LOS ANGELES, USA – On a recent visit to The Good Doctor set in Vancouver, we found out that a cast member was part-Filipino! Christina Chang, who plays Dr. Audrey Lim, the chief surgeon in the long-running medical drama, has Pinoy heritage.
Christina, who confirmed that her Filipina roots come from her father, is proud of the diversity in the show, which recently notched its 100th episode milestone.
I’ve always harped on about the lack of diversity in some TV hospital and medical dramas, since the reality is that in hospitals and medical facilities in America, the staff is very diverse. There are especially a lot of doctors and nurses of color.
I’ve pointed out that when you walk into a hospital or a medical facility in many parts of the US, chances are, you will encounter a Filipino nurse, nurse aide, doctor, therapist, or pharmacist. I credit The Good Doctor, though, for its diverse casting.
The show can certainly show more Pinoy nurses. Though there is one, Nurse Villanueva, who is portrayed by Elfina Lusk.
Christina, who was paired with Hill Harper (Doctor Marcus Andrews, who assumed various duties and is now the hospital president), responded to my question to both of them, as actors of color, on the issue of diversity in medical shows.
“I’m so proud to be a woman of color on this show that has so many eyes on it,” began the actress, who was born in Taipei to a Taiwanese-Filipino father and an American mother.
“It’s so important for not just girls but boys to see that. Statistically, maybe 19% of surgeons or chief surgeons are women. And so, it’s really an honor to be able to represent that on the screen, just to start with.”
“We are really proud to be on a show that is so diverse. Nurse Villanueva is a Filipina character on the show.”
“In our writer’s room, there is diversity. And that’s important to us as well. I welcome more diversity in casting, in rooms where decisions are made. We’re off to a good start here on this show, for sure.”
Hill, an Iowa native who played basketball with former US president Barack Obama at Harvard, where they became friends, said, “Diversity is so important because it represents truly what’s happening. I was at a conference and a doctor who was of East Indian Heritage and his sister came up and they said the exact same point you made.”
“It’s that in most hospital shows they watched, the doctors and the nurses are nothing like the people [in real life], but on our show, it’s much closer to the reality of who is actually doing it. And if you think about it, among immigrants, and people of color in the US, there’s always been a mentality of wanting to have a profession and be professionals.”
“And going to med school, working hard and studying hard is an ethos that runs through that goal. That’s the reality of who you see. And these are the folks who are actually taking care of everybody.”
“And it’s really powerful. And the fact that Christina has Filipino heritage is even more exciting to me because she said that she was going to take me to the Philippines on a trip to…”
“The Chocolate Hills,” Christina chimed in. “Bohol,” Hill added. They both smiled as they sat on director’s chairs on the show’s ER set at Bridge Studios. The series is set in sunny San Jose, California, but outside this Vancouver studio, it was – no surprise – raining.
“We’re going to have to go there,” replied Christina, who holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Washington in Seattle, when I endorsed Bohol and also recommended Palawan.
On what Freddie Highmore brings to the show as an actor (as Doctor Shaun Murphy) and occasional director, Hill answered, “Freddie is certainly one of the best, most talented actors, directors, and producers that I’ve ever worked with. He brings so much passion and drive to the show but he also brings a sense of joy and excellence.”
Hill, whose academic credentials are impeccable – magna cum laude at Brown University, with a JD (cum laude) and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from Harvard – added, “Freddie wants everything to be great. All of us do. And that’s what makes the show so special.”
“We all want the moments to be right, truthful, entertaining, and heartfelt. And he certainly wants all of that.”
Christina also commented, “What makes Freddie so special is that – age me – he is relatively young but he is so mature. He is so professional and knows exactly what he wants. And he can see it’s like from a mathematical mind but creative.”
“He is kind of like his character in this way,” the actress said of Freddie’s autistic-savant role. “The savant piece is there. He can just see exactly where pieces need to be. It’s almost like Shaun’s vision in a way but Freddie’s vision. He’s brilliant.”
On her challenge this season where her Dr. Lim is partially paralyzed and in a wheelchair after surgery following a violent attack at the San Jose St. Bonaventure Hospital, she said, “I love this ride that Lim has been on. It’s been, for me as an actor, really fun.”
“As we like to say, we like to roll up our sleeves, get into it, and get our hands dirty. It’s been a nice, juicy ride.”
“So now that we’re here in the recovery stage, I would say it’s slow. It’s literally slow going. We’re actually just getting into it now.”
“I don’t know yet what they have in store in terms of the back end of it but for now, it’s just taking it kind of one day at a time, just the way Lim would.”
Hill, whose mom is a pioneering black anesthesiologist in America while his dad is a psychiatrist, commented on the serendipity of playing a physician in the reel world.
“I ask my mom all the time about certain pronunciations and words, just from her vantage point because sometimes there’ll be different pronunciations of the same word online,” he answered. “And which do doctors really use?”
“She loves the fact that I’m playing a doctor. I’ve played a few doctors in my career so this is another one. I love the idea and the fact that we get to portray these people who are truly heroes, who have dedicated their lives, made a Hippocratic Oath to do no harm and help people.”
“It’s wonderful to have the opportunity to do it. And my mother enjoys the show but I’m proud to be able to say that my mom helps me with my role. So, it’s fun.”
On the show having reached season 6 and that recent milestone episode, Hill shared, “So grateful that the show resonates with people. I think it resonates with folks because, in many ways, hospitals are a microcosm of the world. There are hierarchies, backstabbing, life-and-death moments, and all of these things.”
“A very dramatic workplace,” Christina stressed.
Hill continued, “But then you layer on top really good writing and ultimately, that’s what any show lives or dies on. The writing is the most important part.”
“And so I am very proud of the folks who write this show and what we have to work with. And I’m proud to be in this ensemble, of this great cast of people.”
“And they elevate. We just work together. And I have a lot of opportunities to work with this incredibly talented one-quarter Filipino woman (turning to Christina). She’s just incredible.”
She quipped back, “Thank you, Chocolate Hill.”
Paige Spara’s Lea Dilallo-Murphy has gone from Dr. Murphy’s girlfriend to wife. The actress, who was Audrey in the TV series Kevin from Work, shared what’s brewing about the couple in The Good Doctor.
“In the new season, they’re definitely going to be navigating married life together and what that looks like for themselves individually and then coming together to compromise.”
“They’re also going to try to conceive again, and that brings on a whole onslaught of complications and emotional turbulence. So, we will be exploring all of that for the majority of the season.”
“He brings the energy I got when I was little, wanting to be an actor,” Paige said about Freddie when he dons his directing hat. “We’re very hyper. It’s very think-on-your-feet. How can we bring our best ideas forward and execute them? What does that look like?”
“Freddie makes you feel very collaborative and trusting. He also just brings such good, calming energy as well to the set. So, I love working with Freddie as a director.”
The Pennsylvania-born actress, who once worked as a Gossip Girl bus tour guide in New York, added about her costar, “Freddie is never on his phone. He’s very present. He’s very consistent with constantly going over his lines and trying to think of different ways to execute Shaun’s emotions and ideas.”
“I would say he’s just constantly pushing himself to remain present in order to do authentic versions every take.”
She’s proud of the show’s portrayal of autism through Freddie’s character and his relationship with her Lea character.
“It creates a lot of dialogue around what is possible for someone who is on the spectrum and then someone who’s not on the spectrum coming together and letting people in to see what that relationship can look like and it can exist.”
“That’s a really powerful thing because so many people I find need to see something to know that it can exist and then they themselves can start dreaming about that and perhaps go after something like that. So, I love being a part of that kind of dream to inspire people.”
Ironically, Paige is not comfortable in hospital environments. “I’m like my dad,” she admitted. “I don’t do well in hospitals. I don’t do well with needles, blood, none of it. I don’t want to see it. I’m very dramatic. No one wants to work on me.”
And for someone who plays the head of the hospital’s IT department, Paige quipped about her own tech savviness: “Oh, not well. I can turn my phone on and I don’t even update it. So that’s where I’m at with technology. I am good with the power button.”
The actor, whose credits include the Party of Five reboot (as Emilio Acosta), 13 Reasons Why (Jeff Atkins), and Bloodline (Ben Rayburn), was recently promoted from recurring to season regular on The Good Doctor.
Brandon, a native New Yorker who began acting in two operas as early as when he was four years old, talked about playing Dr. Daniel “Danny” Perez, a first-year resident on the show.
“It’s been challenging at times, super educational, but at the most, it’s been very fulfilling for me. Coming onto a show that’s already gone on its hundredth episode, it’s been a true blessing for me.”
“I’m super grateful to be a part of this series because I feel like it’s handled with care. But at the same time, they clearly know the formula to longevity.”
Brandon discussed the challenge of making a good first impression as an actor, just like what his Dr. Perez and Dr. Danica Powell (Savannah Welch) did when they were introduced as first-year residents to Dr. Murphy and Dr. Alex Park (Will Yun Lee).
“My dad always said, first impressions are everything because people judge you based on those,” he remarked. “So, I feel like as far as my character goes, Dr. Perez, his whole persona is making a great first impression.”
“He came from a very humble background. His parents taught him the value of hard work. So, I feel like when he gets to the hospital, he just wants to prove that he belongs here.”
On his doctor part being described as a “lone wolf,” who has an affinity for alternative medicine and is an enigma to his coworkers, the actor, who originally wanted to be a baseball player, said, “Actually, he’s super sure of himself. I feel like he’s not easily influenced by outside voices if he’s super set on something.”
“Not saying that he can’t be open to other perspectives, but chances are, he’s done his research extensively.”
“And I love the fact that he’s almost holistic. He challenges the traditional ways of medicine and he brings those new perspectives to the hospital. And there are points in the season where he kind of butts heads with the higher-ups.”
“But that’s what makes him such an asset to have. In life, we need people to challenge our views because otherwise, we’re just surrounded in a room with like-minded people. We can’t create innovation that way.”
I also asked Brandon – who made his off-Broadway debut at age eight, moved to Florida and then Los Angeles – about the diversity in the show’s cast and in entertainment.
“First of all, Liz Dean is the casting director for the show,” he replied. “It starts with her. She does a phenomenal job at casting this show. Diversity is super important.”
“I come from a Latino background and growing up, I went to schools in the Bronx, New York. It was a huge melting pot of every color, every race.”
“I feel like for viewers who watch the show, we want to see people who look and talk like us. This show, in my opinion, does a great job of providing that diversity for viewers.”
The actor confessed that delivering medical jargon can be a hurdle. He said with a grin, “That’s been a challenge at times, but luckily in the show, we have real medical consultants, people who’ve worked in the medical field for years, who are on set every day to help us with things that we don’t understand. So, the show really gives us all the tools that we need to succeed.”
He’s adopting a wait-and-see attitude about Vancouver’s weather. “Well, I will tell you, living in LA, we don’t really get the seasons. It’s been nice to get the seasons and to see the leaves fall off the trees here.”
“I’ve been spoiled because during my time here, it’s been nothing but sunshine and just now, it’s beginning to rain. So, I feel like you should ask me that question in a few months after I’ve been here through just the downpour.”
But Brando is certain on one aspect – about getting to play a doctor, especially in this pandemic times when doctors, nurses, and medical workers are hailed as heroes.
“At the end of the day, I’m an actor, right?” he said. “I am portraying a doctor. I give full respect to the people who actually do this for a living because they’re the real heroes who are saving lives.”
“I’m just grateful and gracious enough to be portraying what they’re doing. They are the people that I feel like need more praise and who don’t get it enough.” – Rappler.com
The Good Doctor Season 6 is now available in the Philippines on Prime Video.