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Freddie Highmore on how 'The Good Doctor' has tackled the trauma of the pandemic

Freddie Highmore in The Good Doctor.
Freddie Highmore as Shaun Murphy in The Good Doctor. (Image credit: Jeff Weddell/ABC/Sony Pictures Television)

Dedicated medic Shaun Murphy has dealt with many a tricky case over the last three seasons of The Good Doctor, but now, the autistic surgeon faces the biggest challenge of his career so far when Covid-19 hits San Jose St Bonaventure Hospital.

As the The Good Doctor Season 4  — which began last November in the US — starts in the UK on Sky Witness on Tuesday March 16 at 9pm, we caught up with Freddie Highmore, who plays Shaun, to get the lowdown…

Freddie Highmore on how the hospital deals with the pandemic

"It is certainly a struggle for Shaun because it’s a complete unknown. Shaun has so much knowledge and has learned so much from his text books but then he’s faced with something that nobody knew anything about and has to learn on his feet, so it’s tricky for Shaun at the beginning. But the first two episodes track the pandemic over a period of months showing how, as things change and we learn more about this virus, everyone is responding to it."

Freddie on the impact the pandemic has on Shaun’s relationship with Lea (Paige Spara)

“What was exciting to explore in season three was those early stages of love. But season four is about the more deeper, more nuanced flavours of a relationship that will develop over time. When they’re dealing with the repercussions of trying to keep their distance and not being able to be together during the pandemic because of the nature of Shaun’s job, that proves challenging. But I’m excited to see their relationship grow and to see what it means for Shaun to be with someone long term rather than in that first initial throes of love.”

Freddie on wanting to honour real-life frontline medics in The Good Doctor

Hill Harper and Freddie Highmore in The Good Doctor

Marcus Andrews (Hill Harper) and Shaun Murphy (Freddie Highmore) treat a patient with coronavirus. (Image credit: Jeff Weddell/ABC/Sony Pictures Television)

“The most important thing for all of us was to pay tribute to the real life health care professionals who have been heroic in the face of such trauma. It’s put into perspective how as actors we’re just playing doctors on television and that means nothing compared to what people are really doing out there every day. It would have felt wrong and we would have been shirking a sense of responsibility to them to not want to portray that on television.”

Freddie on the precautions taken during filming

FH: “We are all tested three times a week, we’re wearing masks as much as possible, everyone is keeping their distance, the set itself feels like a quieter place, the camera operators are working remotely from outside the room on a crane. So it does feel different but it should feel different. We all feel like the set is a safe place to be and we feel lucky to be able to go back to work and tell these stories.” 

Freddie on Shaun becoming a mentor to a new group of young trainees this season

“It’s difficult for Shaun. For the first time he has to take responsibility for other people. He’s going to be a boss, there are younger residents coming in who he’s going to have to take under his wing. He’s good when it comes to imparting medical knowledge and insight. Where he will struggle are the more personal aspects of the job and the inevitable moment when one of his younger residents does something wrong. How will Shaun react? It’s exciting to explore both those deeper emotional moments and also the humour that will come from seeing Shaun in a position of authority and telling people what to do!” 

Freddie on The Good Doctor’s success

"It deals with those most elemental things that all humans go through inevitably, which is living, giving birth and passing away, so everyone is able to connect to that. But I’d also like to think that the characters draw you in. Shaun has a different viewpoint on the world. He’s the reverse of House who was cynical and perhaps what people needed when they were going through more optimistic times. Now we’ve moved towards a space where we’re looking for someone who offers more hope and sees the good in people.”

Freddie on how playing a character with autism has changed him

“I feel very lucky to be able to play Shaun and that responsibility is not something that I take lightly. As a Brit I think we have a natural tendency towards cynicism and Shaun is the opposite of that. I see the world slightly more optimistically now because of spending time with Shaun and getting to play him.”

Where can I watch season 4 of The Good Doctor?

The new series has already started in the US on ABC, but is available to watch in the UK from Tuesday March 16 at 9pm on Sky Witness.