With Bates Motel having the makings of a hit on A&E, it might get slightly confusing on all the actors who have played Norman Bates. Truthfully, the list is getting comparable to actors who have played The Terminator’s John Connor. Don’t worry, we are here for you to become as up on this subject the one time in your life you will be asked about as when you say “No, the Dick Grayson Robin did not die. That was the Jason Todd Robin who was replaced by the Tim Drake Robin before the Damian Wayne Robin… DUH.” So, here you go for that one moment of coffee house geekiness in which you get to feel intelligent and smarmy. We’re here for you.
1. The Original
Anthony Perkins was the original Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. In Robert Bloch’s original novel, Bates was a middle aged guy with a gut. In short, Bates was more like the man who inspired him which was serial killer Ed Gein. Of course, after Perkins played the role, every actor after Bates simply had to be a skinny brown haired guy acting like Anthony Perkins. Perkins was that influential in the role. Of course, if Vince Vaughn was to play the role tomorrow, there is a more than decent chance that Vaughn would be the first guy to accurately match Robert Bloch’s original description.
2. The Unknown
If you have been to the Alfred Hitchcock museum at Universal Studios in Orlando, then you may have seen a short film in which Anthony Perkins claims he did not actually do the crime. Apparently, Perkins had other commitments during that time and they used some guy off of the set to be a stand in for one of the most famous scenes of all time. Unlike in The Princess Bride, no one decided to actually record any of this for posterity and the guys name was lost to history. Who stabbed or pretended to stab Janet Leigh in the shower? As they said in JFK , it’s a mystery wrapped in an enigma. Not even the stabber knows.
3. The Stand-In
If Anthony Perkins is the “land war in Asia” version of Norman Bates, the Kurt Paul would qualify as “Never argue with a Sicilian when death is on the line” version of Norman Bates. Paul was a stand in for Perkins in Psycho II and Psycho III for stunts involving Norman. You can translate the word ‘stunts’ as ‘having to fight people while wearing an old lady’s dress.’ In Psycho IV: The Beginning, Paul would get a small speaking part. In the 1980s, Paul became something of the Anthony Perkins Lite of being Norman Bates. He only had one calorie but he tended to get a little more work. Paul would actually parody Bates in an episode of Sledge Hammer! as well as play a version of Norman in Knight Rider of all things. In 1987, Paul would star in a television movie / pilot attempt at a series called Bates Motel. This is not to be confused with the current A&E series. In the 1987 version, Norman was grown and had a roommate. Yes, try and imagine the Odd Couple meets a wacky Jeffrey Dahmer. In the 1980s, they gave Manimal a season and not this?
4. The Kid From E.T.
Lets face, there are precisely two things that you know Henry Thomas for. You know that he played Eliot in E.T. and you know that he wore a barbed wire blanket in Legends of the Fall. In Legends of the Fall, you may have remarked ‘Hey, aren’t they riddling that kid from E.T. with bullets?’ That is why you might want to go back and watch Psycho IV: The Beginning. That is where you get to see young Henry attempt to not be ‘the kid from E.T.’ while getting some good old fashioned forced feminization and momma Norma smearing him with lipstick. Yeah, who could have guessed that would turn out wrong?
5. Norman Goes Old School
If we were to tell you that Psycho was going to have an actor who later did Old School and added masturbation, you would probably be more convinced that was the parody than a stunt double doing a comedic turn in Sledge Hammer. However, Gus Van Sant and crew were completely serious even with hiring lesbian (at the time) Anne Heche in the Janet Leigh role. Van Sant wanted to make a shot by shot remake of Hitchcock’s classic to get immersed in the Hitchcock process. Two things occurred. First, Van Sant actually did start to make better movies after he made Psycho. Second, Vaughn would learn the value of jerking off and people that jerk off regularly as an audience for all of his future projects.
6. The Copy Of A Copy
In the 2012 film Hitchcock, James D’Arcy plays Anthony Perkins interviewing to be Norman Bates. That means that D’Arcy is supposedly the Norman Bates in the final version of the film. You never actually see much of the film Psycho in Hitchcock because the entire point is that Hitchcock is about the making of Psycho. The thing about it is that if you want to get just a little ‘meta,’ the actors in Hitchcock could in theory re-assemble to make a really good faithful re-make of the original. Imagine if they actually made Psycho with Scarlet Johansson as Marion Crane, Jessica Biel as Lila Crane, James D’Arcy as Norman Bates, and Josh Yeo as Sam Loomis. At the very least, it might wash out the bad taste left by Gus Van Sant’s science project.
7. Charlie And The Murder Factory
Who would have ever thought that Henry Thomas’ turn in Psycho IV: The Beginning would ever amount to something akin to a proud tradition? Apparently, hiring former child actors to play Norman Bates is now the new black. In A&E’s series Bates Motel (again not to be confused with the 1987 TV Movie) Freddie Highmore takes over the role of Norman Bates. Now, Norman is a normal high school teenager with a cell phone whose Mom happens to hack up the former owner of the hotel in the first episode. Its not easy being a teenager these days. This kitsch factor to it all is that Highmore was Charlie Bucket in Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as well as Arthur in Arthur and the Invisibles. That means that the kid from Wendell and Vinnie might want to go ahead and start shopping in the junior miss department right now.