‘The Good Doctor’: Freddie Highmore Says He’s ‘Constantly Learning’ How to Portray Autistic Savant Shaun Murphy
The Good Doctor star Freddie Highmore is arguably in his most challenging role yet as an actor. Highmore plays Dr. Shaun Murphy on the show, an autistic savant who is also a surgeon at San Jose St. Bonaventure Hospital. Murphy has trouble communicating with the doctors due to his medical condition, but his knowledge of the medical field makes him an asset to the team.
Highmore is not autistic in real life — and learning how to portray such a character is no easy feat.
Freddie Highmore works with an autism consultant to get the role just right
Shaun Murphy isn’t the only complex character Highmore has played on the small screen. Prior to starring in The Good Doctor, Highmore was on Bates Motel, a prequel to Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho.” On that show, Highmore played psychologically disturbed teenager Norman Bates, whose personality also had complexities that Highmore had to master in order to succeed in the role.
For The Good Doctor, Highmore’s portrayal of an autistic character wasn’t one he developed on his own. After the show was greenlit, producers hired autism consultant Melissa Reiner to help Highmore portray Murphy as accurately as possible.
“I sat down before the pilot … With the consultant that we still have on-board,” Highmore revealed on a podcast. “[We] also just traded back and forth books and pieces of literature and documentaries that … Gave us some sort of insight into building this one, very particular character.”
Highmore does extensive research to master his role
The research into bringing Murphy to life stretches beyond just working with one other person. Highmore has also done extensive research on his own. “I’m constantly learning,” he told Digital Spy. “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.”
Each season, viewers learn more about Highmore’s character and how Murphy has developed since the start of the show. During season 1, Murphy had difficulty communicating emotion, and though he still works through it in season 4, those around him have better adapted to his way of thinking and expression, which has allowed him to thrive more as the show has gone on.
Highmore took the role of Murphy because he thought it was ‘important’
Highmore appears to have a knack for complex acting roles. But he didn’t necessarily accept the role of Murphy because it was a personal challenge; he accepted it because he felt that it was something he had to do.
“I feel very fortunate to have been offered the part of Shaun,” Highmore told Digital Spy, adding that he wasn’t a part of the casting process that determined he was best fit. “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.”
Watch The Good Doctor Mondays at 10 p.m. EST on ABC.