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Freddie Highmore on slipping into the skin of an autistic savant surgeon in 'The Good Doctor'

Freddie Highmore as Dr Shaun Murphy. Picture: Supplied

Freddie Highmore as Dr Shaun Murphy. Picture: Supplied

Published Oct 18, 2021


At 29, British actor Freddie Highmore has not only been embraced by Hollywood, but he’s also diversified his portfolio as an actor – by wearing the hats of writer, director and executive producer on the medical drama, “The Good Doctor”.

And he appears to be taking the challenges in his stride.

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During a recent Zoom interview, he unpacked his growth in front of, and behind the camera, on the show.

Once again, Highmore plays a character poles apart from the ones he played to date.

Cast as Dr Shaun Murphy, an autistic surgical resident, his savant abilities include a near-photographic recollection. His ability to pick up on minute details aids him greatly in proving himself to some superiors, who questioned his appointment at the illustrious San Jose St. Bonaventure Hospital.

He said: “It’s been really exciting to have been involved on that level. Shaun is such a nuanced complex character.

“So I’m very grateful to David Shore (”House“ showrunner), the way that he has welcomed me into the editing process, and is so focused on those small little details and small little moments, and helping to accentuate them in editing.”

Based on the 2013 Korean series of the same name, Daniel Dae Kim (“Hawaii Five-0” fame) bought the rights for his production company, 3AD.

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Freddie Highmore as Norman Bates, with Vera Farmiga as Norma Bates, in a scene from Bates Motel. Picture: Paul Drinkwater NBC

From season one, Shaun worked his way up the ranks from a resident to a trusted doctor.

On playing a character from an under-represented community in Hollywood, he explained: “I feel the like the most important thing to all of us was the portrayal of autism to be as authentic as possible.

“That meant a lot of research, whether that be documentaries or pieces of literature or, of course, the autism consultant that we had on board since the very beginning of the show, and she continues to work with us.

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“And, at the same time, I think part of that journey early on was recognising that Shaun was never going to represent everyone who was on the spectrum, and that we were here to hopefully raise awareness to autism but, ultimately, we are telling an individual story and the truthfulness of that, as opposed to trying to impossibly represent everyone who has autism through this one character.”

Prior to doing “The Good Doctor”, Highmore, who also has several big-screen releases under his belt – the more notable ones being “Finding Neverland”, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, “The Golden Compass”, “August Rush” and “The Spiderwick Chronicles”- Highmore created a stir when he slipped into the skin of Norman Bates in the psychological TV thriller, “Bates Motel”.

On switching tack from playing a terrifying to helpful character, Highmore shared: “We worked with the same crew, so there wasn’t as much upheaval like doing a show in a totally different place. The sense of routine and structure was there.

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The cast of ’The Good Doctor’. Picture: Supplied

“Of course, the characters were completely different.

“But I think that is what’s so exciting. I feel like you don’t want to end up playing the same parts again and again.

“It would be a bit dull for people watching, as well as for me. And so, I think the excitement was telling a completely different story, in a completely different world.”

As for the domino-effect Covid-19 had on the current season’s story arcs, he admitted: “At the start of season four, of course, we had episodes dedicated entirely to the pandemic and the response, and that felt like the thing to do: pay tribute to the real-life professionals, putting their lives at risk every day to keep all of us safe.

“I think it gave us a whole new respect for them and it feels like a great honour, really, to play a doctor on television at this time.”

As in real life, evolution is par for the course.

In the latest season, Shaun is engaged to Lea Dilallo (played by Paige Spara), who is the head of the hospital’s IT department. However, her parents aren’t in favour of their relationship.

He added: “I feel like Shaun has continued to evolve and change, grow as a person, and mature.

“I think his relationship with Lea is a good example of that.

“ Earlier on, there was a slightly more fun and frivolous take on it. In season four, they are hit with something very emotional and on a deeper level.

“And so Shaun is maturing and growing into his role as a doctor who is a bit more established with younger residents, that he has to take responsibility for and help out in some ways.

“The relaxed Shaun in season four is going to be challenged in season five. He is going to have to re-adapt.”

And by that, he means there is a nemesis on the horizon.

Highmore revealed: “The hospital gets bought by someone and so there is a lot of change, and Shaun is going to be the underdog once again, fighting against an institution that is shaken up a little bit.

“And the way he has adapted to the hospital is being challenged by this new person who comes in and changes the rules. It’s going to be an interesting nuanced battle.”

He hinted at the storytelling being quite layered, in that each of them has valid points but find themselves at a stalemate.

On a happier note, Shaun will be also tying the knot but, with that, comes more drama in the upcoming season.

“The Good Doctor” season 4 is on M-Net (DStv channel 101), on Mondays at 7.30pm.

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