“The Good Doctor ”Cast Teases a 'Surprising' End to the Series Finale: There Won't Be 'a Dry Eye in the House' (Exclusive)

The cast sat down with PEOPLE ahead of the May 21 series finale to discuss filming the ABC medical drama's final episodes and why they feel it has resonated with viewers for seven seasons

<p>ABC/Art Streiber</p> Richard Schiff (left) and Freddie Highmore in

ABC/Art Streiber

Richard Schiff (left) and Freddie Highmore in 'The Good Doctor'

Freddie Highmore is running late, but he has a really good excuse.

The actor, 32, has stepped in for the day to direct one of The Good Doctor's final episodes because the director is sick. When Highmore, clad in a blue checkered dress shirt and trousers, finally sits down with PEOPLE on the Vancouver set of San Jose St. Bonaventure Hospital, the halls, normally bustling with hurried activity when the cameras are rolling, are unusually quiet.

He and his castmates will soon do a table read for the finale, but for Highmore, wrapping up the ABC medical drama in a few weeks hasn’t registered yet.

“It probably won't sink in really until it is finally all over and they start taking a sledgehammer to the set,” he admits.

Highmore, who plays the brilliant surgeon Shaun Murphy, will hang up his scrubs for good after seven seasons when the series finale airs on Tuesday, May 21. The episode will be a “satisfying” send-off, he teases.

Related: The Good Doctor: Shaun Murphy's 5 Best Moments That Made Us Laugh and Cry

<p>ABC/Jeff Weddell</p> Freddie Highmore (left) and Christina Chang in 'The Good Doctor'

ABC/Jeff Weddell

Freddie Highmore (left) and Christina Chang in 'The Good Doctor'

“It's going to be a surprising ending but also an ending that I think all good finales do: remind us of the beginning and tie together this journey that Shaun and all of our characters have been on,” Highmore continues. “It will feel like in some ways we've come full circle, but at the same time see our characters off into the future.”

Since The Good Doctor debuted in September 2017, viewers have come to know (and love) San Jose St. Bonaventure Hospital’s gifted surgeons, cheering on their wins and empathizing with their struggles. Onscreen, lives have been lost, love has blossomed, and life lessons have been learned along the way, creating compelling drama for viewers and meaningful material for the show’s actors.

It’s no surprise then that the cast is navigating The Good Doctor’s homestretch with mixed emotions. For Fiona Gubelmann, who portrays Dr. Morgan Reznick, filming these last episodes has been “very surreal.”

“Now as things start coming up, and you're like, ‘Oh, this is the last time I'm doing this, or this is the last time I'm doing that,’ you start to get emotional,” Gubelmann, 44, says.

During a table read the week before, her costar Will Yun Lee, who plays her onscreen partner Dr. Alex Park, welled up with emotion.

“Will started crying, teared up, and then I got choked up,” she says, adding, “I couldn't continue the table read. I had to leave, because we do them on Zoom, so I had to log out, because I was like, ‘I can't stop crying.’”

Related: The Good Doctor Cast Says Goodbye with Nostalgic Throwbacks and Behind-the-Scenes Photos from the Series Finale

<p>Disney/Jeff Weddell</p> Will Yun Lee (left) and Fiona Gubelmann in 'The Good Doctor.'

Disney/Jeff Weddell

Will Yun Lee (left) and Fiona Gubelmann in 'The Good Doctor.'

Lee, for his part, admits that working on The Good Doctor’s final season has been “bittersweet.” “We've seen a lot of our kids grow up on this set and go from here to here,” he says. “It's [been] a good portion of our lives.”

While Lee’s character has come a long way since the actor, 53, became a series regular in season 2 — his character now shares adopted daughter Eden with Morgan, for one — The Good Doctor has also touched upon very personal issues, too. Lee's son Cash, whom he shares with wife Jennifer Birmingham Lee, suffered a stroke when he was just 3 years old that led to frequent trips to the hospital and consultations with doctors as they searched for a cause.

The toddler, who had a second stroke seven months later, was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder called moyamoya disease and needed double bypass brain surgery. The procedure worked, thankfully, and Cash’s health journey became the inspiration for the season 6 episode “Hard Heart.”

“I thought it was an important message, because [moyamoya disease] is one of the most misdiagnosed diseases out there,” he explains. “Before I leave this show, I felt like I owed it to all the doctors who took care of my son to get that message out there.”

Related: The Good Doctor to End at ABC After 7 Seasons: 'It's Time to Say Goodbye'

<p>Disney/Jeff Weddell</p> Bria Henderson in 'The Good Doctor.'

Disney/Jeff Weddell

Bria Henderson in 'The Good Doctor.'

After a recurring role in season 4, Bria Henderson became a series regular the following season. The actress, 31, recalls the moment she received the initial breakdown of her character Dr. Jordan Allen.

"The one thing that stood out was that she was full-figured and also proud and confident and loved herself," she remembers. "I don't get a lot of [character] breakdowns like that, especially being a dark-skinned, plus-sized actress… Me representing a marginalized community and then getting a breakdown like that, starting to see a shift in what TV wants to push out there, it fit me.”

Christina Chang says she’ll miss playing Dr. Audrey Lim, who has risen through the ranks to become San Jose St. Bonaventure Hospital’s co-president alongside Dr. Glassman (Richard Schiff). Audrey also has had to overcome tough personal challenges, including surviving an attack in the season 5 finale that left her temporarily paralyzed.

“What I really like about Dr. Lim is that she easily arrives at being sort of fair-minded. I think she's able to step back and look at something a little bit more objectively than I am. I'm kind of always working on that part, and so I like that. I'm going to take that with me to be able to sort of look at everything a little more objectively and as much as I can with perspective," says Chang, 52, who adds there won't be a "dry eye in the house" once viewers see the finale.

Related: 'The Good Doctor' Star Will Yun Lee Opens Up About His Son's Rare Condition and 'Warrior Spirit'

<p>ABC/Jeff Weddell</p> Paige Spara (left) and Freddie Highmore in 'The Good Doctor.'

ABC/Jeff Weddell

Paige Spara (left) and Freddie Highmore in 'The Good Doctor.'

Reflecting on the show's seven seasons, Highmore is incredibly proud of how The Good Doctor portrayed Shaun’s autism in a nuanced, respectful way. Shaun's personal and professional journey has been one of the medical drama’s strengths.

“If there is anything I hope the show has done, I hope that in some small, tiny little way, it has helped challenge stereotypes, change people's perceptions about autism,” he explains. “That would be the thing that certainly makes me most proud, and that was always our aim and intention.”

While Highmore says it’ll be hard saying goodbye to his character, parts of him will always remain.

“He is so hopeful and optimistic,” he adds. “I feel that's what people have over the years connected with about him, that he sees a good in people. He reminds you, that even when we're different — we're all actually more the same than different — and I think, hopefully, he's made me a better person.”

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The Good Doctor’s series finale airs Tuesday, May 21, at 10 p.m. ET on ABC, and is available to stream the following day on Hulu.

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