'Bates Motel' Bosses Preview Rihanna's Debut as Marion Crane

Rihanna Freddie Highmore Bates Motel - Publicity - H 2017
Cate Cameron

There are few roles more iconic than that of Marion Crane. The character, original portrayed by Janet Leigh in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 groundbreaking horror flick Psycho, wasn’t just the first leading lady to be killed before a film’s halfway point; she was also the character that opened the door for infinite iterations of horrific shower scenes to come in film and TV alike.

On Monday night, Bates Motel is putting a new twist on the Marion Crane character when it welcomes Rihanna as the wayward motel guest. The Psycho prequel, which is currently in its fifth and final season, will introduce the character in the first of a two-part episode, “Dreams Die First,” before concluding the storyline in next week’s “Marion.”

Fans of the horror series have long wondered when the Psycho world would intertwine with the characters set forth in the show. Heading into the final stretch of episodes in the series, the move finally made sense to co-showrunners Kerry Ehrin and Carlton Cuse.

“As part of the grand plan we always talked about having Marion Crane enter the world of our show during the final season,” Cuse tells THR. “We spent a lot of time talking, just sitting on the couches in my office talking about stories and ideas and stuff.”

Adds Ehrin: “We both have watched Psycho a few times. The story is very simple in Psycho so it’s not like The Usual Suspects; there’s not that much to absorb out of the basic story beats. So that wasn’t super front-and-center [in writing the episodes]. This season as we were breaking stories, it was more about trying to find a way to bring Psycho into Bates Motel in a way that was really meaningful to Bates Motel but also allowed us to drop in and visit Psycho.”

The result is a new twist on the classic storyline that audiences know all too well. In order to properly unroll that twist, Rihanna became an integral part of Cuse and Ehrin’s plan; the singer had revealed in a Vanity Fair interview that she was a fan of the show, which opened up the doors for the producers to begin courting her.

“All of these things require a creative conversation. Once it became clear that she was interested in exploring the idea, Kerry and I got on the phone with her,” Cuse says. “We pitched what our idea was and she was very responsive. In any situation like this, you have to make sure you’re on the same page creatively and we had a really good conversation with her. That went a long way towards us making this happen.”

In order to capture the right tone and make the singer feel comfortable on set, the producers solicited full-time Bates player Nestor Carbonell (who plays Romero) and Philip Abraham to direct “Dreams Die First” and “Marion,” respectively.  

“Philip is just one of our very best directors,” Cuse says. “We had Rihanna and we wanted to make sure she was completely taken care of with someone we trusted and who had proven to have a really great understanding of our show and the world of our show. He’s really good with actors and we felt like we could put Rihanna with him and she would be in great hands.”

The same was true for Carbonell, who had already helmed episodes in seasons three and four. “Likewise with Nestor, who actors just love,” Ehrin says.

“As an actor, Nestor has this incredible empathy for the process and is super incisive about giving actors notes,” Cuse agrees. “It felt like it was the perfect combination.”

In terms of actually scripting the episodes, the producers felt it was important to honor both the show and the movie without doing a disservice to either. That added an extra layer of pressure in the writers’ room as they got going on the huge task.  

“It was a lot of pressure to make the appearance have a point as opposed to like, ‘Hey, we’re doing Psycho,’” Ehrin says. “That was really important to us. In the end we felt happy with where we got with it, just in terms of telling Norma and Norman’s story and bringing Marion Crane into that loop and having it all kind of lead to a meaningful conclusion.”  

Bates Motel airs Mondays at 10 p.m. on A&E. “Dreams Die First” airs March 20 and “Marion” airs March 27.

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Twitter: @amber_dowling