TV

The Good Doctor: Forget McDreamy, introducing McBrilliant - the new surgeon in town

Freddie Highmore discusses his role in the new number one worldwide drama hitting New Zealand screens.

Patrick Dempsey made viewers the world over swoon in his role as Derek Shepherd in Grey's Anatomy, but there's a new doctor in town. And just like any compelling main character, he has the troubled background and complicated present to guarantee must-watch viewing.
From the creator of House, The Good Doctor has fast become a runaway success since first screening in the States at the end of last year.
It overtook The Big Bang Theory as the country's most watched show after its third episode aired. And the infectious viewing didn't stop there. It can now lay claim to being the world's number one drama, having also reached top status in Canada, the UK, Australia and Spain.
New Zealand fans can now get in on the action as the show has just arrived to Lightbox.
The medical drama is centered around the character of Dr Shaun Murphy. Played by 25-year-old Freddie Highmore, Murphy is a brilliant young aspiring surgeon with autism and savant syndrome. When the show's creator David Shore approached him about the role, Highmore couldn't refuse.
"He is such a fascinating and intricate character, and an important one. All of that excited me," he told TV Week.
Highmore got his big break at the age of 12 playing Peter Llewelyn Davies opposite Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet in Finding Neverland.
A 12-year-old Freddie in Finding Neverland.
Depp was reportedly so impressed with Highmore that he requested he be cast alongside him in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Freddie was a two time winner of the Film Critics' Award for the world's Best Young Actor. But he is perhaps most familiar to viewers of The Bates Motel, having played Norman Bates for five seasons.
"I had such a great time on Bates Motel," Freddie says. "But this (The Good Doctor) was something very different and it seemed like the right step."
It was only three days in between wrapping filming on Bates Motel and starting work on The Good Doctor.
Highmore started work on The Good Doctor only three days after finishing up on his previous series.
While autism isn't a new subject on the big or small screen, the idea of having a high functioning autistic savant as a surgeon is.
Savant syndrome is a rare condition in which sufferers possess certain skills far in excess of what is normal. It can often relate to spatial abilities or memory recall - traits we see in Dr Murphy's character. The most famous savant character on screen to date was Dustin Hoffman's Oscar winning performance in Rain Man.
In The Good Doctor, the character of Shaun displays "genius level skills in several areas." He has almost perfect recall and extraordinary spatial intelligence which allows him to analyse situations in ways most people cannot.
As he builds a visual representation of medical conditions in his mind, viewers follow his thought process throughout and see his imaginings come to fruition on screen.
The viewer sees how Dr Murphy visualises medical situations in his mind.
Bringing such a character to life was a challenge Highmore took very seriously.
"There's a huge amount of responsibility and research that comes with it," Freddie says. "I wanted to make sure Shaun was portrayed as authentically as possible in regards to his autism."
"I watched a lot of documentaries, read pieces of literature and then worked closely with the consultant we had on set."
"I kept reminding myself that Shaun shouldn't represent everyone in the world who has autism or is on the spectrum," he explains. "It was important to construct an individual who has autism and also savant syndrome, but isn't defined by those two conditions."
Dr Murphy's extraordinary skills are evident from the beginning.
Highmore's portrayal is heartfelt and believable, and after delivering standout performances since the age of 12, it is this role which finally delivered him a Best Actor Golden Globe nomination.
At its core, The Good Doctor is an uplifting watch. The first episode centres around whether or not the hospital should hire an autistic surgeon. Shaun's advocate stresses the importance of getting over prejudice and giving him a chance.
"We hire Shaun and we give hope to those people with limitations that those limitations are not what they think they are. That they do have a shot."
It seems to be that exact sentiment that is resonating so well with viewers.
The Good Doctor is screening exclusively on Lightbox with double episodes available every Monday.