Freddie Highmore on acting and staying grounded as an actor.
The Good Doctor stars actor Freddie Highmore as Dr. Shaun Murphy, a surgical resident with autism. While Highmore plays a physician with autism, Highmore does not have autism. That said, Freddie did a lot of research and worked with an autistic consultant to help with his TV series role.
Since 2017, British actor Highmore has played Dr. Shaun Murphy, a surgical resident with autism, on the ABC medical drama. Playing a character with autism on such a big stage, Highmore takes the role very seriously.
"I feel very fortunate to have been offered the part of Shaun," he told Digital Spy. "It seemed like an incredibly important project, and that's why I wanted to be a part of it. I'm proud to be a part of it."
Researching for the role:
Freddie said he knew about autism from people in his personal life with the condition. However, to properly play someone with autism, Freddie and The Good Doctor showrunner, David Shore, researched before filming the first episode. In fact, they hired autism consultant Melissa Reiner to help perfect the character.
"David Shore, our wonderful main writer and showrunner, and I sat down before the pilot — and also between the pilot and making the show — with the consultant that we still have on-board," Freddie said on ABC podcast Popcorn With Peter Travers. "And [we> also just traded back and forth books and pieces of literature and documentaries that we thought were useful or gave us some sort of insight into building this one, very particular character."
Freddie continues to research the role. Several seasons into the season, he says he is “constantly learning. He told Digital Spy in March 2019, "Aside from continual research, or working with the consultant that we have; I'm also talking to people who feel that they have a personal connection to the show through autism, and are pleased or thankful that the show is seeking to raise awareness in that way."
"The way that Shaun holds his hands is something that makes him stand out," he told the Los Angeles Times. "For me, that came from two places. Kids with autism [used to be] encouraged to clasp their hands together to not stim, [a term describing repetitive movements or sounds]. It's called 'quiet hands.' Surgeons in an operating room consider the front of the body as sterile and often stand in this position to keep their hands sterile. So that particular mannerism is sort of half something that's a trauma, that's been forced upon him, and is also something that's natural for surgeons to do, so there's a comfort there too."
"[David Shore and I] spoke mostly about Shaun and the development of his character over time," Freddie told the LA Times. "People who aren't aware of autism in a personal way or haven't watched the show sometimes say, 'How will Shaun change? He'll always have autism. What's his arc going to be?' So one of the things we discussed early on is, 'Yes, he'll always have autism. But he's going to change continuously as an individual as he adapts to this new world that he finds himself in.' That was exciting to me: This individual, regardless of whether or not he's on the spectrum, is going on a journey as a character."
TV representation of Autism
Highmore says it was important that Shaun was not just someone with autism but a complete multi-dimensional person, just like any other character on television.
"I appreciate the way in which Shaun is a fully formed character," Freddie told USA Today. "Often, people with autism on screen have been represented as somewhat emotionless or singularly focused on one thing, and that isn't true. We get to see Shaun in moments of joy, what makes him excited, alongside the very real struggle he's facing."
In an interview with Scroll.in, Highmore talks about the challenges of playing Doctor Shaun Murphy, a genius surgeon who is an autistic savant, on “The Good Doctor.”
Highmore explains the playing a character that is both autistic and a genius took a lot of work. He reveals it took a lot of preparation to understand the role and how to portray Dr. Murphy on film.
“Shaun Murphy’s role required more preparation than any other role I did on TV,” he said. “In terms of autism, it was important for all of us that the portrayal of the condition was authentic. Again, we had a consultant here too. David [Shore, series creator] and I watched documentaries and read relevant books to help ourselves construct the character. But we were aware that Shaun is representing an individual’s story and not everyone in the autism spectrum. The key was to portray his journey as an individual and not someone’s who just autistic.”
Before “The Good Doctor,” Highmore played the young Norman Bates on “Bates Motel” series. On the differences between the series, Highmore explained, “I try to do different roles. It will get dull for me and the audience if the character is a replication of something I did before. The genre isn’t important as much as they need to tell an interesting character-driven story.”
How to stay grounded in HollywoodIn a 2017 interview, Highmore explained living in London and avoiding social media helped him stay grounded.
About Freddie Highmore:
Born in 1992, the English actor made his debut in the comedy film Women Talking Dirty in 199. He is most known for starring in roles in movies such as Finding Neverland, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, August Rush, and The Spiderwick Chronicles. He won two Critics’ Choice Movie Awards for Best Young Performer.
His breakout role occurred when he starred as Norman Bates in the hit thriller series Bates Motel, in which he was nominated for the Critics Choice Television Award for Best Actor in a Drama Series and won a People’s Choice Award. In 2017, Highmore started producing and starring as Dr. Shaun Murphy in the ABC series The Good Doctor, for which he was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor.His mother, Sue Latimer, is a talent agent whose clients include actors Daniel Radcliffe and Imelda Staunton. His father is also the former actor Edward Highmore. Related: