The Good Doctor star breaks down Melendez's shocking fate
Warning: This article contain spoilers from the season 3 finale of The Good Doctor, "I Love You."
Pour out a glass of whiskey for Dr. Neil Melendez.
The season 3 finale of The Good Doctor marked Nicholas Gonzalez's last episode as a series regular on the ABC drama. In part 2 of the season-ender, which aired Monday night, Melendez died from septic shock, which was caused by injuries he sustained during the devastating earthquake that rocked part 1 of the finale last week. Fortunately, he had an opportunity to say goodbye to Dr. Claire Brown (Antonia Thomas) — who realized she was in love with him two episodes earlier — his ex Dr. Lim (Christina Chang), and Dr. Glassman (Richard Schiff) before he expired.
Below, Gonzalez opens up about his departure from the show, what he'll miss most about playing Melendez, and the emotional toll of the episode.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When did you find out Melendez was going to die at the end of the season?
NICHOLAS GONZALEZ: It was probably about two thirds into the season. So it was pretty much right after the new year I was informed.
How did you react?
Part of me is sad to see a character I respected a lot go, someone I felt that still had a lot more to say but there wasn't always that opportunity, and I feel like we really built a beautiful world around that character, as much as can be in a show like ours where we're still a procedural as well. You know, we try to cram in some character here and there, and of course there's a lot of personal stories, but we still have two cases a week and major surgeries that our episodes are formed around. So to me, it's been nothing but a blessing. It's something that I literally built a family on. You know, I got married, [and] we were pregnant with our first right when I did this job. I left to go shoot the pilot when my baby was 6 days old, and we moved to Vancouver when she was 5 months old. Now she's 3 years old and we just had her birthday. This has been an amazing whirlwind ride, and I'm sad to see him go. I think there's definitely going to be a void left there, but I'm excited to see what everyone does with it.
You knew this was coming, but how did you react when you received the final two scripts and read how Melendez would exit the show?
I'm a fan like everyone else, first and foremost. I read it obviously from the angle of my character a lot of times, but with this, I was just embroiled in the story, wanting to see what was going to happen across the board, but wondering how it was going to be. You know, it's hard when you look at a goodbye because there's so many different ways you want it to happen and there's so many different people you'd love to be involved. By no means is it a Neil Melendez farewell episode. That's part of it, but it's not centered around it by any means. So I was what I think some people might be, heartbroken in some ways. It's tough to say goodbye to a character like that I felt was just a moral, upstanding, clear-cut, honest person that we never sullied, not in the least bit, and that's tough in this day and age. I'm proud of what we did with him, but yes, it was tough to finally read those final words.
It's even sadder because his death comes right on the heels of Claire realizing she's in love with him.
Right, and it's a difficult thing to grapple with as well — does she tell him? All these questions that then come up about how do you treat this because we've created this character that is really unsullied and it's a tough question of how that could have been pursued in any way other than one of them having to quit their job and moving hospitals. It's not something cute happening in break rooms and stuff; it's a real thing like the relationship that Melendez and Lim go into, which was a thought-out, mature relationship that was handled the right way, but it still created an issue that neither of them was comfortable with. I think you can be a little more creative, but this, I think, gives us an out there.
What was your last day on set like?
You know, episode 320 was an emotional toll, to be honest. While Neil was saying goodbye, so was I. Every take, every bit of film that was going through the camera, was me slowly saying goodbye to something that felt like home, it feels like, for longer than three years. So that last day of work, [director and showrunner David Shore] very graciously had everything in order for the most part, and my last scene was the last scene of the episode, and it was a very tear-filled goodbye with a lot of people that I loved creating with over these last three episodes.
We've never seen Melendez vulnerable like this. What was it like for you to explore that?
I think the beauty of it for him is in his fight of it, fighting against it. He's not the most graceful patient. He's not the person that's going to sit there and listen to your assessment quietly. In some ways, there's a bittersweet comedy there too: Here is a man who was kind of captain of a team that dramatically saved people's lives in ways that were unimaginable to them prior to it happening, who is now at the mercy of a miracle that's not to come. There's something very sobering in that, and we slowly watch as he comes to realization. It's a cruel, bittersweet one.
You mentioned how you felt as though you were saying goodbye at the same time as your character. Would you say that was the most straining thing?
The emotionality more than anything [was a strain] because everything was very raw. As actors, we have bit of a wall between our true feelings and what we do, and the closer we can come to them being the same or when they blur in that moment and you feel like you're really there — we strive for those moments. But [it becomes harder] when you work continually in it from a place of really raw emotion that you haven't been able to suss out yourself, because I guess I didn't expect it to affect me as much as it did. So once I did have to go through it, it was the emotional toll, really, that was the biggest thing that was just physically exhausting, mentally and emotionally exhausting. Then to knowing [what was coming at the end of the season] for so long through other happier episodes, that takes a whole other bit of endurance. I don't know what else you would call it… You know how you have hit points [in role-playing games]? It got a bit more of my HP. It's humbling, that's for sure, to have this kind of thing that I considered an instrument of mine for 20 years — my own body — and struggling to understand and control how it's feeling. It's definitely a lesson for an actor, that's for sure.
What do you think you'll miss the most about the character?
I never thought it would affect me, the depth. I just felt like he had so much to do and I feel like he gave so much hope to a lot of people, so strangely. It doesn't escape me how strange it is that daily now, if I'm in an airport going from L.A. up here to Vancouver, or seeing family while on vacation, I'm not just continually stopped to say, "Hey, you're that guy from that show" or "I like your show" — I hear that kind of stuff — but that people will come up and they have a story and they have something they need to share or make sure someone involved with the show [hears]. Whether it's a compliment for me or a lot of times for Freddie [Highmore] and the incredible performance he does, or "I just want David Shore to know this about what he's doing," they're punctuated by tear-filled hugs and people just wanting them to know the impact it's had on them. Knowing that power, that's a tough thing to say goodbye to — knowing that you can motivate and inspire people with the work that they allow us to put on the show. Not being a part of that is a tough one, but at the same time, I feel like my time there, being there from the pilot, I felt like we just created a solid foundation for the show to spring from.
The Good Doctor will return for season 4 on ABC. In the meantime, make sure you read our postmortem with showrunner David Shore.