It was just three days after filming the finale of Bates Motel in Vancouver, Canada, that Freddie Highmore flew to Los Angeles to discuss about another role on another series – The Good Doctor.
In it, the 25-year-old actor plays Dr Shaun Murphy, a young surgeon with autism and savant syndrome. Because of his condition, he has to overcome prejudices from the St. Bonaventure hospital’s surgical unit to prove that he can, in fact, do his job.
When the role came along, Highmore wasn’t looking at accepting a job so soon after completing a gig that took five years of his life. But he couldn’t shake off the connection he felt after reading the script.
“It just jumps into your head … you hear (the character) speaking already in your head and what you can bring to the part,” explains Highmore, calling from Vancouver where he’s in the midst of filming the 18-episode series. “That is what I see when doing anything (new) really, what I feel most drawn to.”
Besides being the main actor on The Good Doctor, Highmore is also a named producer – which would explain why this interview had to be postponed twice.
Luckily, on that third attempt, he spoke in length so much so that the interview ran longer than the time allocated.
OK, first thing to know about Highmore – which comes across even on the phone – is that he’s genuinely a genial fella. It was evening where he was, and he’d been filming the whole day, yet he never made it seem like he was in a hurry to get off the phone.
Secondly – his British accent. Having seen him nail the American accent on Bates Motel for five seasons and, now, The Good Doctor, it’s easy to forget that Highmore actually hails from London.
“Shaun’s voice is quite distinctive, so it’s not really an accent – his is more of the cadence, the pitch at which he speaks,” Highmore clarifies.
“Talking to you now, I try to stay within the normal British voice. (Laughs) I feel like I am overcompensating actually. On the set, I try to maintain an American accent, so I am not thinking about it and it becomes second nature. Whereas now I’m like, ‘No. I have to speak British otherwise it would be weird.’ You’d probably hear American vowels now and then, I apologise.”
On The Right Path
Highmore started acting when he was still a child. After a couple of roles on British TV and films, the then 11-year-old Highmore landed a role opposite Kate Winslet and Johnny Depp in the Oscar-nominated flick Finding Neverland. He followed that up with Tim Burton’s Charlie And The Chocolate Factory. Throughout his teenage years, he balanced acting with school, and leading a normal life.
It was important to Highmore to continue his studies in case acting wasn’t what he wanted to do in the end. For his effort, he achieved straight As in all his GCSE as well as A-level exams. He went to University of Cambridge for his tertiary studies, graduating in Arabic and Spanish.
During his third year at Cambridge, he worked at a law firm in Madrid translating documents. He also worked at a bank in Kuwait as an intern.
“I think I never defined myself as an actor at a young age. It wasn’t what I needed to do. I wanted to give myself the opportunity (to figure out) if this was what I wanted to do. So, taking the time away from acting was necessary; going to university was important and necessary. It helped me to keep on the right path.
“Coming back (to acting) with Bates Motel was an active choice … something I wanted to do as an adult,” he explains.
On Bates Motel, Highmore also tried his hand in writing and directing; he wrote an episode in Season Four and two more in Season Five, where he also made his directorial debut.
It is these varied opportunities that come with doing a TV show that has him interested in sticking to the small-screen format for now.
“What I love about television is the chance to fall really deeply into a character and the story as opposed to a film where you get weeks or months to work and that’s it, you are moving on.
“I love the chance to develop a character over time and spending hours and hours, working on their nuances, the small things that make each individual character’s tick and feel there is nothing forced about the character.
“What I loved about Bates Motel is the opportunity to write and direct an episode. That is something I would love to continue to do on The Good Doctor, hopefully.
“And that’s one other thing about TV – wanting to be involved beyond just acting because it seems odd to me to be spending so many hours, and months working intimately with something and not wanting to be part of it in between seasons.”
Laughing, Highmore adds: “I don’t know what to do if I sat around for a few months. I’d get itchy feet.”
When he is not working, Highmore shares he loves getting into the hockey game when he’s in Canada and into football when he is back in London.
He says he is going home next month for Christmas. “I’ll be back in the UK for Christmas, with the family. I have been here for six months, and I love Vancouver as a city, but it’s certainly a little far from the UK to go back and forth.”
For now, Highmore is content with The Good Doctor family – comprising mostly Bates Motel crew. “We have the same camera guy, same gaffer, the lighting team is pretty similar. One of the episodes was directed by Nestor Carbonell, who directed and starred in Bates Motel.
“Certainly, when he was up here directing, it felt like Bates Motel. The Bates family is never far away,” he says with another laugh.
Like Bates Motel, The Good Doctor has gotten good reviews and is raking in impressive viewership in the United States.
While Highmore admits it certainly was a short period of time between Bates Motel and The Good Doctor, he feels incredibly lucky and honoured to be playing Shaun.
“One of the things that I love about the show is how it characterises Shaun. In the past, people with autism have been portrayed as being somewhat emotionless. That’s the stereotype.
“This character is rich and full of emotion. Of course, it’s expressed differently from how a typical person would express themselves.
“… The aim isn’t to have people purely connect with Shaun through personal experiences with autism. Hopefully, he speaks to anyone who feels somewhat different, who has been discriminated against in the workplace and life in general. Hopefully this is something that resonates more widely.”
The Good Doctor airs every Friday at 10pm on Fox Life (Astro Ch 711/HD Ch 722).