Freddie Highmore on Saying Goodbye to ‘The Good Doctor’: ‘The Show Has Always Lived in These Tiny Little Nuances’

After seven seasons, “The Good Doctor” came to a heart-rending conclusion, emotionally devastating the dedicated fans who signed on to say so long to Dr. Shaun Murphy and the rest of the cast and crew who populated San Jose St. Bonaventure Hospital.

Variety talked with series star Freddie Highmore (Dr. Shaun Murphy) about saying farewell to the creators and actors he’s shared laborious science monologues and anxiety-inducing surgical scenes with for seven years.

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What was the very last scene that you shot as Dr. Shaun Murphy?

The last scene that I filmed was the one where, ultimately, Leah sits down next to Shaun and then talks him into going to becoming aware, I guess, of the situation facing both Claire and Dr. Glassman. That motivates him in the short term to go and speak to Claire [Antonia Thomas] and then come to terms with the fact that Glassman will not be with them for much longer. That felt like the perfect last theme to film.

There’s obviously the bigger, splashier speech, but ultimately, the show has always lived in these tiny little nuances and small moments and small beats between characters. And that last scene with Paige [Spara] certainly felt like that. It was back at the studio. We retreated into one last stage. The rest of the stages and sets were being dismantled. The residence lounge was the last one standing for the last few days of filming.

How did it feel when they said that’s a wrap on Freddie?

It’s hard to describe. I think the general feeling that I’ve felt is it’s a bit like graduation. You are nostalgic because you’re aware of how special these last few years have been with this group of people, and you are aware you’re never going to replicate that again at another point. Of course, it’s moving and emotional in that way, but at the same time, like graduation, you are excited to do other things and to move on. You know that it’s healthy and good and that you can’t stay at university forever. So I’m also excited for everything that’s to come in the future.

I think in some ways, there’s a certain peace that it brings on the last day when you are looking around at all of these people that you love and care about so deeply, and knowing that we got to end the show with the knowledge that it was ending on our own terms and tell the story all the way through to its end. I think gives a certain peace and satisfaction and lovely to have that opportunity to say goodbye to everyone.

Was Shaun’s end game always going to finish as the father of two, leading a neurodivergent program within the medical industry? When did you learn about how his story would end?

I think [series showrunner David Shore] would be better placed to answer this, but from what he has said when I have been around him, there was an original end goal of Shaun becoming a father. That felt like a natural end to the show. Of course, we went past that. And I think that speaks to how much Shaun has been able to grow and change and evolve over the last seven years in time that I’ve got to play him.

I think a tendency perhaps amongst shows that do have a case of the week, procedural element, is that there’s a desire for characters to stay the same week after week. But certainly on this show, it’s been an amazing challenge and an exciting one to play a character who is constantly evolving and constantly changing and growing. When we look at the finale and look back to where Shaun has started, that journey has been a big one.

We saw that growth in the penultimate episode when Shaun shares that moment with Richard Schiff on the stairs, and you put your arm around him. Talk to me a little bit about that scene and what it was like getting to do that.

It’s a subtle one. It’s not too heavy-handed, but it speaks a lot to how far they’ve come with Shaun. I think a part of him, in that moment, is aware that putting his arm around Dr. Glassman is the thing that you should do in order to demonstrate that you care about someone and that you want to support them. It comes from a place of him realizing that, in this moment, he does need to be the person to take care of Dr. Glassman in the way that Dr Glassman has always taken care of him. That’s Shaun’s journey as well in the last episode: accepting Dr. Glassman’s wishes and accepting that he has to support him rather than Dr. Glassman being the one who has always supported Shaun in whatever he has wanted and strived for.

THE GOOD DOCTOR - ÒGoodbyeÓ - As the doctors consider their futures, they work together to solve one of the most important cases of their careers. TUESDAY, MAY 21 (10:00-11:00 p.m. EDT) on ABC. (Disney/Jeff Weddell)
Christina Chang, Richard Schiff, Bria Samon Henderson, Liz Friedman, Freddie Highmore, Fiona Gubelmann, David Shore, Kayla Cromer, Will Yun Lee, Wavyy Jonez on the series finale of “The Good Doctor.”

What is it like saying those last scenes with Richard Schiff? Was it hard to say goodbye?

Yes! It’s odd. I think, in some ways, it will probably dawn on me maybe further down the line that we won’t be doing scenes together anymore, both with Richard and also other people on the show. When you are used to a routine of spending 20 episodes with the same group of people, leaving for a few months, and then coming back again and returning and doing it again, maybe the odd feeling will come a few months from now when you are not returning to see those people again, and your sort of natural routine is shaken up in some way. But it was honestly just a really lovely last few episodes to film. Having Antonia back and getting to have these meaningful goodbyes with all of the characters and giving every character their own send-off. It felt celebratory rather than overly sad in terms of what we’ve been able to accomplish on the show and what we’ve all done collectively as a group.

What was the cast’s reaction to having Antonia Thomas back, but then also giving her cancer, a virus and then ultimately amputating her arm? That was brutal.

Yes. It’s funny, a few people have said, “Do you feel bad for Claire because she lost her arm?” Whereas truly, in a moment when filming it and looking at the episode, I felt like this was a huge success because she’s still alive. She lost an arm, but it could have been so much worse. But yes, I’m not sure that Antonia knew quite what she was signing up for in terms of Claire’s progression into illness, but it was so lovely for everyone to have her back. It felt like it brought it full circle to the beginning, reminding us of where all of the characters started and how far they’ve all come.

What is the legacy of “The Good Doctor” and how has it changed the conversation around neurodivergent people in the workplace and in relationships?

It’s not really for me to say whether we’ve been successful or not, but if in some small little way, this show has been able to challenge stereotypes and misconceptions and bring awareness to autism, then that would be the thing that I’m certainly most proud of and would be the most meaningful conclusion from this show.

I think one of those misconceptions is that people with autism can’t change and evolve in the same way neurotypical people can, which obviously isn’t true. Hopefully, we’ve been able to show that by telling Shaun’s individual story. But I’m also aware that Shaun is and never should represent everyone who’s on the spectrum, and we’ve always focused on telling his one, individual journey and story, and hopeful that that will be a starting place for people who perhaps didn’t have as much awareness of autism before coming to the show.

What’s next for you? Would you jump into another procedural?

That’s not the thing that I’m necessarily looking for, but I’ve never searched things out. I feel I’ve always been surprised by opportunities that have come along. After “Bates Motel” ended, I certainly wasn’t looking to do another television show straight away, and then “The Good Doctor” came along three days later, so you never quite know what’s going to happen. I’m going to be doing this British miniseries over the summer that I can’t really talk about, but that I’m very excited about. That will be fun to be back in Europe and do something that I’ve never done before in terms of this project and then see what’s next after that.

I’ve enjoyed, on this show, being a part of the wider process. I’d love to continue to produce and develop shows and write and direct as well. I’ve enjoyed doing all of those things. That’s certainly a goal as well.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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