORE about “Bates Motel” from Max Thieriot and Kenny Johnson on the NEXT page!


Max Thieriot and Kenny Johnson Talk Incest, Drug Wars, and Family Dynamics at Bates MotelQ: Kenny, right from the start Caleb has been this monster from Norma’s past. Would you say there’s any hope of redemption with your character, or is he past the point of no return, no forgiveness?

Kenny Johnson: 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 yes, 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, I’ve got my own history between Frances and Ray — which are our parents — and ourselves growing up in Akron, Ohio, and then she’s got hers. And I’ve 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 – yes, 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.

Q: Can you give us any hints as to what we can expect, specifically, from the episode that’s coming up [“The Escape Artist”] Monday night?

Max Thieriot: Well, obviously the Bates family is in shambles right now. Everybody’s torn apart. Norman has just had this wild, 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 5 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.

Q: 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 Thieriot: I think the thing is… 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. And so… 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 it’s this constant ‘Is he going to lose it right here, or what’s he going to do?’

Q: In terms of other new members of the cast for the season, how has it been working with them? Michael Vartan, Kathleen Robertson. What is the role they’re playing, and how do they affect the dynamics of the Bates family throughout the season?

Max Thieriot: 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 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 you get to see — when we’re only really ever seeing these three members of this family — a new one, 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 it’s going to mean something.

Kenny Johnson: I was going to say 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… throw [in] another whole character that came out of the blue that nobody knew about [just] to throw a wrench into what already exists, which is so rich on screen.

Max Thieriot: Yes, and I think all the other characters bring in… obviously, everybody’s affecting the lives of these characters. And Kathleen 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.

Q: To elaborate on an earlier question, have we seen the last of Caleb this season?

Kenny Johnson: Next!

Max Thieriot: We can’t tell you that. *all laughing*

Kenny Johnson: [No,] you haven’t seen the last of Caleb… I can’t tell you when, but you haven’t seen the last of Caleb.

Q: Max, I just wanted to ask you… should we be worried for Dylan given how the drug situation is playing out and also that he may be in not the best state of mind moving forward?

Max Thieriot: 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. And 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. And as he’s climbing the ranks of his business; the higher you get on the totem pole, the more your head’s worth.

Q: In Season 1 we learned this weird town, White Pine Bay, has secrets. Are we going to see more of that explored in the second season?

Max Thieriot: 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.


Our thanks to Max and Kenny for their time, moderator Perry Seaman, Jaime Yandolino, Universal Television- NBC, and A&E Networks.

“Bates Motel” Episode 2.05 – “The Escape Artist” (airs 3/31/14)
Norman (Freddie Highmore) trusts Cody (Paloma Kwiatkowski) with a family secret. Dylan (Max Thieriot) finds himself fighting for his life as Zane’s (Michael Eklund) war escalates.

Meanwhile, Norma (Vera Farmiga) makes a deal with a mysterious man (Michael O’Neill) to help stop the bypass.

For more info visit “Bates Motel” on AEtv.com, “like” “Bates Motel” on Facebook, and stop by “Bates Motel” on Instagram.

See Several Stills from Bates Motel Episode 2.05 - The Escape Artist

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