Tag Archives: The Good Doctor

Higher ground

British actor Freddie Highmore made his name in feature films and as a young Norman Bates in Psycho prequel series Bates Motel. He explains why his starring role in ABC medical drama The Good Doctor is his biggest challenge yet.

At the age of just 27, Freddie Highmore is already an industry veteran with a slew of box-office hits and two decades of work under his belt. But it’s his latest role, as genius surgeon Shaun Murphy in The Good Doctor, which is winning him some of the biggest plaudits of his career thus far.

The British actor plays the shy autistic savant – who can’t look people in the eye but is able to come up with ingenious ways around complex medical problems – with an authentic delicacy and passion that has helped make the show a huge hit around the world.

Freddie Highmore in The Good Doctor

“Shaun is probably the most challenging character I have ever played,” says Highmore, who first found fame in feature films Finding Neverland and Charlie & the Chocolate Factory. “There was an awareness from the start that this was a story we wanted to do correctly and not mess up, because it feels like it has a wider importance rather than just being a television show in its own right.

“We have a full-time consultant on board to help us with the autism side of Shaun’s character, but autism is just one aspect of what defines Shaun. We have taken care to portray autism authentically while also being aware that he can never represent everyone who is on the spectrum.

“We are telling this one unique, individual story but, at the same time, the letters I get from people with autism saying how the show has inspired them are the most meaningful things about the job.”

The Good Doctor is based on the Korean medical drama of the same name, the international potential of which was first identified by Korean-American actor Daniel Dae Kim (Lost), who also stars in the show as Dr Jackson Han. Kim struggled to find a home for the format until Sony Pictures Television expressed an interest and brought David Shore, creator of House, on board. It was subsequently ordered to series by US network ABC in 2017.

Highmore, who demonstrated his full range in thriller Bates Motel, a five-season prequel to Alfred Hitchcock’s seminal horror Pyscho, was an obvious choice to play the lead in The Good Doctor, and the actor admits he relishes taking on challenging roles. “I am always drawn to interesting characters, and Shaun is unlike anything we have seen before on television,” he says. “I like that he offers up a different version of masculinity. He’s not an alpha male.”

The actor, who in the flesh is an interesting mix of shyness and confidence, has always wanted to be more than just the leading man – and having directed and written episodes for Bates Motel, he does the same again for The Good Doctor, in addition to serving as a producer.

Highmore’s Shaun Murphy is a genius autistic surgeon

“When you spend eight months of a year on a project and devote so much of your time trying to make the show as good as you possibly can, it feels natural to want to contribute in other ways,” Highmore says. “I’ve enjoyed being involved on different levels and getting to write and direct as well as produce. It’s exciting to be able to have the chance to influence something of the wider process and also getting to learn from David Shore.”

Highmore wrote the opener of season two and directed the 15th episode. He says that, for his colleagues, there is an easy way to tell where Freddie the actor ends and Freddie the director starts – he changes accents.

“Apparently I direct in a British accent,” laughs the Londoner, who interrupted his Hollywood career to do a degree at Cambridge University. “Normally when I’m on set, I try and stay in an American accent as much as possible. But the British one comes to me naturally when I’m directing.”

Highmore has spent much of the past eight years in Vancouver – the filming location for both Bates Motel and The Good Doctor – and is already preparing for more time in a city he regards as his second home after a third season of the latter drama was commissioned before the second had even finished airing. Season three is due to launch next week.

“A lot of the crew on The Good Doctor also worked with me on Bates Motel, so I have shorthand with them,” he says. “And because the cast is supportive and we have got to know each other so well after an intense few months, I know they all want me to succeed, and that really helps me. I feel very grounded in Vancouver because I know it so well.”

The actor previously starred in Psycho prequel series Bates Motel

Highmore admits he can’t reveal much about what will happen in the third season, not least because he and the fellow writers are yet to sit down and discuss it. As well as working with a team of researchers to come up with interesting medical stories for Shaun and his colleagues to solve, the production can also look to David Renault, one of the team’s writers and a former doctor, to ensure the medical and the personal merge just as they would in real life.

“As with all good dramas that have a story of the week, the balance is about finding an interesting and dramatic plot that will reflect more widely on the characters people like,” says Highmore. “This means you can investigate your characters on a deeper, higher-stakes level, but it’s important that doesn’t feel gratuitous or forced. Because it’s in a medical setting, where so much of it is about life and death, you are pushing people – the patients and the surgeons – to the extremes of what humans are pushed to. Because it’s happening on a daily basis, that makes for an interesting exploration of character.”

While it will be more of the same in season three – Shaun and his fellow surgeons battling difficult medical problems while navigating their often-problematic personal lives – viewers are gradually learning more about Shaun. For Highmore, the character’s quiet and gradual evolution is one of the highlights of making the show, partly because it’s in contrast to the madness happening around him.

“What I love about the show is that while Shaun necessarily evolves and changes as an individual, that is not done in a melodramatic way,” the actor adds. “We end season two on an emotional high; Shaun is happy because he has asked someone out and she has said yes. It reminds us that the interesting, happy, fun, joyful moments in life aren’t necessarily the extreme ones you can get in the life-and-death situations of surgery but, ultimately, in the small wins we all experience.”

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New Dae

Lost and Hawaii Five-0 star Daniel Dae Kim tells DQ that while times are changing for non-white actors as TV dramas around the globe become increasingly diverse, there’s still work to be done.

Daniel Dae Kim is extremely comfortable in his own skin. As he takes to the ‘stage’ (some stools) for an ‘In conversation with…’ event during his role as a juror at the 29th Singapore International Film Festival, he radiates a serene authority.

It shouldn’t be surprising from a veteran actor and star of two of the US’s most recognisable multi-season network shows, Lost and Hawaii Five-0. But considering the barriers he has encountered – and continues to encounter – in his career, about which he talks candidly, no one could blame him if he did doubt himself.

By the time he joined the cast of Lost, as South Korean fisherman Jin-Soo Kwon, he was used to being on casts that were nearly all white, because it was the norm. And when actors from ethnic minority backgrounds were cast in major US productions, they were often tangential characters, a foil for the white, male lead.

Daniel Dae Kim (centre) as Jin-Soo Kwon in Lost

“Things are different now, thankfully, and we’re finally seeing roles where it’s not so understood who’s the lead of the show,” he says. “And if you have a horror movie and you have one black character and one Asian character, you’re not sure that the Asian character and the black character are going to die first.”

Jin, who featured in all six seasons of Lost, remains Kim’s toughest role to date. Despite his Korean heritage, Kim was brought up in the US from the age of one, and did not speak his birth nation’s language. On top of having to speak Korean, a little-known fact is that Jin was supposed to have been killed off in Lost’s first season, highlighting how competitive the business is.

“You’re always auditioning even when you have a job,” he tells DQ, noting that acting in another language presented a host of new challenges. “It tripled my workload because I was learning a lot of translations. Speaking a second language is different from acting in a second language. The fact I stayed around for as long as I did, I feel very fortunate. It made the extra work I put in worth it.”

With a strong work ethic and a 121-episode broadcast network smash under his belt – along with numerous roles across television and film – Kim might have expected leading roles to be forthcoming. A part in CBS’s reimagining of classic police procedural Hawaii Five-0 duly emerged, but Kim says his race again proved an issue.

Kim also starred in CBS’s Hawaii-0

“When I first met on Hawaii Five-0, I asked the lead producer if I could maybe be [leads] Danno or McGarrett, and he said, ‘Well, we’re just not going that way.’ It’s a simple answer, but it has such big consequences when they don’t consider that’s even a possibility. I had to be content with whatever I could get.”

Kim, along with co-star Grace Park (who played Kono Kalakaua), left Hawaii Five-0 after season seven, reportedly due to a pay dispute. He then took a break from acting – while still managing to shoot two films – to concentrate on producing through his label, 3AD. However, his desire to act has not diminished, and Kim is eager to “do something onscreen, hopefully soon.”

In a nod, perhaps, to the barriers he has experienced, he tells actors to “not apologise for yourself,” adding: “Don’t hide, don’t be underprepared. You can see apology on an actor’s face when they’re performing. Don’t let that be you.”

Kim clearly has a deep respect for his profession, and while he acknowledges increasing diversity, he demands more and is shouldering responsibility himself to a degree through 3AD. The shingle successfully transported South Korean medical format The Good Doctor to the US, where it has become a major show on ABC, though only after it was rejected by CBS.

Kim’s 3AT prodco is behind the US version of The Good Doctor, starring Freddie Highmore (right)

The actor is now set to step in front of the camera with a recurring role in the drama’s ongoing second season as Dr Jackson Han, the brash new chief of surgery at St Bonaventure Hospital, where the story takes place, with the character set to put Dr Sean Murphy (Freddie Highmore)’s career in danger.

“This seemed ready-made to bring to America because it was a relationship story with a hero we hadn’t seen before,” he says of lead character Murphy, who is autistic. “Sometimes it’s not just about race, it’s about whatever your challenges are in life. I thought that was universal.”

Kim says producing allows him to channel his frustration of “only being able to go out for the roles that are offered” as an actor, adding: “If you want a Mexican-American as one of your leads, you can make that. If you want three Asian-Americans as regulars, you can have that.”

Now with projects in the works at ABC and other cablenets, it seems his work ethic is paying off. And that’s a lesson worth remembering.

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House call

Lisa Edelstein, the star of Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce, reunites with House showrunner David Shore as she joins the cast of ABC hospital drama The Good Doctor for its second season. She tells DQ about joining the hit series, playing another medic and becoming a writer.

Lisa Edelstein has starred in The West Wing and Ally McBeal, and most recently fronted Bravo dramedy Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce for five seasons. But she’s arguably best known for her long-running role as Dr Lisa Cuddy in House, starring opposite Hugh Laurie in the NBC hospital drama for seven years.

In her latest TV role, Edelstein has reunited with House showrunner David Shore to play another medic in the second season of ABC series The Good Doctor.

The series, which returns to US screens tonight, stars Freddie Highmore (Bates Motel) as Dr Shaun Murphy, a young surgeon with autism and savant syndrome who joins the prestigious St Bonaventure Hospital’s surgical unit. Edelstein plays Dr Marina Blaize (pictured above).

The cast also includes Richard Schiff as Shaun’s advocate Dr Aaron Glassman, plus Hill Harper, Beau Garrett, Tamlyn Tomita, Nicholas Gonzalez, Antonia Thomas, Chukuma Modu, Will Yun Lee and Fiona Gubelmann. The Good Doctor is produced by Sony Pictures Television, Shore Z and 3 AD and distributed by Sony Pictures Television.

Here, Edelstein tells DQ about joining the show, reuniting with Shore and her aspirations as a writer.

David Shore

Tell us about your character on The Good Doctor, Dr Marina Blaize.
Dr Blaize is a brilliant oncologist who recently got suspended by Dr Aaron Glassman [played by fellow West Wing alum Richard Schiff] for pot use. The only reason she has her job back is because he knows she is the best doctor around to help him deal with his brain tumour. Needless to say, they don’t get off to a great start.

How do you prepare for new roles, and how did you approach this one in particular?
A lot of what David Shore wants from his characters is in the writing. You have to look for the clues, the little gestures, off-hand remarks and opinions, and build a human being from there. In this case, it was really important to me that she not be a rehash of [Edelstein’s House character] Dr Cuddy. So pencil skirts were banned.

Have you had to do much medical research for the role, and will we see you performing operations?
So far I haven’t even put on a lab coat. She is helping [Dr Glassman] deal with his radiation treatments and chemotherapy. I love medicine, so whenever I have to talk about anything technical, I make sure I have a reasonable understanding of what I’m saying. Ultimately, though, I have not gone to med school or been a resident, so I wouldn’t actually try to practice oncology in the real world. If you see my trying to practice oncology in the real world, call the police.

What can you tell us about the storyline you will be involved in?
Richard’s character has a brain tumour and it’s up to me to make sure it’s healed so that they don’t kill him off the show. So Richard better be nice to me!

What was it like being on set with the rest of the cast? Is it easy to join an established series?
Some shows are easier to jump into than others. In this case, it was a breeze. I know half the writing staff from House and half the crew from Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce. Being in Vancouver [where the series is filmed] is like a home away from home. Freddie [Highmore] is so excited about his job and his life that his energy feeds the whole set. And Richard and I go back 20 years. He played my father on Jason Katim’s Relativity, then we worked together on The West Wing. And as an added boost, his wife coached me to striptease for Cuddy’s fantasy pole-dance scene on House.

Lisa Edelstein alongside Hugh Laurie in House

It seems Dr Blaize will upset some people, particularly Dr Glassman. How would you describe their relationship?
They go head-to-head a few times – she  won’t take his baloney. That said, she is an oncologist and is used to dealing with life-and-death matters, including fear and how people cope with it. So she has a good deal of empathy and warmth to back up her toughness.

Why do you think the show proved to be such a hit in season one?
Well, David is a wonderful writer and he gathers incredibly smart writers around him. And Freddie is just a special kind of guy. He is so bright and so warm and clearly loves doing what he is doing. Once you have a showrunner and a lead in place who both feel great about being there, the rest is gravy. I think audiences really respond to that.

And what was the appeal for to join the cast in season two?
Honestly, it just seemed like fun to do another Shore show for a minute.

Why do you think medical dramas have enduring appeal? How does The Good Doctor freshen up this well-trodden genre?
We all have our experiences with illness and death and, no matter how fast we run or how busy we stay, these concerns forever loom over us. Maybe it’s cathartic to see these stories play out. It helps ease the underlying anxiety about our own inevitable deaths to watch a story that has a beginning, middle and end neatly tied up, with characters we enjoy. The Good Doctor includes the element of autism, giving it the added appeal of helping a large audience empathise with a person they might normally dismiss by being inside that person’s unique experience of the world around him.

Edelstein most recently led the cast of Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce

What was it like to reunite with House creator David Shore for the series? How would you describe him as a showrunner?
It was super fun to work with David again. When they reached out to me about the part, David and I went for coffee to discuss it. Mostly we cracked jokes. We vaguely talked about how to make sure Blaize was not just Cuddy’s alias. As for how David is as a showrunner, this time we are nowhere near his office, so he can’t control the pronouns as much as he used to. He has to get a plane to complain. It’s like Lord of the Flies – actors are in charge and on the loose. OK, not really. He is a great captain. I just like to tease.

What do you enjoy about appearing in a network procedural such as The Good Doctor? Or do you prefer more serialised dramas?
I have to say I do prefer more serialised dramas and dramedies. I like telling a long, emotional story. Procedurals are… a lot of procedure. But it’s fun and sort of relaxing to be doing this show for a while. The stages are big, the trailers are cosy, the writing is smart, the actors are talented and the audience is super-enthused about the show. It’s all pretty wonderful.

You’re soon to appear in Netflix comedy The Kominsky Method. Do you enjoy bouncing between drama and comedy, and which do you prefer?
I love it all. It used to be that if you were on a sitcom, no one would consider you for a drama and vice versa. I kept having to recover from my last job and insist on the opportunity to switch. But nowadays it’s better. Many dramas are fnny and many comedies are dramatic, and it’s all a big hodgepodge. I like a hodge podge. I don’t want to just do one or the other. The Kominsky Method is like that, too. I get to play a super screwed-up woman, highly manipulative, a total mess. So much fun! And working with Alan Arkin and Michael Douglas is so exciting. They’re both lovely guys, for one, but it’s also one of those moments in your career where you remind yourself to pay attention. These are actors I watched for years and years, and now I’m standing with them, at work. That is a wonderful feeling. It never gets old.

The Good Doctor stars Freddie Highmore as a surgeon with autism and savant syndrome

You’re writing a pilot with Carol Barbee based on ME Thomas’s book Confessions of a Sociopath. What can you tell us about this project and your ambitions for the potential series?
Carol and I have had so much fun creating this character and I really hope we get to realise her on screen. Universal Cable Productions bought the script from us, making it my first experience of selling a script – a great feeling. Now we wait and see where it lands in terms of network or streaming. It’s my first time in the development world. For those who want to try it out, be prepared: it moves in extremely slow motion.

How do you enjoy writing compared with acting, and what stories do you want to tell in the future?
I love to write. Actors do a lot of waiting between jobs, either because there is no job to get or no job ‘right’ to take. It can be deeply frustrating and depressing to have to wait for someone else to give you the go-ahead to create. So nurturing another outlet is incredibly important. Not only that, but becoming an active content creator is really exciting. I can create roles I want to play, roles I want my friends to play and stories I find interesting. It’s all about being proactive.
Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce gave me the opportunity to not only act my face off but to write and direct as well. When the show ended, I didn’t want that expanded creative life to end. So I wrote, directed, produced and starred in a short film, Unzipping, which is currently on the festival circuit. I wrote and directed another short for a Google initiative, out later this year, and wrote the pilot with Carol Barbee. I also did a few indie films – Dr Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets and Phoenix, Oregon – so it’s been a rich, creative year.
As for the future, I have a few more ideas that I’m working on that I’d love to see through. And I look forward to whatever surprise characters that come down the pike. Why pre-plan?

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Doctor in the house

Freddie Highmore takes the lead in ABC’s The Good Doctor, the story of an autistic trainee doctor trying to make his way through a highly competitive teaching hospital.

Executive producers Daniel Dae Kim (Lost, Hawaii Five-0) and David Shore, who wrote the pilot, discuss why they wanted to produce a show about a hero in the age of anti-heroes on the big and small screens.

They also discuss how they adapted the South Korean series on which The Good Doctor is based for a US audience, while Shore – best known as the creator of hit medical series House – explains his decision to return to a hospital setting and how the show will balance procedural and serialised elements.

The Good Doctor is produced by Sony Pictures Television, Shore Z and 3 AD and distributed by Sony.

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