Star Freddie Highmore Talks The Influence Of COVID-19 On ‘The Good Doctor’

THE GOOD DOCTOR - ABC's "The Good Doctor" stars Freddie Highmore as Dr. Shaun Murphy. (ABC/Art Streiber)

By Jeff Pfeiffer

“How do you heal a world turned upside down?” reads the tagline for a poster promoting Season 4 of ABC’s hit medical drama The Good Doctor (Mondays). It’s a question that real-world medical workers are certainly dealing with amid the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, and this fictional show’s staff will also confront.

COVID-19 will be a theme throughout this new season, particularly in the first few episodes, says Freddie Highmore, who is back in his Golden Globe-nominated role as autistic savant surgical resident Shaun Murphy.

“[It was] important for us to touch on the coronavirus,” Highmore says. “Not just [because] we are a show that seeks to reflect the reality that we’re living in, but also it felt like a moment to pay tribute in our own way to the real medical professionals who continue to put their lives at risk. And I think we’d be doing a disservice to them to not want to show our thanks, I guess, and draw attention to the realities of the world in this moment. … But at the same time, it’s not a show that will singularly be focused on that.”

This new reality seems like it would also have the potential to turn Shaun’s individual world upside down, given his nature. This season, the young doctor is already facing other major challenges outside of his normal comfort zone, including being a boss for the first time.

“There are new residents who are going to be coming in,” Highmore explains, “who Shaun is responsible for and has to teach and take under his wing. And, of course, he can provide great medical insight to them, but how will he be in terms of the more practical matters and the patient/doctor relationships? So that’s something that I’m excited to see, [him] taking responsibility for others.”

Shaun also has new personal responsibilities in his life; at the end of Season 3, he and Lea (Paige Spara) were on their way to being a couple again after sharing a kiss.

“I feel like the biggest challenge between [Shaun] and Lea,” Highmore says, “will be the fact that they’re embarking on this new relationship, but at the same time are unable to physically be together, which I think is an issue that so many of us have had to deal with, whether it’s a romantic relationship or another close relationship, over the last few months. And so I think, as it was — and is — a challenge for everyone, now it will be for him.”

Shaun has had some experience in this, though, even if to a lesser degree. A Season 2 episode of The Good Doctor focused on a viral outbreak putting the hospital staff into quarantine, which caused Shaun great anxiety. Perhaps he has remembered coping mechanisms from that event?

“I think Shaun has definitely learned and changed and grown as a person and as a doctor since he began at the hospital, as we all have,” Highmore offers. “And certainly he will have learned lessons from that initial quarantine and viral outbreak that we had in Season 2.

“The thing that he’ll probably most struggle with, in this situation, is just the constantly evolving nature of the coronavirus, especially during those early days when so little was known about it. I think that’s usually been one of Shaun’s weaknesses: he’s always incredibly well-prepared. He knows his textbooks inside out. But when he’s faced with a problem that is potentially new and different, that can prove challenging.”