When we sat down to talk to the actress about her latest role in the rom-com At Middleton, we quite honestly weren't expecting to get such, well, commitment. We could almost see the wheels turn inside the Mind Of Vera.
Perhaps it's because this project was a true passion for her — she stars opposite her real-life kid sister, Taissa (yep, from American Horror Story!). The two play an adorably opposite mother-daughter duo on a tenser-than-tense college visit — one that sees Vera's character sneaking off with a fellow parent (Andy Garcia) to — you guessed it — fall in love.
We couldn't resist getting the dish on this refreshingly genuine Hollywood family and the actress' side gig as Norma Bates, TV's creepiest mom. Read our conversation with caution, because you just might come away with a brand-new celebrity obsession.
What was it like working with your sister on this movie? You play a mother and daughter — was that a weird dynamic?
"You know, if I had to give a summation, it was just heartfelt. The story kind of wafts in and out of our reality — there are 21 years between us, so I'm a kind of a role model-slash-surrogate mom for her. I'd like to think I've had a hand in shaping her and guiding her. And, all of a sudden these amazing opportunities are coming her way and I was watching her just grow up and expand and explore. It's not bittersweet; it's pure sweetness for me.
But, at the same time, [I was] watching my mom who was on set learn to let go — and watching Taissa kind of forbid her to come on set and exile her to trailer life. Seeing my mom shut out made me feel for her, but I was also understanding that Taissa needs to learn her lines and feel carefree. It's bad enough that I'm her older sister and playing her mom and watching her every move."
So, it's safe to say you were more than happy to have her in this movie...
"I've directed her — I know she's capable — so selfishly I wanted to share a screen with her, so that's why I thought it was a no-brainer to cast her. There's a shorthand and a tactile quality that I don't have to fake if I'm playing her mother. If I wanna grab Taissa under my armpit and get my sweat on her forehead, she's not gonna say anything about it. I'm not gonna tiptoe around her because that's who we are to each other. In many ways it was so freeing."
So, she has American Horror Story and you have Bates Motel — is it a coincidence that horror ended up as the family business?
"Honestly, friends and family will attest to it, we grew up in a gentle and loving family. There's no deep or twisted secrets. Maybe it was too perfect of an existence that we kind of needed to explore the other side. I like to think of it, though, that we are maybe into dark subject matter. But, I look at Taissa and I think she's a beam of light within that darkness. And, that's more exciting to play than being the darkness."
"Well, I think they're really spiritual roles. For me, what I hold more in common is the spirituality of it. We're drawn to these projects that aren't just skin-deep, they go soul-deep. Although, there's a sense of comedy on the outside of At Middleton, but really at the core there's something quite vital."
When you're shooting Bates, are there ever times where you find yourself getting freaked out by the subject matter?
"Well, only because you're using your mind and body...to convey these things. I have an on- and off-switch — even my memory has an on- and off-switch. I'll go full-fledged into a role and then you ask me a month later what it's about and I literally have to reread the script. I have a hard enough time breaking up a scene, especially if it's emotional — God help me. Like, if we have a half-hour lunch break, I need to get all my stuff over with first, because I will not remember the scene when we come back from lunch.
So, in those moments it's arduous because the roles are demanding emotionally and there's always some sort of crisis of the spirit. There's some depravity and some dark exploration of this woman who's tortured and who has a very unfortunate childhood and is just trying to survive. You are the instrument that's being played, so does it affect me? Yeah. After ten episodes I'm exhausted and winded and I don't want to look at it for another year.
As much fun as I have with this [show], part of the joy is the collaboration — just being near Freddie [Highmore] and Max [Thieriot]. It's like, there's a sanctity of those relationships and those friendships, so in between shots you're giggling and keeping it light and there are really valid friendships that are the perks of the job."
You have the trifecta of Oscars-Globes-Emmys. Does it affect you when you take on movies or shows?
"No, I've always had the same criteria. That's not a barometer; it's the last thing you think about. It's not enough of a motivator to me, honestly. I just need to meet an unforgettable woman in the form of a female character — it's usually someone I can learn from or someone whose qualities I aspire to have or aspire to learn from. There's just gotta be something head-turning about a gal.
Now, especially with my commitments and responsibilities as a mother, the stakes are higher, man. It's like, 'Do I want to live as this woman?' That's why Norma Bates is tricky. I wanna be rid of her after ten episodes. But, there is an aspect that's very endearing to me and very innocent despite all the depravity that she's encountered in life. It is balanced enough for me, that character, to make me want to come back."
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