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EXCLUSIVE: This is a shocker: One of The Good Doctor’s most popular cast members who has been on the show from the start, Antonia Thomas, is departing after four seasons. The ABC medical drama will bid farewell to Thomas as a series regular — and to her character, Dr. Claire Browne — in the Season 4 finale, which airs tonight at 10 p.m. It concludes a two-part closer, in which the team from the San Jose St. Bonaventure Hospital are on a surgical mission in Guatemala.
In an interview with Deadline, Thomas spoke about her decision to leave the series before the end of her contract, hinting that the size of U.S. broadcast orders was a factor as she is looking to “explore different creative opportunities.” She also indicated that she would love to reprise her role as a guest star in the future.
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The Good Doctor, created and executive produced by David Shore based on a Korean format, was the first major U.S. series for British actress Thomas. She quickly emerged as a female lead opposite fellow Brit Freddie Highmore. Her compassionate and kind Dr. Browne, a fan favorite, was the first resident — or doctor — at the hospital to embrace Dr. Shaun Murphy (Highmore) besides his mentor Dr. Glassman (Richard Schiff). Four seasons in, Claire has remained a close friend and confidant of Shaun’s, helping him with advice on everything from medical predicaments to romantic conundrums.
Over the past two seasons, Claire went through a lot of heartache. In Season 3, her abusive mother came back into her life. Just as the two reconciled, her mom died in a drunk driving accident. In the Season 4 premiere, Claire was left devastated when Melendez (Nicholas Gonzalez) died shortly after he and Claire professed their love for one another.
As her arc was coming to a close, things started to look up for Claire. Her estranged father recently reconnected with her and, after some internal struggle on her part, the two made amends and she let him back into her life.
With Gonzalez leaving at the start of Season 4 and Thomas at the end, The Good Doctor is promoting two recurring players to series regulars next season, Noah Galvin (Asher Wolke) and Bria Samoné Henderson (Jordan Allen).
Thomas, who starred in UK series Lovesick, Hoomefront and Misfits before landing The Good Doctor, has been branching out. She teamed with fellow Good Doctor cast member Chuku Modu, who departed after the first season, as the two wrote, produced and starred in the 2020 film Freedoms Name Is Mighty Sweet.
Here is a spoiler-free portion of Deadline’s interview with Thomas, in which she reflects on her four years on The Good Doctor, reveals who she thinks would pick up the mantle of the show’s moral compass from Claire and talks about what she plans to do next. We will update the Q&A with the rest of her answers, in which she discusses tonight’s finale and shares sweet behind-the-scene details about filming her last scenes as well as her vision for Claire’s future, after the episode airs tonight.
DEADLINE: You’re on a hit show four seasons in; you can stay for at least two more seasons until the end of your contract. What made you decide to leave now?
THOMAS: You know what, Nellie, it was a really, really difficult decision, and leaving, I have to say, is a bittersweet thing for me because the last four years have been absolutely incredible. I feel so lucky and basically indebted to David Shore and the writers for having the experience to play Claire, who has just been a wonderful, wonderful character to explore, so layered and complicated and flawed, the kind of character that I think an actress dreams to be able to play. I think, ultimately, for me, it’s about coming to the point where I think we’ve really run the gamut of different things that Claire can have gone through, and I’m now really excited to explore different creative opportunities. For me, as an actress, having versatility and creativity has been something that’s been really, really important. I’ve come from the British system where you play a role, you film it for a couple of months because seasons are only six episodes long, and then you can do something else, and I think after dedicating four years to Claire and her journey and really, really exploring the character, I am just now ready to try something new, ultimately. (The Good Doctor produced 18 episodes in Seasons 1-2, 20 episodes in Seasons 3-4.)
DEADLINE: When did you approach David Shore about leaving and what was his reaction?
THOMAS: David Shore has been so incredibly wonderful, understanding, and kind through the process. We had a call after the end of the third season, and I started airing my feelings that I have loved exploring Claire and would love to explore Claire for another season, but after that, how would he feel about bringing the character to a close. He was very wonderful and gracious and helpful. We talked through how we might be able to do that, and came to the decision that it was the right thing.
And, talking about Claire as a character, what she’s been through over the last four years, she’s really been through extraordinary ups and downs, career-wise and as a person, being a resident and being thrust into hospital life and having to learn how to balance her personal emotions with professional life, how to be open and empathetic and kind and not get too involved, not wear her heart on her sleeve. And then she’s had to learn how to restart herself professionally, really step into her own as a woman and become more skillful as a surgeon, and along with that, she’s dealt with huge personal growth, a lot of trauma, a lot of dealing with the trauma of her relationship with her mom brought her, and losing her mother, and then losing Melendez. Claire has really, really been through ups and downs, and the thing about her as a character is that she’s always come from the position of putting other people’s needs first. I think that the character, over the four seasons, has developed to a place where she finally, in this final season, comes to a place of peace with herself, and she’s finally got to a place of a reconciliation with her father, which was painful but needed. And then, finding with that a case of stillness and acceptance of herself and a space to really think what does she want and where does she want to go next.
DEADLINE: What about Freddie? How did your conversations with him and the rest of the cast go when you told them that you would be leaving?
THOMAS: I spoke with Freddie, as much as I spoke with David, to be honest. Freddie’s become a dear, dear friend of mine. As I said, this was a very difficult decision, and I talked it through extensively with Freddie. He’s been nothing but supportive and understands the need to go off and to try different things. And all of the actors in the show, we’re all great friends, and everyone has shown me nothing but support. It’s deeply sad to say goodbye, especially having all been together for four years, but I think, ultimately, they all understand that you have to follow your creative needs and wanting to try some different things. They just get it, and they’ve been nothing but wonderful and supportive and lovely.
DEADLINE: Are you open to returning as a guest star and reunite with your castmates?
THOMAS: Absolutely. Absolutely. I’ve had conversations with Freddie about coming back, and absolutely, yes. Really for me, if there was more time in the year to be able to shoot the show and to be able to go off and do some of the other things that I’m wanting to explore now, I’d do both. It has not been an easy decision for me to leave, so I absolutely would love to come back every now and then and say hi, I’m very much looking forward to that.
DEADLINE: With Claire gone, who do you think will be the moral compass of that group and Shaun’s shoulder to cry on as she was the first who reached out to him and has been his best friend at work for such a long time?
THOMAS: Well, I think that the two new residents that have joined, Asher and Jordan, I think they’re really talented, warm, empathetic characters with a wonderful bedside manner, with huge abilities to talk to patients in an open, empathetic way. They’re also a little younger, and I wonder if they’ll become friends with Shaun and lend good ears to Shaun when he needs some guidance. But I feel like all the characters in their own way have their different ways of communicating with Shaun.
DEADLINE: Looking back at your experience, what has The Good Doctor meant to you and what you will miss the most?
THOMAS: The Good Doctor has meant a tremendous amount of growth for me as an actress and a person. I have been allowed by David Shore, who has written me this incredible character, to really flex my skills and go there as an actress and try different things in a way that I had not really had the opportunity to do before. It’s been four years of living away; mainly London has been my home, and suddenly, I was living in Vancouver for four years, and through that, there’s been this huge amount of personal growth and making a home somewhere else, and making new friends. It’s just been a whole different journey, a scary and a wonderful journey, and I’m really, really grateful to the show for giving me that because I certainly feel like a different person from the person that I was when I stepped into the pilot. So, I take that with me with gratitude, and I take along with that the camaraderie and the friendships and everybody. I’m going to miss them all dearly, and I’m lucky enough because it’s not very often actually that you do an acting job and you make real friends, and I feel like I’m really lucky enough to walk away with real friends, and that means everything.
DEADLINE: You mentioned a couple of times new opportunities. It’s interesting that The Good Doctor seemed to have opened new doors for you with Season 1 co-star Chuku Modu becoming your writing partner for Freedoms Name Is Mighty Sweet. What is next for you acting-wise and will you continue to explore career behind the camera?
THOMAS: Yeah, I absolutely want to start trying to spread my wings behind the camera. As you mentioned, me and him have been hatching plans and developing things, been doing this for a while. We did a short film together, and we have many other things that we intend to do, but I’ve also been working for quite some time on a project I’ve been developing myself that I may be ready to start going out with and pushing forward now that I will have this time. Writing is a bigger passion of mine, that is something that I’ve slowly cultivated while being in Vancouver for four years doing this show, and I’ve really realized that it’s something that I want to do more of. I can’t say what those things really are yet, but that’s something that is very hopefully soon to come on the horizon in terms of exploring writing. I have a specific project, in particular, that I’m developing and producing, too, just projects that I believe in, finding ways to push those forward. And yes, acting. I’m finding different roles that are exciting and new, and I feel like I haven’t played before. I think, for me, as an actress, it has always been about trying to hone this idea of versatility and just trying different things and stepping into very different shoes. I’ve started to read things, and there are a couple of things in the pipeline that I can’t yet confirm, but it’s exciting now after four years of mainly doing the one thing to see what else is out there to explore.
Here is a gallery of Thomas as Claire through her four seasons on The Good Doctor:
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