AARP Eye Center
Richard Schiff, 63 — who began as a stage director (he gave Angela Bassett her first role in 1983’s Antigone), switched to acting at 32 and won one of The West Wing’s 26 Emmys as White House communications director Toby Ziegler — is on a roll. A regular on HBO’s Ballers and Starz’s Counterpart, his 2019 death-row drama Clemency won the Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize, and his ABC show The Good Doctor — whose second season can now be binge-watched on ABC.com — was just renewed for a third season. Among TV’s current Top 10 shows, The Good Doctor has the most-mature viewers (median age 58.6).
AARP asked Schiff about his poignant portrayal of The Good Doctor’s neurosurgeon, Dr. Aaron Glassman, the ailing mentor of a young surgical resident who’s an autistic savant, as well as his thoughts on mentorship, mortality and the West Wing reboot he’s trying to get on the air.
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For viewers over 50, The Good Doctor is TV’s fourth-most popular show. Why do you think so many grownups connect with a drama ostensibly centered on a young doctor, Shaun Murphy (Freddie Highmore)?
So much of this relationship between Shaun and Dr. Glassman has to do with mentoring and, essentially, parenting. Everyone at some point feels that we’re challenged beyond our capabilities and wish we had someone who would oversee our goals and dreams. All fields have their consiglieres. Al Pacino [Schiff’s Broadway costar in Glengarry Glen Ross] always used to talk to Charles Laughton about his work. I certainly wished I had that when I was younger. I’m guessing that people appreciate it because they mentor people, or are mentees themselves, or they wish they had that relationship.
Is it a feeling of wanting to pass on their wisdom?
No doubt. No matter how wise, no matter how many years we’ve been on this earth, we all become in need — a little lost. In many ways, Shaun was the parent figure this year, because Glassman had gotten lost in his battle [with cancer] and become despondent. When you have a close relationship, if it’s real and true, then both parties benefit because you learn from each other.
Mortality is on Dr. Glassman’s mind. Has exploring this on the show affected your own thinking about it?
Yeah. As your work tends to do when you explore a subject. I mean, my politics were certainly affected from seven years of playing Toby, no doubt about that.