“Bates Motel" 10 p.m. Monday, A&E
PASADENA, Calif. — Before she had her two children, actress Vera Farmiga used to knit her husband a sweater every year. It was not the artist in her that compelled her to do it, it was the peasant.
Farmiga’s parents are from Ukraine and she grew up folk dancing, playing the piano and steeping in the enchanting tales her paternal grandfather would spin.
“I just remember him holding me, my best friend, my cousin — who’s a year younger than me — and just telling us stories about princesses — and kind of living vicariously through these other girls’ experiences of life ... Stories are important, not only for entertainment but as a social platform. And I guess there’s a pride in me, being a storyteller, a sincere joy," she said.
She’s telling a whopper now. Farmiga stars as Norman Bates’ mother in “Bates Motel," a 10-part series airing on A&E that serves as a prequel to the classic film, “Psycho."
Here she reveals a very different woman from the one we had imagined from the withered apparition glimpsed in the film. Farmiga plays a loving but determined mother of a teenager who buys a decaying motel in the hopes of starting a new life after her husband’s untimely death.
While Farmiga’s children are only 2 and 4, she’s a fiercely devoted mother, too. “Right now my focus is my children and it’s just stimulating them and shaping them, molding and shaping them to be the best little people that they can," she said.
“For weekends now it’s not about my needs but my children’s needs. My children’s needs ARE my needs."
She admits that it’s difficult combining a demanding career and child rearing. But her husband, former musician and now film producer Renn Hawkey, shares the responsibilities. “My husband steps in and he’s daddy day-care if we end up with no help. He knows if I can’t do it, then he’s the second best. We switch off. If I’m not working, then I am there."
She occasionally contemplates quitting, she confesses. “Because it really depletes me and I want as much energy as I can to love my family to the best of my ability. And when I’m not up Saturday morning 6 a.m. with them, it’s a bummer because I’ve been working till 3 a.m. the night before. But I’m not complaining. It’s a really joyful career. And it comes with many perks and an amazing quality of life. But I try not to be that (negative) person. I try to be grateful for it and stay positive — yeah, it’s depleting."
Unlike most actresses, Farmiga’s not obsessed about her next job. “I’m a provider for my family so in that respect, sure," she said. “But I also think there’s a handful of other things that I’m interested in that if I ever got bored or complacent, I would look elsewhere. That’s just my nature. I’ve always been a kind of roll-up-your-sleeves and let’s-be-passionate-about-what-you-do (person)."
That brings her back to the sweater-a-year. One of Farmiga’s passions is raising angora goats, producing wool and designing and knitting sweaters. She’s also fascinated with landscape architecture and is an accomplished cook.
She downplays her early struggles. “Yes, early in my career when I was auditioning there were a lot of close calls — too many close calls. There was a lot of rejection, but I always felt like I was in the mix.
“Early in the career, sure, I fought for it. I suppose I never called myself an ‘actress’ unless I was working. It wasn’t important to me, that moniker."
She worked as a secretary for Smith-Barney when she was trying to get established. “I was living very humbly and lived discreetly enough to afford (it.) I suppose it’s my peasantry; I don’t need much. I could always farm my own vegetables in little canisters."
But hard times, she says, have nothing to do with work. “They have to do with moments of change or relationships change. I’m such a cup-half-full kind of a gal that to me the hardest moments are coping with death of friends and family and sickness, to do with family and friends."
Aside from finding greater purpose in motherhood, Farmiga says she’s also found the love of her life in her husband. “He’s my best friend. To have a best friend where you can truly show every aspect of yourself and not hide — even the nitty-gritty — to have that unconditional promise of love is really special and holy and something that needs to be treated as such and preserved as such. I cherish him so much. He’s an angel."