Freddie Highmore, the star of America’s ABC smash hit medical drama The Good Doctor, made a whirlwind visit to Australia in March to discuss the show’s success.
ABC’s most-watched freshman series since Lost (2004), The Good Doctor follows the journey of Dr. Shaun Murphy (Highmore), a resident surgeon who has autism and savant syndrome. Exploring the scepticism and prejudices of the hospital’s board and staff towards Shaun, and his personal journey in proving to his colleagues that his extraordinary medical gifts will save lives, Highmore says The Good Doctor is challenging common misconceptions.
“I think one of the stereotypes that we hoped to confront when making this show is the idea that people with autism are somehow emotionless or devoid of emotion, or don’t experience as wide a or as broad a range of emotions as neurotypical people do. And of course that’s complete nonsense.”
Already a celebrated television actor following his success playing Norman Bates in the highly acclaimed series Bates Motel, Highmore’s portrayal of Shaun earned him his first Golden Globe and Teen Choice Awards nominations for best actor in a TV drama series.
Discussing his Golden Globe nomination, Highmore says, “It was a lovely moment of recognition for the show in general, especially when I was on set when I found out the news, and it seemed like a lovely way to celebrate a collective achievement.”
Produced by David Shore of long-running US medical drama series House fame, The Good Doctor has engaged millions of viewers globally; enjoying huge ratings success here in Australia on Channel Seven.
“I’m not sure that it is the medical drama aspect itself that has made the show successful. Obviously David knows how to write medical shows, but it’s funny, because we laugh together about the fact that it often doesn’t seem like we’re making a medical drama,” says Highmore. “I mean, yes there’s medical intrigue and storylines every week, but they seem to be more the hanger on which to place these more interesting character-driven moments for the main people in the show.
“I think more so, that perhaps in today’s world, there’s something about Shaun’s hopeful outlook on humanity that has made people want to watch it. There’s so much negativity that’s so easy to come by, and having this non-judgemental person like Shaun who’s optimistic and hopeful is refreshing. He’s not an anti-hero.”
Absent from the big screen since 2017’s Almost Friends, 26-year-old Highmore, who started acting in films at age seven, is enjoying the character development opportunities that starring in a TV series presents.
“I’ve really enjoyed being able to spend more time with characters, and that’s what you get in television, or at least on Bates Motel and now on The Good Doctor.
“This first season of The Good Doctor was 18 episodes, and there were ten episodes per season on Bates Motel, and I think both Norman and Shaun are such rich, complex characters, that you need more time to tell their story properly, without it feeling rushed or forced in a way that it might if you had to condense it all into ninety minutes.
“Shaun is very internal, quiet and insular, and doesn’t necessarily give much away emotionally, so [playing him] was about finding a way in which the audience can connect with him and go on that emotional journey with him, whilst remaining true to who he is as a character.”
In March, ABC announced a second season for The Good Doctor, with filming commencing in June.
“It’s great,” says Highmore of the renewal. “We’ve all enjoyed working on the show, and I’m excited to get back and start another season.”