The Good Doctor stars Nicholas Gonzalez and Christina Chang talk to TV Drama about the success of the show, the diversity of its cast and stories, and the real-life professionals who help keep the show authentic.
The Good Doctor, featuring Freddie Highmore as Dr. Shaun Murphy, a young autistic surgeon with savant syndrome, has sold around the world and garnered millions of loyal fans. As enlightening and touching as Dr. Murphy’s diagnoses and backstory are, he is one of an ensemble of diverse characters that keep viewers coming back each week. Dr. Neil Melendez, played by Gonzalez, and Dr. Audrey Lim, brought to life by Chang, are two dedicated doctors who advocate not only for their patients but for Dr. Murphy as well.
TV DRAMA: To what do you attribute the international appeal of the show?
GONZALEZ: I think the world is ready for some good news, for some hope. Dr. Shaun Murphy, in some ways, has all the odds stacked against him. We all have different things that make us special or help us carry on. There is a lot of darkness in the world, and information is so readily available; we’re constantly bombarded with horrible atrocities every day, disrespect and so many negative things. The Good Doctor is not saccharine sweet. It’s not a soap opera. We’re not dumbing things down for the audience. We are still dealing with the bittersweet and harsh realities of life, but there’s hope. There’s understanding. I think people are searching for understanding, whether it is across the political table [or in personal relationships]. We need it. It’s a world community. It always has been but now more than ever.
TV DRAMA: The doctors on the show are ambitious and there is quite a bit of competition among them. And your two characters, too.
CHANG: They are ambitious and competitive, but it doesn’t get in the way of the job that they do and how good they are as surgeons. They have a shorthand. They have history; they came up together as students, so they know each other quite well. They have mutual respect and admiration for each other. They are like-minded and similar in many ways. It’s a healthy competition.
GONZALEZ: The competition manifests itself, but still, the focus is on the patients. What I love about these characters is that they are moral, upstanding people. It’s not like we have dark secrets. Drama and tension can be found everywhere. We have our flaws. But to play a genuinely good character that is concerned [is a privilege]. Melendez is not doing stuff for fear of losing his job; he’s doing things for the patient. That’s the focus. And that isn’t always the case, as you can see with the residents. It’s not that they don’t care about their cases, but they’re so much in competition [with each other].
TV DRAMA: The Good Doctor has been at the forefront of showcasing diversity. That must be important to you as well.
CHANG: Very, very important. We talk about that all the time. Being female and Asian American, it feels like I won the lottery! And it feels good that we have [executive producer] Daniel Dae Kim, Tamlyn Tomita [who plays Allegra Aoki], Will Yun Lee [who plays Dr. Alex Park] and myself speaking for the Asian community.
GONZALEZ: And looking at diversity from the non-neuro-normative-community angle, we have writers on the spectrum as well. The show has also created careers and given opportunities. We had a female [director of photography] who has moved on to be DP of her own show. We have a producer, Erin Gunn, who is dedicated to bringing more women into directing and writing as well, and it shows.
TV DRAMA: What was your first reaction when you learned about the romantic relationship between your characters?
GONZALEZ: Being given that responsibility and that story is an honor. We’re already a show that is so medical-focused, there’s not a lot of time for the personal stories, outside of Shaun Murphy’s. So that’s a big honor that they liked the way we work together enough to do that.
CHANG: It’s flattering that they decided to give that to us.
GONZALEZ: They had already thrown us together in many different ways to see how it worked. It’s been awesome—and hilariously awkward at times!
TV DRAMA: Are there consultants on the show who helped you step into your roles and learn the job and the terminology for the procedures?
GONZALEZ: They leave us alone and just say, Do it! [Laughs] CHANG: We’re that good! [Laughs] No, we do have a consultant; her name is Susie [Schelling] and she’s fantastic. She was an OR nurse for 30 years and, by the way, a single mom raising four children on her own while she was doing that. She is phenomenal!
GONZALEZ: We had doctors who came on as technical advisors who pale in comparison to the experience and the grit Susie has [contributed to the] show. Susie came in the second season, and with all our big personalities, was able to step in and say, That’s enough, we’re going to make this look good. It made my job easier. I used to be the guy who had to make sure [what we were doing was right]. My dad and brother are both surgeons and I would call them. Then Susie comes along and she’s the one who says, No, that’s not right; it should be this way. She’s calling out the writers. I can sit back and concentrate on [acting].
CHANG: We also do research on our own, but she’s fantastic.
TV DRAMA: Nurses are unsung heroes.
GONZALEZ: Yes, my brother will say they are the ones who really know everything.
CHANG: We have actual nurses on set.
GONZALEZ: During the operating scenes, the ones that hand us the instruments, they are the real deal.
CHANG: This is what they do on their day off.
GONZALEZ: They have fun and some of them want to be actresses.
TV DRAMA: What reaction has the show received from the autism community?
CHANG: It’s very important to David Shore, the creator, down to the writers and to Freddie—it’s widespread throughout the crew and the cast—to represent autism in the most respectful way—like understanding that Shaun Murphy is just one person. He is someone with autism and savant syndrome, which is very unique.
GONZALEZ: In many ways, in film and television, we want to see these unique and most heightened versions of [a situation or condition,] but I’m very proud that [autism] has never been used as a device. There’s been a social aspect and a responsibility from the beginning. The Good Doctor is a story [based on] a Korean series. The writers took the premise and ran with it in a very different way. They realized the opportunity they had to use this mouthpiece and serve the autism community, but also the non-neuro-normative community in general, and anybody who is marginalized, and all the other stories that we can tell. Our staff is made up of people who are highly active in the community. They are all diverse, and they feel very strongly about their advancement. Autism is one of those things that isn’t a means to an end but is very much the end as well. It’s the heart of our show.