Freddie Highmore: From Johnny Depp's Pint-Sized Co-Star To The Good Doctor

Child star Freddie Highmore's career received a huge boost when he starred opposite Johnny Depp in a pair of films. "Finding Neverland" was released in late 2004, and "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" hit theaters eight months later, in 2005. Suddenly, it felt like Highmore was everywhere, but the young star didn't feel any different from his peers. "I'm a normal kid, really," he shared on "Live With Regis and Kelly." It's a refrain Highmore would repeat again and again in interviews throughout his career, insisting that despite his movie-star fame, he's just a regular guy. "With acting, you can't be too self-conscious," he told HuffPost about filming his first on-screen gay kiss. "You shouldn't care about what people are thinking about you at the time because they're not caring about you, they're caring about the character."

Highmore's career has taken him from being Johnny Depp's pint-sized co-star on the big screen to the television airwaves, as the actor spent the past decade on "Bates Motel" and "The Good Doctor," a pair of highly successful shows. Still, you may be feeling nostalgic, so we're taking a look back at Highmore's transformation throughout the years.

He's been acting since he was tiny

Freddie Highmore was born in 1992 on Valentine's Day, and he's been acting for almost his entire life. He told Oprah Winfrey that he started performing when he was five. "When I was younger, I thought it would be quite fun to do a small part and see how it went," he recalled. "So I went to an audition, and I did a small part, and then the parts got bigger and bigger." He started his career in a TV movie called "Walking on the Moon," though his part was ultimately cut. "Women Talking Dirty" followed, as did parts in "Happy Birthday Shakespeare" and a mini-series about King Arthur called "The Mists of Avalon." Highmore's father, Edward Highmore, was an actor, too. In 2001, Freddie appeared alongside his dad in the mini-series "Jack and the Beanstalk: The Real Story." 

Many years later, speaking with fellow child star Dakota Fanning for Variety's "Actors on Actors" series, Freddie reflected on what it was like to grow up on set. Initially, he said, he didn't see acting as something he had to do for the rest of his life. "It didn't feel like a job. It wasn't this profession ... It wasn't something that my parents said, 'This is what you're gonna be forever.'" Little did young Freddie Highmore know that his career would go on to span decades.

He was childhood friends with another kid actor

When he was younger, Freddie Highmore was more well-connected than your typical child actor. His mother was a talent agent, and while her client list included her son, it also boasted another famous face: "Harry Potter" star Daniel Radcliffe. "He's a few years older than me, but our families have known each other for ages, not just through acting," Highmore told The Independent. "Even before Dan and I had done our first film, we were playing together on the beach."

A shrewd businesswoman, Highmore's mother once tried to upsell director Ron Hardy on having both her son and her other famous client in his movie "December Boys." Hardy told Moviehole, "[Radcliffe] wasn't my first choice, but only because I didn't think we had a chance — but I agreed to let her pass the script onto [Radcliffe's] parents. They then passed it on to him. Within 48 hours there was a response back saying 'they all love it!"" Ultimately, Highmore dropped out of the film, but Radcliffe remained.

While the childhood friends never wound up working together, they were later reunited. A photo posted to Tumblr shows Highmore and Radcliffe posing with Highmore's "Bates Motel" co-star Vera Farmiga at the 2014 installment of the iconic San Diego Comic-Con, where all three actors were promoting projects.

He teamed with Johnny Depp in Finding Neverland

While he spent much of his childhood playing smaller roles, Freddie Highmore's breakout came when he landed a lead in "Finding Neverland." The movie starred Johnny Depp as J.M. Barrie, the man who wrote "Peter Pan"; Highmore played Peter Llewelyn Davies, the young boy who inspired the iconic character. Highmore's emotional performance drew high praise from his more experienced co-stars. "He has the most terrifying instincts, they're just bang-on. And he has no idea that he has that," Kate Winslet, who played Highmore's mother in the film, told Entertainment Weekly. Depp agreed, boasting, "When there were scenes with Freddie, Kate and I just stood back and let him go. It's unbelievably compelling."

When the movie was finally released after being shelved for two years, Highmore drew glowing reviews, including from none other than Oprah Winfrey. When he appeared alongside Depp and Winslet on "The Oprah Winfrey Show," she gushed to a beaming Highmore, "Oh my goodness! We have never seen anybody quite like you ever. Never." 

It also seems that the young Highmore bonded with his older co-stars while shooting the film. He told Entertainment Weekly that he was sad on the last day of filming, explaining, "When I left the set of 'Finding Neverland,' I was quite upset, because I thought I wouldn't see Johnny again."

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory reunited Freddie and his co-star

Freddie Highmore's well-received performance in "Finding Neverland" — and his growing friendship with Johnny Depp — opened significant doors for him in the industry. After filming "Finding Neverland" together, Depp recommended Highmore for another job: his co-star in director Tim Burton's remake of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." Highmore played Charlie Bucket, a lucky young man who finds a golden ticket in a chocolate bar and wins a trip to a chocolate factory run by Depp's Willy Wonka. Highmore was on vacation with his family when he found out he'd gotten the part. "It was just amazing," he told IGN. "I was thinking, 'Yes, I'm going to get to work with Johnny again.'"

In fact, that's partially how Highmore connected to his character Charlie. He told "Regis & Kelly" that he felt a kinship with his character because just like he had wished to see Johnny, the actor shared, "Charlie has a wish to go to the factory. So we're both similar, cause our wishes come true."

Looking back on his experience years later, an adult Highmore explained that he didn't quite understand the industry at the time. "As a kid acting, the world doesn't feel too crazy, and you don't get caught up in, the kind of, madness of it," he told "Access Hollywood." "It just feels like a nice group of people that you get to go in and hang out with every day."

He stayed in touch with Johnny Depp

By 2010, Freddie Highmore and his two-time collaborator Johnny Depp were still in communication. Highmore told The Independent that he still saw Depp often, even though he was no longer working with the man who once played the Willy Wonka to his Charlie. "We meet up whenever we're in the same country," he said. Highmore also defended Depp's image at the time, insisting, "People build up a picture of Johnny Depp as being some sort of weird pirate character. In reality, he's incredibly nice ... one of the nicest people I've ever met."

A few years later, Highmore told The Daily Mail they still hung out on occasion. He looked back on their long relationship, noting, "When I first worked with Johnny on 'Finding Neverland,' I was only about nine, and he was just a nice man to me, not a Hollywood star."

However, it's unclear whether Highmore's opinion of Depp has changed in the past decade, as Depp's public image has soured in the eyes of many fans. Highmore stayed mum as Depp was involved in two high-profile trials regarding alleged abuse that occurred in his relationship with "Aquaman" star Amber Heard. While a trial in the U.K. found it was not libelous for The Sun to call Depp a "wife-beater" — finding convincing evidence of spousal abuse — a trial in America found that both Depp and Heard had defamed one another by alleging abuse.

Freddie is musically talented

Freddie Highmore was always a talented kid. In addition to acting, he displayed an ear — and a nose — for music at an early age. In 2004, Highmore appeared on "The Ellen Show" and brought along a pair of pink and green recorders. Acknowledging that what he was about to do might be in "bad taste," Highmore teased that this talent was something he did to mess around on set. "I don't want anyone to think that this is how we play them in England," he joked before sticking one recorder into each nostril. He then proceeded to play "When the Saints Go Marching In," fingering the holes of both instruments at once while blowing through his nose.

Perhaps in part because of this unusual gift, Highmore was cast in the 2007 film "August Rush" as a musical prodigy. The role required him to learn how to play the guitar, which Highmore told The Georgia Straight he spent six months doing. "I learned all the songs I had to play so it wouldn't just look like I was faking it, and most of the time what you hear was the song I played," he said. He also had to learn how to conduct, a musical challenge in and of itself. "I didn't just want to wave my arms around," he said. "I wanted to do it properly." Despite Highmore's dedication, the film was not well-received.

He spent time at Cambridge

Freddie Highmore began acting when he was little, so by the time he aged out of child roles, the "Spiderwick Chronicles" star wasn't sure that he wanted to keep acting. Instead, Highmore enrolled at The University of Cambridge, planning to study several languages, including both Spanish and Arabic. However, he clarified, while speaking with The Independent, he had no plans to give up acting entirely. "Every chat I have with a journalist, they mention that I've almost quit," he said. "What I was trying to say is, I'm not totally sure what I'd like to settle on for the rest of my life. So definitely no plans at the moment to stop." Instead, Highmore continued filming on his school breaks. "I imagine that if I am able to keep up with my studies and get good grades, that's the main thing they're concerned about," he reasoned.

While at university, Highmore said he found it easy to make new friends. He also kept people around him who knew him before he got famous. "The majority of my friends I knew from before I started filming in a big way," he told The Evening Standard. "Certainly those at university didn't know me at the beginning from films really; it was purely that social aspect of being there."

Though he studied Arabic, Highmore later told Wired that he hasn't put his knowledge to use in the Middle East. Instead, he showed off his skills in a YouTube video for the outlet.

Freddie Highmore took on an iconic role

While he spent most of his early career working in films, Freddie Highmore transitioned to television in 2013. He joined the cast of "Bates Motel," an A&E series diving into the backstory of one of the most famous characters in horror film history: Norman Bates, the killer from "Psycho." He told Conan O'Brien that he found acting like a "Psycho" actually felt pretty good! "There is a cathartic quality to stabbing someone in the shower, in the same way that, you know, you have a good cry about something when you're upset, or you shout at someone when you're angry." Infamously, Norman Bates commits his crimes while dressed up as his dead mother Norma, which meant that Highmore had to wear women's clothing in numerous scenes of the show. "I wouldn't say there's the same level of enjoyment as the killing side of the role," he joked.

The show was a success, ultimately running for five seasons and 50 episodes. Looking back at all of the misery and mayhem caused by his character over the course of the show, Highmore reflected on fans coming back around to support the terrible character. "I think that by the end of the show, people realized that he was trying to do what he thought was best for him and his mother," he told GoldDerby. "These terrible acts that he committed were also acts of love."

Freddie Highmore has worked in Spain

For most of his life, Freddie Highmore has only had one job: being an actor. During his final year of university, however, he spent time abroad in Spain, and thanks to his language studies, he held a job working at a law firm while he was there. Appearing on "Jimmy Kimmel Live," Highmore opened up about his time in Spain, revealing that he used to go down to the bar under his apartment and hang out with the locals. "I'd pretend that I had a Spanish grandmother, because then I could cheer for the Spanish team and they would accept me as one of their own, you know?" he said. "I could be friends with them!"

Highmore's time in Spain overlapped with the first season of "Bates Motel," and showrunner Carlton Cuse later proudly told The New York Times that Highmore's job was an anomaly in the entertainment business. "Probably the only actor on a show to work for a law firm translating documents between seasons," he said. "Pretty sure nobody on The CW is doing that." Cuse went even further while bragging about his star to Deadline. "Freddie's a renaissance man, and I like to joke with him that I think he's secretly in MI6, because he speaks fluent Spanish and fluent Arabic, and went to Cambridge," Cuse said. "He probably really is a spy, but he's so savvy that there's no way to actually confirm that."

Freddie Highmore doesn't do social media

Unlike a lot of stars of his generation, Freddie Highmore maintains no public social media presence. There are no currently active accounts where fans can find him promoting his latest projects or providing behind-the-scenes updates on what life is like on the set of "The Good Doctor." While speaking with The Evening Standard, he told the outlet that avoiding the reactions of fans online helps him stay grounded. "Not that you don't appreciate people who like the work that you've been doing and the things that you're in," he clarified. "I just feel like it's always helped me maintain a clear difference between your private life at home and then when you're working and that side of things."

Highmore did admit to the outlet that he was considering signing up for "some secret account somewhere" so that he could keep an eye on the conversation. If he's done so, then Highmore might have seen social media discover "The Good Doctor" after a clip of the show went viral in April 2023. The meme-ready clip was extracted from the show's second season, depicting an emotional moment where Highmore's character stormed into his colleague's office and proclaimed repeatedly, "I am a surgeon!" Many commenters criticized Highmore's acting in the out-of-context moment, so perhaps it's for the best that Highmore likely isn't on social media to see it.

He kept his marriage a secret

Unlike many celebrities, Freddie Highmore tends to keep his personal life close to the chest. In 2011, he was romantically linked with Emma Roberts, his co-star in "The Art of Getting By." It was never confirmed that the two actually dated, but he admitted in an interview with Metro that they spent "a little" time together off the set. "We hit it off right away and it was very relaxed, without any awkward moments," he said. "Everyone seems to say we have great chemistry. It was very easy to get along with her."

Despite this connection, Highmore revealed in 2021 that he got married in secret. He appeared on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" and told the host that it was, indeed, a wedding band that he was wearing. "I'm not gonna jump up and down on the couch ... and express my excitement that way. I know that you do that in America," he joked, referring to Tom Cruise's infamous couch-jumping incident. "But, I'm as happy as a Brit can be."

The "Arthur and the Invisibles" star declined to name his wife on the show, but Celebrity Hook (via Parade) reported that social media users uncovered her identity. Highmore's wife is reportedly named Klarissa Munz, a web developer he met when they were both at Cambridge together.

He researched his Good Doctor role heavily

The same year "Bates Motel" ended, Freddie Highmore was cast on a new show. "The Good Doctor," an ABC medical procedural, features Highmore in the titular role of Dr. Shaun Murphy, a surgeon. The character has autism, and before filming, Highmore took care to educate himself on the real-life experiences of autistic people. "There are people in my personal life who have autism. It was a condition I was aware of," he told The LA Times. In addition to reading about the condition, he watched "Autism In Love," a documentary. "It focuses on the most human, deepest emotion that we may feel, which is being in love," he said. Highmore's research didn't stop when the show premiered, either. "I'm constantly learning," he told Digital Spy during the show's second season. "Aside from continual research, or working with the consultant that we have, I'm also talking to people who feel that they have a personal connection to the show through autism, and are pleased or thankful that the show is seeking to raise awareness in that way."

In addition to portraying a character with autism, "The Good Doctor" tries to be relatively accurate as it depicts medical scenarios. When Highmore appeared on "Jimmy Kimmel Live," the late-night host tested his medical knowledge. After correctly identifying a stethoscope, Highmore was stumped by a hemostat. "We don't do this one," he laughed. "You really aren't a doctor!" Kimmel replied, which is true; Highmore just plays one on TV.

He has several roles on The Good Doctor

Before Freddie Highmore signed on to "The Good Doctor," he had something he wanted to discuss with David Shore, the showrunner. On "Bates Motel," Highmore co-wrote two episodes of the show and directed one, a trajectory he wanted to continue on "The Good Doctor." Sure enough, starting in the show's second season, Highmore worked behind the camera in several ways. "I find working on the show all-consuming, and so it sort of made sense — it was this natural extension of wanting to commit and contribute in other ways, where possible," he explained to Digital Spy. Highmore's expanded responsibilities also involved being part of the writers' room. He reflected, "That was a great experience. I was learning from such a masterful writer and storyteller in David Shore, who really took me under his wing in that way."

Highmore clearly enjoyed the experience, because he's returned to the director's chair several times over the course of the show's run. In a behind-the-scenes video for the Season 6 episode he directed, Highmore beamed, "It's been amazing. I guess I just feel very to be lucky to be able to direct an episode, and [to direct] so many wonderful actors that obviously I've worked with as an actor ... is a great joy." He also gave a shout-out to everyone who helped make his transition behind the camera a painless one. "The crew is so supportive and make[s] it all so easy, really," he said.

He's proud of how long The Good Doctor has lasted

When "Bates Motel" ended in 2017, Freddie Highmore had starred in 50 episodes of the television series. In 2023, "The Good Doctor" was a big change for Highmore, passing 100 episodes and more than doubling his previous record. In recognition of the milestone, Highmore embarked on a bit of a media tour. He told "Good Morning America" that it was still tough to learn the show's medical jargon-heavy dialogue, laughing, "It's all the Latinate phrases, you know? It's a lot to wrap one's tongue around. But we do our best." He also remarked that he was surprised and grateful the show has lasted so long. "I don't think any of us could have expected or hoped for the show to go on this long," he said. "I guess we just feel incredibly lucky and fortunate to have got to this point." 

He also appeared on "Live with Kelly and Ryan" and went into more detail about the way the cast marked the 100th episode. Kelly Ripa asked him if everyone was gifted a car for the achievement, and Highmore deadpanned, "We each got a cupcake, yeah. So, pretty much, yeah." He added that there was a "big heart[-shaped] cake as well," joking, "but now you're just making me feel disappointed."

Highmore also noted that the show was showing no signs of slowing down. "We've got 116 [episodes] by the end of this year," he said. "And then, who knows?"