Fan Fest Exclusive Interview: Tamlyn Tomita Talks Season 1 of ‘The Good Doctor’
ABC’s mega-hit medical drama The Good Doctor has captured the hearts of audiences everywhere during its first season. The series stars Freddie Highmore (Bates Motel) as Doctor Shaun Murphy, a young surgeon with autism and savant syndrome who relocates from quiet country life to join a prestigious hospital’s surgical unit. Murphy is entirely alone in the world and experiences several challenges when it comes to his surgical career. He is unable to connect with those around him personally, but Shaun uses his extraordinary medical gifts to save lives and challenge the skepticism of his colleagues.
We recently had the pleasure of chatting with series star Tamlyn Tomita who plays Allegra Aoki on The Good Doctor. We spoke with her about her impressive career and her current role as Allegra Aoki on ABC’s The Good Doctor.
Denise Caputo: Before we jump into questions, I wanted to say a big congratulations on the second season renewal for The Good Doctor! That’s so exciting!
Tamlyn Tomita: I know! Thank you so very much. We’re still riding high. We’re just so grateful and just in awe that the show’s done so well, it’s so beloved and that ABC gave us the early pickup. Great things are happening.
DC: It’s news that everyone’s been waiting for, so it’s exciting that it’s finally official! Before we get into talking about the series, in particular, let’s talk a little bit about your career. You have a highly impressive resume of roles, and I understand that acting wasn’t your first choice of a profession. Can you tell me about how you found your way into the acting world?
TT: Sure. I was originally studying to become a history teacher, and I was going to UCLA to get my history degree. What I love about history is that you do the research to find the back stories about people, cultures, communities, countries – about society.
When I was asked to audition for Karate Kid Part II, I didn’t know anything about acting but thought it was a fun opportunity. I was on break in summer of 1985 and the woman who eventually became my manager said, ‘you have to read the script, and you have to figure out who you are, where you come from and who your family is.’ It’s like building history. So the history became a significant part of what I do as an actor. That’s really the gist of what you’re supposed to do. Build your character. Build who you are, and that’s the story you’re going to tell, whether it’s a film or a television episode or a stage piece.
That’s basically the long story made short, and that’s how I continue to approach my work. I really build a history and research where my characters come from.
DC: How did you land your role on The Good Doctor?
TT: The Good Doctor was the traditional route. An audition came out for a new series called The Good Doctor based on the Korean television series. I read the script and thought it sounded very interesting. They brought me in specifically for the part of Allegra Aoki. I made it through the audition rounds, and I was offered the role. I found out afterward that Daniel Dae Kim was the executive producer and he’s a friend of mine.
Then, when I found out that Freddie Highmore is in it, and Richard Schiff, and Hill Harper, I knew it would be a real quality project backed by ABC Sony. I’m thrilled to be on it. People are super serious and super enthusiastic about being behind this project.
DC: Awesome. The cast is phenomenal, and David Shore’s work on the series is outstanding! Part of what has struck a chord with fans has been the show’s heart, its diversity, and its message. When you were first getting involved with The Good Doctor, did you have any idea it would resonate so profoundly with the viewership?
TT: I thought it would be an easy throughway. I’m not blowing his head up, hopefully, but Freddie Highmore is an extraordinarily gifted actor.
DC: He is!
TT: Extraordinarily gifted! To be able to be playing an autistic savant, that requires three different sets of personality traits. He’s not only a young surgeon. He’s on the spectrum, but he’s a savant as well. On top of it, he’s speaking with an American accent. I knew that one of the draws to the series would be his high-caliber of work. Then, add in being surrounded by such wonderful actors in our ensemble with the stories that are written by David Shore. We have a good set of circumstances. We just didn’t know how badly needed a show like this was, as evidenced by the viewership. I think people really want good storytelling. They want good characters to root for. They want difficult situations to think about and then present it all in a hospital setting where you’re dealing with life and death, and the care of loved ones? Those are automatic, heart-wrenching sets of circumstances. We just didn’t know how popular it would become. I think people really glom onto it because it’s something they really want to see. They want to see stories that end up well, that touch the heart, and that really make you think about how we treat each other and how we care for each other.
DC: For sure! Now, your character Allegra Aoki, she’s the VP Chairperson of the foundation that runs the entire San Jose St. Bonaventure hospital. What else can you tell us about your character and her role in the hospital?
TT: Allegra is very cool, calm, and collected. She does whatever she needs to do to assure that the funds are in and that the hospital runs smoothly. It’s a hospital of prestige, there’s probably going to be a balance of attention-getting procedures but maintaining a high quality of staff, and it has to provide an outreach to the community that it serves, as well as an eye on gaining national attention. The bottom line is you have to get money to be able to do everything that you want to do and running a hospital is quite expensive. It’s the brinkmanship, diplomacy and how she approaches people which is very smooth and very polished. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see storylines that deal with how the nuts and bolts of running a hospital work, in addition to the medical drama which is more interesting.
DC: In the recent episode Heartfelt, Allegra made a questionable decision where it seems that she might be putting a potential budding romance ahead of her professionalism. You described her pretty well, and that’s kind of out of character for her. Can you tell us if we are going to see that story come to its fruition in the remainder of the season?
TT: I think I can tell you that there’s always hope. The writers laid out a really interesting situation. We are seeing an older woman administrator courting a potential young male donor, and that’s being questioned. How come it’s not put in the same spotlight if it was an older male administrator courting a young female donor?
I think because we’re switching genders and it’s a woman courting a young male donor, it’s more interesting. People want to know why is she doing it. Is it because she’s a loser at love? Is she a loser in her personal relationships and she finds herself in that vulnerable position? Is she being savvy and saying this is a young male donor and I could take advantage of the inexperience? It’s a really big wide net of questions that the writers have cast. It’s just too juicy of a storyline for that them not to use to its full potential. It’s always fun to see the sticky situations figured out. I’m looking forward to it.
DC: Definitely. And the writers play so well with those controversial topics which are woven into the show.
TT: Yeah, they really do. They play with your brain, and they play with your heart.
DC: Yes! I’m looking forward to seeing how that storyline plays out. The Good Doctor continues to gain viewership. It earns excellent ratings each week, and I think that’s only going to increase when season two rolls around. Looking forward to the second season, what hopes do you have for Allegra in season two, and then what hopes you have for the series in general?
TT: Hopefully the series will present more stories which will cause people to think about how to take care of one another. That’s really, for me, the bottom line. How do we make these hard decisions when your parent or child goes into the hospital? Are you saying all the things that you need to say to your child or your parent when they’re lying in bed in a hospital getting surgery? Do we want to make sure that we love each other and we say we love each other? Those are important words. Those are important conversations that need to be dealt with especially in a hospital setting.
For Allegra, I think the cost of what it means to be a successful woman running a business is sometimes a novel and unexplored situation. We seem to always say businessmen when it’s business persons. There are equally successful business women, and we just don’t hear their stories often enough. Hopefully, there will be that spotlight on Allegra sooner or later.
In general, just telling good stories is a hard thing to do. But I’m quite confident that David Shore and his team, his soccer team of writers, are going to be successful.
DC: Here at Fan Fest News, we celebrate all things that we love in pop culture. This is always a fun question to ask. What are you a fan of or what do you love today in pop culture?
TT: This was such a great year for pop culture! I’m still woozy and still just giddy over the success of Wonder Woman. I’m such a fangirl over Wonder Woman and the whole franchise ever since Lynda Carter. Even before when you were born, there was an even earlier iteration of Wonder Woman starring Cathy Lee Crosby. This is way back in the early 70s. I’ve always loved Wonder Woman because I’ve always thought women were wonderful! To see the new iteration with Patty Jenkins behind the wheel was just a celebration of our gender.
Right now, it’s such a great year for women and the empowerment of women, especially with Times Up. Then there’s the kids, the girls, and boys out of Parkland rising into their own power. Its just been an exciting time, and I’m really fangirling any movements that are trying to equal the playing field out there. It touches upon so many subjects – gun control, abortion rights, civil rights, diversity, inclusion. These are all topics that we’re all conversing in and really trying to figure out together.
DC: Absolutely! My last question for you is, in addition to The Good Doctor, are there any other upcoming projects, or anything that you’re working on, that you’d like to share with our readers?
TT: Yes, I think I can tell you, I’m also in season three of The Man in the High Castle, which should be streaming on Amazon very soon. There are also two short films I’d love to shout out. One is called Real Artists, and it’s about filmmaking and AI, artificial intelligence. The screenplay was adapted and directed by a woman named Cameo Wood. I star along with Tiffany Hines. My other project called The Ningyo, and it’s written directed by Miguel Ortega. And it’s totally taking the visual effects and Sci-Fi worlds by storm. In addition to The Good Doctor, I’m really proud of those three projects.
Thank you, Tamlyn Tomita, for taking the time out of your busy schedule to speak with us here at Fan Fest News! We can’t wait to see what the series has in store next for Allegra and the entire St. Bonaventure staff!
In addition to Tomita and Highmore, the series also stars Antonia Thomas as Dr. Claire Brown, Nicholas Gonzalez as Dr. Neil Melendez, Chuku Modu as Dr. Jared Kalu, Beau Garrett as Jessica Preston, Hill Harper as Dr. Marcus Andrews and Richard Schiff as Dr. Aaron Glassman. The series is written by House creator David Shore who also serves as executive producer along with Lost and Hawaii Five-O alum Daniel Dae Kim.
The Good Doctor is just about to wrap up its first season. You can catch new episodes of the series Monday nights at 10 pm EST on ABC or go to ABC.com to watch episodes on demand.