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Best Performances: Freddie Highmore on The Good Doctor's Understated Emotion

Playing a character who has trouble expressing himself has been one of the actor's most interesting challenges

Krutika Mallikarjuna

The Good Doctor was undeniably the breakout hit of the past television season. The second you see Freddie Highmore, who plays Dr. Shaun Murphy, on screen, it's easy to see why. Shaun, a savant on the autism spectrum, spends most of the season solving impossible cases while struggling to connect with the people around him. His main support system is Richard Schiff's Dr. Aaron Glassman, who vouched for Shaun's surgical residency spot at San Jose St. Bonaventure Hospital. Shaun's relationship with Dr. Glassman, who is essentially the father figure he never had, has been a contentious one over the course of the first season and it all came to a head in the heartbreaking season finale.

After spending the first season trying to establish himself as his own man, Shaun finds out that Dr. Glassman has cancer in the finale. The threat of losing one of the few people who has ever attempted to understand him brings about a quiet but surprisingly emotional reconciliation.

"Shaun's reaction, as with everyone, is very individual," Highmore told TV Guide. "The way in which, for example in the finale, Shaun processes denial is individual to him, as opposed to necessarily being a universal reaction that all people with autism would have, because there isn't such a thing."

To Highmore, the episode is a noteworthy moment of Shaun's evolution, because for the first time in the series, Shaun volunteered and instigated a frank, understated expression of love: a hug. "It felt very different when acting in that scene too because it did feel new, it did feel like a new way of Shaun expressing emotion," said Highmore. "It certainly felt somewhat cathartic or like a release to finally give Richard a hug."

"The idea of underplaying the emotion is a large part of what makes David Shore's writing so great," Highmore continued. "He doesn't need to hit things over the head and the moments that can be so meaningful like the 'I love you more' moment doesn't need to be as melodramatic as it might be in another show."