‘The Good Doctor’s Freddie Highmore on Shaun’s Choice Between Lea & Carly
At 27 — Valentine’s Day was his birthday — The Good Doctor’s Freddie Highmore is not only an experienced actor, but he’s been writing and directing TV episodes since he was barely out of university and starring in Bates Motel.
“Autopsy,” his second directorial effort on the hit ABC medical show, airs Monday, February 24. Below, Highmore shares his joy of directing, and what’s ahead for Dr. Shaun Murphy’s love life.
So you are not only acting, but directing and editing a Good Doctor episode this season. Are you writing as well in your three minutes of downtime?
Freddie Highmore: Yes, it’s been a big start to the decade and all very exciting. I didn’t end up writing an episode this year, but getting to direct one again was a real joy. I’m excited for everyone to see it. It feels like a sort of climactic, meaningful episode that [includes] the payoff for lots of different things that have been set off over the course of the season.
It’s been a big season for Dr. Shaun Murphy. The young autistic surgical resident has been working through his deep-seated fears about connections with people — emotional and physical!
A big theme for Shaun this season has been love and him trying to understand what it is to love someone and feel attracted to them. And how to express that you love someone and the complications that it brings. All of those are questions or things that Shaun has had to deal with for the first time. We leave things off at the end of [February 17’s] Episode 15 with Carly (Jasika Nicole) saying to Shaun that perhaps he loves Lea (Paige Spara), not her. That propels us into Episode 16 as he tries to figure out whether that’s true. If so, is he able to tell Lea that truth and communicate that to her?
Will any hearts be broken this week?
You never know.
So Shaun makes an emotional confession to Lea?
Yes. It’s a scene that I’m really proud of. Paige did such a wonderful job playing the scene and it’s always a joy to act opposite her. There’s this sort of horrible truth that the episode ends on that hopefully will feel surprising, even though it’s not entirely conclusive.
Assuming Shaun is weathering all of this enough to function as a surgeon, what’s the big case for him on this episode?
Shaun’s case is with Dr. Park (Will Yun Lee), and it’s a kind of investigative, almost detective-ish case where someone very early on in the episode ended up passing away. Shaun is driven by a quest to try and understand what went on and if there is indeed a mystery behind this person. That takes him and Park outside of the hospital on a kind of journey.
Tell me more about the mystery.
It’s a mystery of the illness this woman had, but also the family that she seemingly doesn’t have and what family meant to her. It will help Shaun come to a realization of his own about the people that are important to him in life.
It’s fascinating that until this season, Shaun would never have thought about these things or acted on his feelings about other people. The show is giving Shaun a lot more emotional depth, isn’t it?
He’s always had the sort of emotional depth that everyone has, but his relationship with Carly has allowed him to be able to express it in a way that he hasn’t before and communicate it and also trust someone on a level that he never has previously. And so, yes, it’s exciting to see him be able to look with a bit more self-awareness at himself and these feelings with the support of those around him and then work out how best to act on those emotions.
I loved the slow-building smile on Shaun’s face after he finally had sex with Carly. And there was another shot when Carly had the same kind of smile. That was so sweet.
Let’s talk about directing. Does it offer you a different kind of satisfaction than acting?
It’s all ultimately the same thing: telling this story about these characters and all of their different emotional arcs and journeys. But what’s exciting when directing is that you get to not only help shape others’ performance , but also think of ways that you can help accentuate that and help tell the story by what you do with the camera. And whether that’s a certain lens or the way that ultimately the shots are edited together, I find all of that very exciting.
Many actors who direct ask for episodes that are light for them.
Wasn’t the case on this episode! Of course, in some ways, it’s more work and therefore it’s a little bit more exhausting. But it’s also more exciting to be able to come on set and know what you’re going to be doing as an actor. Because you’ve thought that out before and therefore you’ve thought of an interesting way that you can complement that as a director.
If I asked your fellow actors for a few words to describe you as a director, what do you think they’d say?
I’ll often say at the end of the tape like, “Oh, just one more. It’s really good. Let’s just do one more.” And then three, four takes later we’ll still be doing the same set-up. So I think they’ve learned to not entirely trust me when I say, “Just one more.” I’ve been teased about that phrase far more than any other. I like to think it’s just because it’s the optimistic thing that we will only need one more take because it’s going to be so great and perfect and we won’t need more than one more. But occasionally one does.
I’m so fortunate to direct the show in general, but also it’s the really amazing cast that are so collaborative and excited to try different things. And [we have] a crew that, especially in this episode — so much of which was in the snow in Vancouver — were truly wonderful in embracing being out of our cozy little hospital environment and making sure we got everything that we needed.
What’s the most difficult part of directing?
Time. Whether you have eight days to shoot an episode or when you’ve got 100-plus days to shoot a movie, I’m sure everyone wishes that they just had a little bit more time to do something a little bit better. A constant challenge is just knowing what you need and not being so indulgent that you end up shooting yourself in the foot at the end of the day, while at the same time wanting everything to be as good as it can possibly be.
The Good Doctor, Mondays, 10/9c, ABC