The Good Doctor's Christina Chang On Filming Under COVID-19 Conditions: "It's Surreal And Meta"

The Taiwanese-American actress plays Chief of Surgery Dr Audrey Lim on 'The Good Doctor', now in its fourth season.

It was surreal when Christina Chang and the cast and crew of The Good Doctor returned to work on the medical drama’s fourth season.

The Good Doctor, adapted from a Korean drama, stars Freddie Highmore as a young surgeon with autism and savant syndrome.

Amid the raging COVID-19 pandemic, which has so far infected more than 96 million people and claimed 2 million lives, the intrepid staff of the fictional San Jose St. Bonaventure Hospital was waging war on the coronavirus in the first two episodes.

It was hard to tell where reality ended and make-believe began — everything meshed together. “It’s either surreal or meta, you know what I mean?” Chang, 49, who plays Chief of Surgery Dr Audrey Lim, tells 8days.sg over a zoom call from Vancouver, where the series is filmed. (She’s in the midst of shooting Episode 10.)

“Because we were — and still are, obviously — living it in our every day lives, coming to set, having to mask up off-camera and then walking onto the camera, masked up, we basically weren’t doing anything different, ” says the Taiwanese-American actress whose other credits include 24 and CSI: Miami. “It was surreal — that’s the perfect word for it.”

And of course, the s*** got real (or shall we say, more real) when executive producer Daniel Dae Kim and fellow cast-mate Richard Schiff (who plays Dr Aaron Glassman) contracted the virus — the former caught it shortly after production wrapped on Season 3, the latter was infected while filming the current season.

christina chang   masks
Filming in the hot zone: Chang all masked up in a scene from ‘The Good Doctor’. She says some of the PPE are recycled to reduce wastage. “If you see me using a KN95 mask for example on camera, we’d preserve that and put it in a UV sanitiser so that I can use it the next time.”

Has she acclimatised to shooting under pandemic conditions?

“What we have on our side in a pretty well-oiled machine,” she said. “Our production has had three solid seasons of 20 episodes under our belts, so already we were used to working efficiently.

“Did the COVID protocols throw a little wrench into the system? For sure, but now we are filming episode 10, we are starting to get our footing again, without compromising the protocols. We’re definitely are getting more efficient than in the first couple of episodes.”

Looking back, Chang says working on those two episodes “highlighted just how hard our doctors and nurses and healthcare workers have it and continue to struggle with." 

Even though the rest of the season is set in the post-pandemic era, some of the stories continue to examine the ripples caused by the crisis. Like last week’s episode, ‘Lim’, which deals with Dr Audrey’s struggle with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).

“It was flattering to receive the news that I was gonna get a Lim-centric episode,” Chang says. “When I discovered that it was centred around PTSD, I took that very seriously because mental health issues is a very important topic to address and we would continue to address on the show with Lim. Because there would be emotional residual when all of this is done and over with.”

Chang felt a huge responsibility to get the depiction of PTSD right. “PTSD looks different on everybody,” she explains. “You can’t just point to one person and [say] this is what you got and it looks the same on everybody. PTSD [symptoms] can be universal but also unique [as well].”

christina chang   bike
Hot wheels: Dr Audrey on her Ducati motorcycle. Unlike her alter-ego, Chang isn’t a biker. “[I am] so not a biker,” she says. “It’s all wardrobe and props,” she says. “It’s so fun to play with, I’ll tell you that.”

‘Lim’ follows an arduous day in the life of Dr Audrey, as she oversees administrative matters and supervises residents with issues, all the while keeping herself from imploding. At the end of the ep, when she crashes her Ducati bike, that’s when she realises something’s got to give.

It’s a pensive moment that had fans wondering Dr Audrey’s days at St. Bonaventure are numbered. In a TVLine interview, Chang assured them that the good doctor will be around for a while; her PTSD will be followed-up in later episodes.

“It remains to be seen I guess,” Chang tells us of her character's fate. “That’s always in the hands of the showrunner. That’s up to David Shore. I have not been told that is happening. You will have to stay tuned. We’ll see.”

christina chang   group effort data
Group effort: Chang with her ‘The Good Doctor’ colleagues, from (left) Antonia Thomas, Will Yun Lee and Freddie Highmore. Chang says it “feels great” not to be the only Asian on set and that she got to work alongside Will, executive producer Daniel Dae Kim and Tamlyn Tomika. On Tomika, who had a recurring role as hospital chairperson Allegra Aoki, Chang says, “Getting to work with Tamlyn, who I saw in the movie theatres in ‘The Joy Luck Club’ when I was younger, was an honour.”

The Good Doctor Season 4 airs Tue, Fox Life (Singtel TV Ch 301& StarHub Ch 501), 10pm.

Photos: Sony Television

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