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The Good Doctor season 4 exclusive: Hill Harper defends the US medical drama’s bold approach on Covid
Hill Harper - Dr Marcus Andrews in the show - speaks exclusively to BT.com about the hit drama’s fourth season, which pulls no punches when it comes to the coronavirus pandemic.
After an unstable 12 months for TV, we’re at a point where shows that were able to finish filming in 2020 are finally trickling through to our screens.
Most have shied away from tackling or even acknowledging the coronavirus pandemic, seeing it as a risk for audiences who surely need an escape from the real-life catastrophe that changed all our lives.
But for The Good Doctor – the US medical drama that has never pulled back from sensitive topics – there was no option but to tackle the subject head-on.
The result is the boldest fictional work about the coronavirus that we’ve seen yet.
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Indeed, the first few seconds of the first two episodes of the new season are taken up by a title screen that reads: “This episode of The Good Doctor is a made-up story about a real battle still being fought. Honor the heroes: doctors, nurses and other frontline workers, many of whom have given their lives. Do your part. Wear a mask.”
This statement is echoed throughout those first two episodes, with the show bravely drawing parallels with the world that we’ve been living in for the last 12 months.
The pace of the show is relentless, with seemingly endless heartbreaking scenes of doctors holding mobile phones up for loved ones saying their final goodbyes, before the ventilators are tragically switched off. One patient’s wife is constantly seen on a phone screen throughout his treatment so she can be there in some form, at least.
A maskless woman who refuses a doctor a space in a lift is later shamed for not wearing a covering, with the medic ordering: “Wear your damn mask!”
There are other nods that many of us can relate to: meetings taking place over Zoom and relationships being tested for those who are forced to spend more time with each other.
But it also makes us think about how this really affected frontline workers in their personal lives, like those who were forced to stay away from their families or had to deal with grief as they worked.
The Good Doctor’s main character is Shaun (Freddie Highmore), a brilliant surgeon who has autism. As you would expect, the show explores how he struggles with these huge changes. But there are also moments of light amid the darkness; when he excitedly illustrates to his colleagues that nobody can read people’s emotions as well in masks, he feels some relief that finally people can see the world, partly at least, in the way he does.
‘All of us couldn’t be more proud’
In a BT.com exclusive, Hill Harper - who has starred in the show as Dr Marcus Andrews since its beginnings in 2017 - spoke passionately about the feedback the team has received since the episodes aired in the US at the end of last year.
“Whenever doctors are rating the accuracy and truth-telling of the shows, of all the medical dramas, our show always rates number one. I think our writers take it very seriously. I think our actors, we take it very seriously,” he explained.
“Those first two episodes of the season in many ways represent an homage to our frontline healthcare workers, to say thank you for putting your lives on the line for us, particularly during the early days of the pandemic when there was so little information.”
He continued: “I remember I saw a post about a 28-year-old nurse. He passed away from Covid. 28 years old! And obviously his level of viral exposure from doing his job was tremendous… it just breaks your heart. We just have to say thank you to folks.”
A scene showing his character living in his garage in between shifts particularly resonated with those workers.
“That scene where my character goes home and you see he’s living in the garage by himself, I got so many reach-outs - DMs, on Instagram, on Twitter - from all of these healthcare workers that really were in tears, saying: ‘That’s what my life was like early on. We didn’t know what it was, we didn’t want to expose my family. I felt isolated and lonely. Thank you so much for representing that and showing that.’
“All of us couldn’t be more proud of the way we wrote it, to tell the truth, to be realistic and to say thank you for these true real-life heroes. I’m very proud of the way those first two episodes were portrayed.”
Hope, possibility, and doing better
Hill, who has three Ivy League degrees and befriended Barack Obama during his time at Harvard, said the making of the new season was as emotional off-screen as on it.
“When I read those first two episodes I certainly teared up,” he revealed. “Even when I watched them – and I know what’s going to happen – it makes you emotional.”
He spoke passionately about the impact the disease has had in the US, particularly to those from underprivileged backgrounds, and that The Good Doctor represented the country’s hope for the future.
“In the United States, we’ve lost over 500,000 people to this horrible disease. And these are people, many of whom – the bulk of whom – are folks who didn’t have the resources to get access to the best healthcare. And it’s a shame.
“You’re talking about many African American communities who were hit very hard. Latino communities. The indigenous and native population communities in our country and obviously around the world, countries that have challenges around their access to equal healthcare. So my heart goes out.
“We have to say listen, I’m sorry to the folks that we’ve lost. We could’ve done better. I believe we could’ve done better. We will do better in the future moving forward and that’s why I think the show’s about hope and it’s about possibility and it’s about doing better, making better decisions and increasing your circle of care, caring for more people, saving lives. And we all can do that together.”
Filming during Covid
Making season 4 amid Covid restrictions was a very different experience, but Hill said it was worth it.
“I think that the production team and Sony did an amazing job with all the protocols. We had multiple Zoom meetings discussing the best practices. They instituted things that were well above and beyond the minimum requirements, we were tested very frequently and all of the protocols were in place.
“Even changing the way we actually shot – the cameras would be in the room but they would be controlled remotely by the focus pullers as well as the camera operators who before then would actually be in the room with you. Now they’re out of the room and just the cameras were there with the dolly grips.”
Hill feels lucky to have been working during the pandemic but the experience was lonely. While he wasn’t living in a garage like his on-screen alter-ego, he missed having his young son around on set.
“I have a little son, he’s five years old. He used to love going to the set and I tried to explain to him that he couldn’t go. He loves my little trailer off the set,” he said.
“I’m like ‘You can’t go, you can’t come. No visitors, no outside people’… [I felt] the separation and the isolation, but still understanding that we’re so blessed and so fortunate just to be able to go back to work.
“We all feel more isolated in many ways and it continues. We cannot let our guard down. We have to keep looking out for each other, we have to keep wearing masks, get vaccinated. All of the things that need to happen that people still need to do to make sure we’re taking care of each other.”
The Good Doctor season 4 is streaming weekly on Sky Witness with the NOW Entertainment Membership.
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