Freddie Highmore says goodbye to ‘The Good Doctor’: ‘It has given me stability in years of great uncertainty’

In the show’s seventh and final season, the protagonist, a doctor with autism, has become a father. ‘It’s like a graduation. It’s a bittersweet sensation,’ says the actor

Freddie Highmore se despide de ‘The Good Doctor
Freddie Highmore, in the first episode of the seventh series of 'The Good Doctor.'Jeff Weddell/ABC/Sony pictures television
Natalia Marcos

Before starting the interview, Freddie Highmore, 32, apologizes: “I’m sorry we’re speaking in English today. I’m going to set right after this and so it’s hard to suddenly switch into it, but when we hopefully chat again in Spain, I will speak in Spanish, I promise.” The actor — who has a degree in Hispanic and Arabic Philology from the University of Cambridge, and lived and worked in Madrid for almost a year doing translations in a law firm — has mastered the Spanish language almost perfectly, as he has demonstrated in previous interviews in Spain. It’s the end of February and, minutes after this video call chat, Highmore will return to set to record the final episodes of The Good Doctor, which is why he prefers to continue thinking and speaking in English during this break in filming.

Highmore — an acting prodigy who has been in the industry since he was seven years old, notably in his popular role as Charlie in the 2005 movie Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which starred Johnny Depp and was directed by Tim Burton — has led the cast of the medical drama The Good Doctor since 2017. In the show, he plays Shaun Murphy, a young doctor with autism and Savant syndrome. From his words, it is not very clear if Highmore is happy or resigned that the series is coming to an end.

“We know it’s the end, and we’re able to tell stories that bring it towards a satisfying conclusion. It feels like the right time,” the actor reflects. “The sensation feels a little bit like graduation. It’s the end of seven years, and it feels big and momentous and makes you nostalgic and reflective for everything that’s come before, but at the same time you know that you do have to move on beyond that little bubble. There’s an excitement about what’s next, about the future and other opportunities. It’s probably healthy to play other characters and to do other things. It’s a bittersweet sensation.”

Highmore came to The Good Doctor directly after finishing the TV show Bates Motel, which, in its five seasons, imagined a young Norman Bates — the character from Psycho — and his relationship with his mother. There were 50 episodes in total. By the time The Good Doctors ends, he will have played Shaun Murphy in more than 120 episodes. In this time, he has grown from a young, inexperienced doctor trying to manage his social difficulties to a married man with a baby.

“It’s kind of crazy thinking back to the beginning of the show, when he first showed up at the hospital and was young and naive and had such incredible medical insight, but at the same time was new to this working environment. This season, Shaun has to take two medical students under his wing and teach and try and impart his wisdom. A lot of times on a broadcast TV show where you do so many episodes every season, there’s a desire for a certain amount of repetition and familiarity, but I’m really pleased that we’ve been able to track Shaun as a character over the course of this time, with such a huge evolution,” says Highmore.

In the last season of 'The Good Doctor', Dr. Shaun Murphy, played by Freddie Highmore, has to come to terms with fatherhood.
In the last season of 'The Good Doctor', Dr. Shaun Murphy, played by Freddie Highmore, has to come to terms with fatherhood.Jeff Weddell/ABC/Sony pictures television

Some actors say that playing the same character for dozens of screen hours can be exhausting. But long-running series also provide performers with a stability that is very difficult to achieve in the profession.

“Yes, both of those things are true for me,” says Highmore. “But this character has always been exciting. There’s constantly new things that I’ve always found interesting about him. And on a personal level, I have enjoyed that sense of stability. I know it’s a little bit corny to say, but you do become a family of sorts. It’s been a pretty uncertain seven years in the world. I do feel grateful to have had such a stable life at the center of that. I was talking to someone yesterday on set about how Covid seems so far away, but we all went through that together on this show. It was an experience unlike any other. At a time where no one could see anyone, we were seeing each other in this little bubble that we’d created in Vancouver.”

In The Good Doctor, created by David Shore (who also created another long-running medical drama that marked an era on television, House), Highmore has done more than just act. He is also listed as an executive producer, has directed five episodes, and has even helped write the script for one of them.

“I’ve really enjoyed being a part of the show more widely,” says the actor. “Directing is certainly something that I’d love to do more of now that this show is ending. Hopefully that involves directing things that I’m not necessarily acting in myself.”

Freddie Highmore and Paige Spara, in 'The Good Doctor'.
Freddie Highmore and Paige Spara, in 'The Good Doctor'.Jeff Weddell/ABC/Sony pictures television

Highmore is preparing for the next step in his career. In recent years, the actor has not had time for projects beyond The Good Doctor. He starred in the film The Vault, directed by Jaume Balagueró and filmed in Spain, and participated in the series Leonardo. But not much more.

“I don’t know what’s next, but that’s exciting. I still have a couple of months left with the series. It’s odd because we’re talking about the end, and now I’m going to head back down and get into makeup and go on set. We’ve got half of this last season still left to film. It feels both like it’s the end, but also that it’s very much not the end,” he explains. “When I finished Bates Motel, three days later, somewhat unbelievably, I ended up sitting down with David Shaw and read The Good Doctor script. So I have no expectations about what will happen. Bates Motel and The Good Doctor have given me an important space on television. If you do get lucky, a show can continue for quite some time, and you want to make the best right choice because you could be doing it for a large part of your life. I don’t feel the need to rush into anything. Hopefully I can spend some time in Spain at some point. I’ve been able to film in Spain, but I would love to do something in Spanish. That’s certainly on my list of desires and goals.”

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