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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.
Let’s rewind: ABC’s The Good Doctor, executive-produced by David Shore (House) and Daniel Dae Kim (Hawaii Five-0), follows Dr. Shaun Murphy (Highmore), a brilliant young surgeon with autism and savant syndrome who moves to San Jose, California, for a residency at the prestigious St. Bonaventure. Unfortunately, some of the hospital’s finest are reluctant to give him a chance — save Dr. Glassman (The West Wing‘s Richard Schiff), the hospital’s president and Shaun’s biggest advocate.
“The thing that I find really compelling about this show is how he has real limitations, but those limitations won’t stop him,” Shore says. “There might have to be accommodations made, but he is capable of doing great things.”
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.
Says Shore, “What he was doing inspired me to think he could a play a rather unusual character, but in a sympathetic way.”
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.