From Pop Star to Horror Icon: Rihanna’s ‘Bates Motel’ Transformation

Who knew shouting out your favorite show during an interview could land you a role in its final season? Well, it can if you’re one of the world’s biggest pop stars, that is.

When the producers of Bates Motel read of Rihanna’s fandom in a Vanity Fair article, they did the unthinkable and reached out to her. Executive producer Kerry Ehrin figured that the singer would be too busy to get on the phone — never mind playing a part — but much to her surprise, Rihanna was game. And so it began. Rihanna, who was simultaneously shooting Ocean’s Eight, would take on the iconic role of Marion Crane.

Ehrin, director Nestor Carbonell, who also plays Sheriff Alex Romero on the show, and writer Erica Lipez teamed up to set the scene for Rihanna to make her debut on the show, paying close attention to her character arc. We spoke to Ehrin and Carbonell about the singer’s transformation — both physical and emotional — into Marion Crane. Read our Q&A with them here.

What was it like working with and directing Rihanna?
Nestor Carbonell: We knew her schedule was gonna be tight, coming off of “Ocean’s Eight,” so we knew we’d have limited time and quite a bit of material to shoot. She has a big presence this season. You could tell she was a fan of the show because she walked on set and she initially looked at us and smiled and called us by our character names. She was really invested in the show and in trying to come in seamlessly, which is a tricky thing to do for any actor on a show that’s been going for four years. But she very much wanted to feel that she was just another character on a show and not pulling eyeballs away from the story in any particular way.

Kerry Ehrin: And playing a regular woman who’s in love with a guy and doesn’t know why he won’t commit.

Are you both fans of her music?
N.C.: Absolutely. She’s unbelievable. She’s an extraordinary performer. So are my sons. They didn’t get to meet her, but they wanted to.

K.E.: “Love on the Brain” is on a loop on my phone.

N.C.: There you go.

Can you talk about her physical transformation into Marion Crane?
K.E.: She’s a very collaborative person and a very gracious person. The collaboration hugely included Monique Prudhomme, who’s our costume designer and who’s brilliant and always approaches character and costume from psychology. The goal was to make her feel like a regular woman who is working a regular job that wasn’t really getting ahead the way she wanted to and was in a relationship that was frustrating to her. She’s trying to figure these things out and solve these issues in her life. We wanted her look to reflect that. The thing about Rihanna is she’s stunningly charismatic on film. You can’t take your eyes off of her. But within that, we wanted to make her blend into the show and feel like a real part of it.

How did she do?
K.E.: One of the things that’s so moving about her as a singer and as a performer is how emotionally connected she is to what she’s doing. If you’ve been at one of her concerts, you just feel it. That’s the same kind of presence and rounded reality that she brings to “Bates.”

N.C.: What Rihanna brings is such a wonderful truth. It’s evident in how she is as a performer. It’s a gift.

How true did you want to stay to Janet Leigh’s role in “Psycho?”
N.C.: That’s one of the fun things about having Rihanna and the role of Marion Crane come into the show, is the spin on all of it. It’s not gonna be the original Janet Leigh role; it’s gonna be a version of it. My gosh, she’s so hardworking. In five days alone, she had the monstrous task of doing, I think, 35 pages and working with multiple directors. It was a tall order and boy, did she come to the party.

What do you think of her crossing over into TV and film playing actual characters?
K.E.: It’s a fantastic expansion of what she loves to do. She’s an artist.

N.C.: It’s not a cameo. This is a true character that has to navigate a pretty substantial emotional arc. She did a phenomenal job and I can absolutely see her continuing on and doing a lot more of this. As Kerry pointed out, this is a woman who, as in the movie, is a simple woman, a hardworking woman, who wants love.

K.E.: Much like myself. I’m simple and hardworking and I just want love.

Any particular stories from working with Rihanna that stood out to you?
N.C.: I love that she kept calling me Sheriff Romero. That was really fun.

K.E.: “I’m being directed by Sheriff Romero.”

N.C.: There were moments when I would try to get her to do something and would say, “How about, try this.” And she would smile and she goes,“Of course, Sheriff.”

Anything else you’d like to add?
K.E.: Just that we’re really, really excited about this season. It was a labor of love. We’re gonna go out with a bang and we’re really grateful that Rihanna joined us and made that a particularly big bang.

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