ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY – Playing a doctor has been somewhat of a relief for Freddie Highmore, who spent five seasons murdering people as Norman Bates on A&E’s Bates Motel. “At the end of the day I go home and feel all right,” he tells EW. “It’s the payoff of having spent so many years killing people — now I get to save them.”
If his new co-workers allow him to, that is.
Highmore didn’t expect to find another television project so soon after Bates Motel — and by soon, we mean he read the script for The Good Doctor three days after his character Norman was killed off. “Having been fortunate enough to be on a TV show that lasted five seasons, you realize you need to choose the right thing,” he says.
What immediately drew him to this project — which is based on the 2013 Korean drama Good Doctor — was Shore’s sincere yet never saccharine writing, as well as the character. Although Shaun struggles to communicate with others, he isn’t devoid of emotions, which is how people with autism are often depicted on TV.
“What’s great about Shaun is that he has those moments of excitement and moments of joy and moments of happiness mixed in with the way he struggles,” says Highmore, who won over Shore with the depth of humanity he displayed on Bates Motel.
Throughout the season, we’ll see Shaun deal with a number of obstacles, both medical and more mundane. As he contends with the hospital’s arrogant head of surgery Dr. Neil Melendez (Nicholas Gonzalez) and struggles to effectively communicate diagnoses to patients and colleagues alike, he’ll also learn how to deal with having a landlord, navigating office politics, and, of course, romance. For example, he’ll make a connection with fellow resident Dr. Claire Browne (Antonia Thomas), who “is one of the first to try and understand Shaun on a deeper level, as opposed to the superficial medical level,” Highmore says.
With the help of books, documentaries, and autism expert Melissa Reiner, who’s consulting on the show, Highmore hopes to bring some authenticity to his performance. However, he emphasizes this is just a story about one person.
“It’s an impossible task and somewhat ignorant to try and claim that we’re going to be representing, through one singular individual, all people who are on the spectrum and tell everyone’s stories,” he says.
Still, the prognosis seems positive.
The Good Doctor premieres Monday, Sept. 25 at 10 p.m. ET on ABC.
As Daniel Dae Kim departs his role on Hawaii Five-0, he embraces his producing career as EP of ABC’s new offering, The Good Doctor. The show centers on Freddie Highmore as Dr. Shaun Murphy, a pediatric surgeon diagnosed with autism. Having seen the show in its original 2013 incarnation in Korea, Kim felt it would work well for American viewers and set about developing it in the U.S.
“I loved the message of it, it was a very familiar genre to American audiences in that it’s a medical show,” he said. “That was the impetus for me to try and bring it over.”
The Good Doctor has some parallels with the show House, EP David Shore admitted. “There was speculation as we went along about Dr. House and we certainly didn’t shy away from that,” he said. “The characters though ultimately couldn’t be more different.”
Shore was quick to point out that much research and consultation was done before representing a person living with autism. “We saw a lot of doctors, we consulted with people, we’ve got people on the spectrum who we’re working with,” he said. “But he is a specific character, he’s not there to represent autism, he’s there to represent Dr. Shaun Murphy.”
Dr. Murphy exhibits savant traits, which are a highly unusual aspect of autism, but Shore assured reporters the show would work hard not to contribute to stereotyping. “Savant syndrome is rare, even within the community of people with autism,” he said, “I think it’s a legitimate question, and we want to make sure that we don’t represent him as being representative in any way.”
For Highmore, the character was a welcome change from his work on Bates Motel.
“It’s nice to save people after years of killing them,” he joked. “The character of course was a fascinating one, and it all starts on the page, what we are trying to do is moving away from perhaps the stereotypical versions of people with autism that have been shown on television and in certain movies in the past, the number one thing being that they are somehow devoid of emotion, that they don’t experience as broad a range of emotions as neurotypical people do, and of course that’s complete nonsense.”
Richard Schiff as Dr. Ira Glassman also feels the project is an important representation of autism. “I have a history with this particular challenge of autism with a couple of different people in my life,” he said. “I personally appreciate any person in real life that steps out of their way to save a life, so to speak, even if it’s psychologically.”
Freddie attended the 2017 ABC Upfront to promote his new series The Good Doctor, in New York City (May 16).