Will Yun Lee on Returning to 'The Good Doctor' & Why the Show Is Special

Scott Fishman
Q&A (ABC/Jeff Weddell)

Will Yun Lee returned to set for Season 3 of The Good Doctor with many reasons to smile. He had got to enjoy his family for a bit during the break, including wife Jennifer Birmingham-Lee and son Cash.  The ABC show was also just named the most watched drama series in the world at the Monte Carlo TV Festival.

The actor who plays ex-cop turned medical professional Dr. Alex Park believes The Good Doctor’s appeal is its ability to reflect on the world we live in today. A TV show about humans and hope in his eyes. 

What’s amazing about it is David Shore created this world where race or gender is not the focus. It’s a TV show about humans and hope. There have been so many projects I’ve been cast in where if my character exists in this world, it’s because I’m Asian,” Lee, a Korean-American said. 

“Whether it’s a Chinatown episode of CSI or whatever world I was in. With this show and my character, you could have put any race in that character and it would have worked. We are in this interesting era of television where it’s one of the last shows out there that anchors itself in hope. It’s just good television with an offering to audiences that isn’t so dark.”

Lee carved out an appointment to talk more about stepping back into the fictional San Jose St. Bonaventure Hospital and why being on this particular series means so much to him. 

You returned to set building on this momentum with last year graduating to series regular. What’s the feeling like on set for season three? 

Will Yun Lee: The shows are great again. We have a new character that was introduced that comes to the forefront in the first episode that you see in the trailer. The question of will Dr. Shaun [Murphy] (Freddie Highmore) find love? He brings such a fun part to that role. There is the light side and humor to the show. We get revealed kind of like the audience gets revealed. We may get scripts about a week or two in advance. From what we shot so far, I can tell you it’s just as good with some fresh stories being told. I think David Shore is great at what he does. There will be a lot of laughing and tear-jerker moments. 

When it comes to Dr. Park, how much of him do you see in yourself being a dad and husband? 

What I love about the character is that he is a human first. There is no taking over the world. There is no magic involved. He is just a guy who faces real world problems. Part of those problems is navigating work and family life. I think we are going to explore that this season. We see him struggling with it last season getting introduced to his wife and son. I think he goes through what a lot of parents go through. How do I balance life and work and be great at both. What I like about him is that he is the oldest resident in the hospital, so he brings a sense of calm. He is analytical in a lot of ways. It’s a different perspective on how each resident kind of helps solve the diagnosis of the week. He offers that older analytical process to it. 

You talk about work-life balance. You and your wife have been public about the medical struggles toddler son Cash endured. Your family remained so strong through the often heart-wrenching chemotherapy, misdiagnosis and eventual two brain surgeries to treat moyamoya. I'm sure your family has helped other families while the show you’re on does much of the same. How has this very real experience affected the way you approach the role and career in general? 

It’s probably the most monumental shift I’ve had in my career because it involves what I love the most, my son and family. It’s one of the best questions I’ve ever been asked. When I first walked on the show it was difficult for me to realize that I’ve come to a show that looks exactly like the hospitals we lived in for a few years. We were in and out of the hospital for a solid two years. When I first got to set on The Good Doctor, down to the linoleum and fluorescent lights. Every detail of that hospital felt and looked like the hospital we were in, so it was very emotionally difficult. That first year, there would be times when I would start rehearsal for a scene, and it would be a child in bed and a parent. I remember at least two occasions I had to walk out of rehearsals because I just broke down. I was uncontrollably emotional having it be so fresh. 

You have really gone through times where art imitates life and vice versa with this series. 

My wife especially took it upon herself to not accept that first diagnosis. She fought and fought. We both put our heads together and went to every possible thing it could be. The hours we spent on the internet hunting down people, and that what the show is about. It’s about thinking outside the box. The what if, and how we get to the root of the problem. For me, it really solidified this feeling that I found a home in The Good Doctor because that was what our life was about, especially the last three years. You are your son’s greatest advocate, and that is what these doctors are on this show stand for. Just being an actor now being on this show, it really shows how special these scripts are. Hopefully, I show up to bring my A-game knowing what an impact it has had on me and my wife. It was a situation where we were in the hospital as my son was having brain surgery. We came home in recovery. We turn on the TV and there was an episode on with one scene we started crying because it was about Shaun dealing with this one kid. My wife told me to turn it off. Literally, probably four or five months later I was on the show. It came full circle. It gave me the appreciation to be offered this role and opportunity. 

You recently posted a photo on Instagram of Cash on set. Do you see him following in mom and dad’s footsteps? 

Pretty much. I think Chris Pratt is his greatest hero because of Jurassic World. He is always talking about stories and coming up with things. He loves movie trailers. When he came on set a month ago, just to see him there so focused with his headset on and getting to yell cut and action. He was so engaged. Watching him was like watching my father doing martial arts. Those are the moments that get embedded in my life, which is why I chose to do martial arts for a long time. 

You have other projects like Altered Carbon. Any word if we will see any of you in season two? 

At this point I have no idea. 

What do you think of Anthony Mack’s jumping into the role of Takeshi Kovacs for season two. 

I’ve gotten a chance to meet him in the past. He is a rock star. I love Anthony Mackie. He is a consummate professional.I think he is going to kill it. I thought Joel was incredible in season one. I can’t wait to see what happens with season two because Anthony brings something different, which is what you want to see with each sleeve of Kovacs. You want to surprise the audience. Having followed Anthony's career, I think he is going to surprise a lot of people. 

Earlier you talked a bit about representation, you’re featured in the 2020 animated feature Wish Dragon. There is such a great cast with Jackie Chan, Constance Wu. What is it like to dive into the voice actor realm? 

The team was incredible. It was my first big studio animation project, so I spent a lot of time doing it. The disappointing part was not going into a booth with anybody. I was hoping to see Jackie Chan. I play the lead character’s father. It guess it’s kind of under wraps. All I can say is it’s a heartwarming story. It’s incredible to see it led by an all-Asian cast. 

I’m sure it will be a cool experience to screen this with your sun when it comes out. 

With The Good Doctor, it might be too old for him at times. I remember my son coming to set the first day. He freaked out because he thought it was a real hospital, and we were bringing him back. This is something I can watch with him from beginning to end. 

The Good Doctor Season 3, premieres Monday, September 23, 10/9c, ABC