Exclusive Interview: Carlton Cuse on ‘Bates Motel’ Season 2 and ‘The Strain’

Bates Motel Season 2

I saw Carlton Cuse at the Fox/FX party for the Television Critics Association. The next day he would be presenting the first footage from “The Strain,” the TV series based on the Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan book.
Of course I asked him about “Bates Motel,” now entering its second season, as well. Since “Bates Motel” comes on first I’ll move that stuff to the top. Of course it’s always hard to get specifics out of Cuse, but he was gracious enough to be vague with me. 
CraveOnline: How is the second season of “Bates Motel” going?
Carlton Cuse: I love “Bates Motel” season two. It sort of starts in a very happy place which I think leads to sort of a wonderful counterfunctional effect as we go downstream. I think Vera Farmiga is just one of the greatest actresses of all time. Freddie [Highmore] is great and Max Thieriot is great this year. We had a really wonderful experience making the show and people that have seen episodes really like them. I’m really excited about it. I think the show’s really finding it’s legs now.
Has Nestor Carbonell’s character really asserted himself now, and does that carry through since the season finale?
Oh yeah, Nestor has a great role in season two and I think the interesting and compelling, enigmatic Gary Cooper-esque kind of thing that he does is on display in full force.
He really reveals himself to her in the finale so I figured that was a turning point.
We get more and I think particularly the stuff with Nestor and Norma this year is gold. 
You must have heard by now about Damon Lindelof’s session for “The Leftovers.” He described the difference between having a serialized series where characters were actively looking for answers, and now his idea is to do that sort of series focusing on characters who are just living with it. Had he ever expressed this to you?
Damon and I get together, we have lunch, all the time. We talk about all sorts of stuff. I think what Damon is doing for “The Leftovers” is doing what’s absolutely right for that show. I think that he is an amazing storyteller and I have no doubt that “The Leftovers” is going to be a fantastic show.
Was that a distinction that ever occurred to you?
I think that every show has a different engine that drives it. “Lost” was a mystery. That was inherently what the show was, so there were a variety of mysteries that the characters were puzzling their way through. But every show has a different engine so I don’t think there’s any hard and fast rule. As a storyteller you try to find what’s the best way to tell the story of this particular show. I think as a showrunner, you try to find what is the best way I can tell the story that I want to tell here?
Had you read "The Strain" before you got involved?
I had actually. I read the first book just as a fanboy. I was introduced to Guillermo through our mutual agents. I love the book and I knew Chuck Hogan a little bit and I thought it was just great, his writing. I loved it.
Did it strike you as having TV potential when you read it?
When I first read it I just read it because I thought it was a good story, and then when it was presented, yeah, I felt like it did have potential for television. It would be an incredibly hard story to reduce to a single two hour film, and I think that was Guillermo’s take on it. I think Guillermo really felt the only way to do justice to the story was to do it as a television series. That was how we got put together because Guillermo is a feature film guy and I’m a TV guy. It made a lot of sense for us. I love the material and I also think that Guillermo is a fantastic filmmaker. I love his stuff and I just felt like it was a good marriage and it turned out to be true.
Is he directing any episodes?
Guillermo directed the pilot and I think knocked it out of the park. The pilot is incredibly cinematic and compelling. I’m really impressed with it. 
Did he set up a tough act to follow?
It is a tough act to follow for sure, but I think that that’s okay. That’s not uncommon in television. The scope and scale of the pilot is extraordinary, but I think that what happens in any series is that you follow the pilot with great character storytelling. You plunge deeper into the story so maybe you’re not as scope-y but your storytelling is deeper and more specific as you have all those additional hours to flesh out your characters and your narrative.
Are there any things from the book that you’re still not going to be able to fit in the series?
Yeah, the series is not a literal recitation of the books. We took the books as a starting point and both Chuck and Guillermo have been incredibly lacking in preciousness about the work. The books are a starting point and everybody understands that a novel is one thing and a television series is the other. We collectively have made a bunch of decisions that will make the series quite a bit different than the books, but I think absolutely appropriately for the process of adaptation.
Could it be as drastic as “True Blood” or “Vampire Diaries” which have gone pretty far away from the books?
I don’t know the books in the cases of those shows, so I can’t compare. I don’t know how far afield they drifted. I think that you wouldn’t watch this and go “What the hell?” but I think that you wouldn’t also watch it and feel like “I’ve seen this.” There are new characters, there are lots of new scenes. There’s lots of added material. We’ve taken the first book and are turning into 13 hours of television so there’s room for a lot of additional narrative and character development.
What happened to the Civil War series you were working on?
I’m still working it. It’s something that’s incredibly close to my heart. I had a fantastic experience collaborating with Randall Wallace on writing the pilot and we’re still hoping it’ll get made. 
Lastly, I always ask you this, when am I going to get my “Martial Law” complete first and second season DVDs?
I have no idea what the heck is going on with that. You need to talk to somebody at CBS or Fox because they’re the companies that produced it. I wish they would come out on DVD. I don’t know why that hasn’t happened.