By Audrey Rock
Beverly Hills, CA (The Hollywood Times) 3/27/18 – When THT interviewed Freddie Highmore, the star of television’s hit “The Good Doctor” at Autism Speaks Into the Blue Fashion Gala last October, it was already apparent the young actor is more than qualified to portray an individual on the autism spectrum. “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism,” he’d said while mingling with other high-profile autism activists, advocates, and the media at Union Station.
Neither “The Good Doctor” nor Highmore have declined in popularity or quality in the five months that have lapsed since the autumn event, which honored writer David Shore, cast and crew for their outstanding efforts with the Awareness Award.
In fact, when Highmore took the stage along with Shore and key cast for Paley Fest Good Doctor panel, it was with seemingly increased knowledge and a startlingly refined vocabulary for the issues surrounding the autism community.
“Yes, he will always have autism,” Highmore said of his character, Dr. Shaun Murphy. “But he can still grow so much as a person.” He pointed out that he was frequently asked at the beginning of the series how Dr. Murphy would be able to change and evolve, given his pronounced autism; and further insinuated that the question offended him, calling it “such a narrow-minded way of looking at it.”
“I think, with a character like Shaun, he has to change,” he added. “He’s still the same person, but we get to see that progression.”
A packed audience had gathered at the Dolby Theater, despite formidable rain, to hear just such tidbits of maturity, wisdom, and knowledge from Highmore, Shore, Nicholas Gonzales, Antonia Thomas, Tamlyn Tomita, Richard Schiff, Hill Harper, and Executive Producer Daniel Day Kim. The panel was moderated by Los Angeles entertainment icon George Pennacchio and included an extended audience Q and A session.
The event included a pre-panel screening of the Season 1 finale, a dramatic culmination of Dr. Murphy’s experiences in which his beloved mentor, Dr. Glassman (Richard Schiff) is diagnosed with terminal cancer. It’s the perfect showcase of the series’ astounding potential. Indeed, Highmore was honored with a highly deserved and predictable Golden Globe nomination in January; the series was renewed for a second season in early March; and remains both ABC’s most popular new series and the year’s biggest new TV hit, and the only such show ever to be remade from an original South Korean drama series (which happens to have the same name and was produced in 2013).
Highmore pointed out the deeply individual nature of the autism spectrum, and how critical it is to portray that. “Shaun is never going to be able to be representative of everyone in the community, in the same way other characters in other shows aren’t representative of everyone who’s neurotypical in the world.”
Shore and Highmore were intent on highlighting the things these remarkable individuals have in common with the neurotypical population at large. When asked how the show’s creators were treating issues such as romance and sex, Shore had a simple, and blunt, response. “To a certain extent, it’s treating the character as a human being,” he told the audience. “It’s recognizing that he goes through what everyone does, just in a different way.”
Highmore’s performance as Murphy is astounding in the way it accurately portrays those “different ways” individuals on the spectrum relate to the world around them. Of his preternatural ability to avoid eye-contact with his co-stars, a hallmark trait of many on the spectrum, Highmore stated it was probably more difficult for those acting opposite him. “You have to re-evaluate those ways of expressing emotion.”
In an evening filled with insightful and inspirational moments, perhaps the most inspirational moment came when actor Coby Bird, who happens to be on the autism spectrum and guest starred on a November episode of The Good Doctor, had a chance to wave to the audience. At 15 years old and a commanding 6-feet tall, he stands as beacon of everything The Good Doctor aspires to achieve. As Bird, who had been seated among the audience, stood and enjoyed the applause, it was obvious that this show, and everything it represents, is beyond beloved; it’s far-reaching message is changing both the worlds of the autism spectrum, and television entertainment. And at it’s very best, any show worth renewing ought to strive to achieve something equal.
So it’s official. “The Good Doctor” has earned its good name.
By Audrey Rock