After The Good Doctor premiered on ABC in fall 2017, it quickly turned into the surprise hit of the season. With 11.8 million viewers tuning in to the series premiere, the show became the network's most watched Monday drama debut in 21 years.
There was particular praise for lead actor Freddie Highmore's thoughtful portrayal of Shaun Murphy, the savant surgical resident with autism. There's even buzz that Highmore may be among the nominees for the Emmy for Best Drama Actor when nominations are announced on Thursday, July 12. Highmore is a leading man now, but the actor has come a long way.
Alfred Thomas "Freddie" Highmore was born in Camden Town, London, on February 14,1992. He was the first child of Sue Latimer, a talent agent whose client list includes Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe. Highmore himself started acting at age 7, but as his career grew, he managed to keep himself grounded. He attended a regular primary school growing up, even while acting, and the 26-year-old still lives in London.
As he told The Evening Standard, "I think the distance from [Hollywood] as well with school and university allows you to see the illusions or see through them more so than if that’s your reality," he said. "But I think it also just helps you grow as an actor, too. If your only experiences are growing up on sets, then it gets to a point where you don’t have anything to draw on in terms of real-life experience to portray these characters."
Here's what else you need to know about Highmore's ascent from child star to leading man.
In 1999, Highmore made his film debut in the Scottish comedy Women Talking Dirty.
The seven-year-old played the older son of Helena Bonham Carter's character, Cora. This movie was also a family affair, as Highmore's brother Bertie played the role of his younger brother in the film.
In 2001, Highmore had another chance to act opposite a family member. In Jack and the Beanstalk: The Real Story, Highmore and his real-life father, actor Edward Highmore, played father and son.
In 2004, Highmore made a career breakthrough.
Highmore played Peter Llewelyn Davies, the inspiration behind Peter Pan, in the historical drama film Finding Neverland. The film also starred Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet, and Highmore received nominations for the Saturn Award for Best Performance by a Younger Actor and Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role. He won the Critics' Choice Movie Award for Best Young Performer.
The young actor also made quite an impression on his cast mates. Depp told Entertainment Weekly, "When there were scenes with Freddie, Kate and I just stood back and let him go. It’s unbelievably compelling." Winslet agreed, telling the magazine, "He has the most terrifying instincts, they’re just bang-on. And he has no idea that he has that."
He teamed up with Johnny Depp again for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Released in 2005, 13-year-old Highmore played the movie's main role of Charlie Bucket. When director Tim Burton had trouble finding an actor for the main role of Charlie, Highmore's Finding Neverland co-star Johnny Depp, who played Wonka, reportedly recommended him for the role. In this film Highmore was also reconnected with his Women Talking Dirty co-star, Helena Bonham Carter.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was a hit, grossing $450 million worldwide, and Highmore again won the Critics' Choice Movie Award for Best Young Performer, as well as the Satellite Award for Outstanding New Talent.
Bates Motel co-star Vera Farmiga congratulated Highmore on his previous double wins when they announced the nominees for the Best Young Actor award in 2015.
In 2008's The Spiderwick Chronicles, Highmore pulled double duty.
The American fantasy film, based on the popular children's book series, follows identical twins Jared and Simon as they discover a world of fairies and other magical creatures in their new house. Just like Lindsay Lohan in The Parent Trap, Highmore played the role of both twins. The actor also voiced the twins in The Spiderwick Chronicles video game.
In an interview with Collider, Highmore talked about how he speaks in an American accent for projects like Spiderwick. His first American accent came in the 2007 movie August Rush, where he played an 11-year-old musical prodigy living in an orphanage, who later runs away to New York City to find his birth parents.
"I try and talk in it as much as possible, so it becomes second nature. You know it’s important," he said. "You don’t want to have to worry about real intrusive R’s and the vowel sounds. You want to just concentrate on the emotions and the important side of the character."
In 2010, Highmore starred in Toast, a BBC autobiographical film about chef Nigel Slater.
Toast also marked the third time that Helena Bonham Carter and Highmore starred in a film together. He told The Independent, "It is very funny to go through your life with her as your mum every so often. This time she's the nasty stepmum. It was a bit of a change. You get on so well with someone and then you have to dislike them on set."
The actor also explained to The Independent about what turning 18 meant for his career. "When you're 18 you can't play the kid from Finding Neverland anymore. People have different expectations when you're younger – it's less about changing yourself into a character; they want a more natural thing," he said. "And they just want you to be able to turn up every day and carry on working."
2013 saw him land a starring role in Bates Motel.
At the age of 21, Highmore was cast as serial killer Norman Bates in the A&E drama series Bates Motel. The series is a contemporary prequel to the 1960 Alfred Hitchcock film Psycho, with the new series depicting a young Norman Bates. Highmore portrayed Bates throughout the duration of the TV show, until the series finale in 2017. During his time on the show, he also attended and graduated from Cambridge University with a degree in Spanish and Arabic.
He won a People's Choice Award for Favorite Cable TV Actor in 2016, and in 2013 he received nominations for the Saturn Award for Best Actor on Television and the Satellite Award for Best Actor – Television Series Drama. He also received nominations for the Critics' Choice Television Award for Best Actor in a Drama Series in 2014, 2015, and 2017.
Bates Motel also allowed Highmore to try his hand at writing and directing. He wrote the fourth season episode "Unfaithful" and the fifth season episode "Inseparable," and directed the fifth season episode "The Body."
Highmore talked about the experience with Deadline, saying he wanted to write for the show because acting wasn't enough. "I think it was born naturally out of working on a television show, because there was something odd to me about leaving the show behind in-between seasons, after putting so much into it on set for four, five months," he said.
The actor started playing Dr. Shaun Murphy on The Good Doctor in 2017.
According to ABC, Dr. Shaun Murphy,"a young surgeon with autism and savant syndrome, relocates from a quiet country life to join a prestigious hospital's surgical unit. Alone in the world and unable to personally connect with those around him, Shaun uses his extraordinary medical gifts to save lives and challenge the skepticism of his colleagues."
The role was a landmark in representation for those on the autism spectrum. "What I think we are trying to do in portraying Dr. Shaun Murphy is moving away from perhaps stereotypical versions of people with autism that have been shown on television and in certain movies in the past, the No. 1 thing that they're devoid of emotion," Highmore said during the press tour. "Of course, that's complete nonsense."
The role landed the actor a nomination for the 2017 Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Drama Series.
There's much more to come.
Along with Bates Motel executive producer Kerry Ehrin, Highmore sold a new pilot to A&E. According to Variety, the drama is called Baby Face and it tells "the love story of a young couple rallying against the establishment in the throes of the Great Depression." One half of that couple? The gangster "Baby Face" Nelson. The duo are co-writing the series, and Highmore will also star as Nelson.
Ehrin and Highmore also teamed up for a NBC project. Written by Ehrin and called Long Distance, the project details a couple's unexpected long-distance relationship. According to Deadline, Long Distance will also "explore dating, the internet, how we communicate, and what love and romance really mean in our modern world." Highmore and Ehrin are executive producers on the project, along with Chicago Fire producer Danielle Gelber. Highmore may also star in the project, if he is available.
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