Season three of ABC’s The Good Doctor was the show’s most explosive season yet. The series put viewers through an emotional ringer with hopeful, new relationships, hilarious moments, devastating heartbreak, and of course, that shocking season finale death!
Throughout it all, one of the most refreshing parts of the season was watching Shaun and Carly’s romantic relationship take flight. Despite the outcome of the relationship, it’s unquestionable that the two characters are now forever changed for the better just by knowing each other. It was an honest portrayal of a particularly complicated relationship that, in the end, just wasn’t the right fit.
We had the pleasure of chatting with Jasika Nicole, who plays Carly on the series. We spoke about Shaun and Carly’s complicated yet relatable struggles, Dr. Melendez’s shocking death, what may lie ahead for Carly in the future, and much more!
DENISE CAPUTO: Thanks so much for speaking with me today. When you and I last spoke, it was right at the beginning of The Good Doctor’s third season. Shaun and Carly were just getting started in their new and exciting relationship, and now SO much has happened since then. My goodness, what a crazy season!
JASIKA NICOLE: Yeah!
DC: We saw Shaun and Carly going through these unique ups and downs of their relationship, but also a very realistic and relatable series of struggles. Despite the fact that Shaun is autistic and Carly trying to deal with making him feel comfortable, at its core, they had the same struggles that any relationship would have with intimacy, trust issues, stuff like that. Tell me a little bit about what it was like portraying that relationship on screen, and how you made sure that it was relatable and realistic, and also true to what the vision of the show was at the time.
JN: I have to give the writers the most credit because every scene, for the most part, that I ever received, I immediately understood what it meant, what it represented, and what the challenges were. They made my job so much easier. When you have really good writing, it’s not that much like work. You just show up, and you do what’s on the page. They gave us so much to work with, and I think that they tried to make the relationship as nuanced as possible without falling into a heavy, unnecessary stereotypes about neurodivergent people. I appreciated that.
To me, the relationship felt most relatable in that two people were working hard to create something new together, and it didn’t feel like it was Carly was neurotypical, and now she has this boyfriend who isn’t, so she’s having to figure him out and figure out how this is going to work. It felt like both of them were coming from a place of saying to each other, “all right, you don’t understand everything that I’m doing and all the places I’m coming from. I wanted to explain them to you. It felt like they allowed Shaun’s character to teach Carly a lot, and they allowed Carly to help show Shaun’s character a lot of new experiences too. It just didn’t feel one-sided, which I appreciated.
I think one of the problems with the portrayal of neurodivergent people in television and film is that it can often come off as very infantilizing. Like the autistic person doesn’t know how to do this or doesn’t understand that, and somebody happens to show them the ropes. The writers wanted to veer away from that in this particular romantic relationship. Shaun and Carly were facing new experiences together and having obstacles that neither one of them had experienced before. Still, Carly learned just as much about herself and her position in relationships as Shaun did.
The most frustrating part about it is that they did both put in a lot of work in the relationship, and it just didn’t work out in the end. That is the most relatable thing I’ve ever seen on television. Sometimes, the heart wants what the heart wants. We might connect with someone and that someone might be amazing on paper, but in real life, maybe it just doesn’t work out, and there’s not always a reason that you can pinpoint. I liked that these are both doctors who come from very logical, practical, technical backgrounds. Yet, they couldn’t find a way to make this very non-scientific relationship work, even though they were so perfect for each other on paper. It felt exciting to get to play this particular role.
Also, as a queer woman of color, it’s really exciting to be the lead romantic character in a network television show. You just don’t see that happen very often. I feel very thankful for all those things, although I still wish that Carly and Shaun had ended up together.
DC: I do too. I was a big Sharly shipper, so I do too. But you know, whatever direction the show goes in is where the show goes, and I’m going to continue to follow.
DC: But one of the things that I love the most about that whole Shaun and Carly storyline is that your character ended up being this pivotal experience for Shaun. Carly was the catalyst for Shaun finally professing his love for Lea. So, Shaun and Carly’s relationship, even though it didn’t last, still had a purpose, and I think that’s amazing and something special.
DC: You’re welcome. What would you say were some of your biggest struggles portraying Carly on The Good Doctor?
JN: Audiences can sometimes be very unforgiving with new characters. Because Lea and Shaun’s characters were kind of carved out as these romantic foils for each other at the beginning of the show, I knew it was going to be tricky to get the audience on my side as Carly. And when I say my side, I don’t mean against Lea at all. Often, the audience can’t make enough room for two female characters in a male character’s life. For me, that was my biggest struggle, and I was hoping that the writers would allow Carly to be a fully formed person. Carly was so perfect for Shaun on paper, and sometimes that can go into maybe too much of a two-dimensional kind of character where it doesn’t feel like she’s a fully formed person. She’s just created to be everything that somebody would want in that particular storyline. I liked that the writers did not do that. They made her smart and confident, but they also showed that she does have some insecurities. She’s a black woman in science, and we don’t see that a whole lot on network television. It would make sense that she would have some kind of insecurities in her job. Then, you find out that she has a little bit of a jealous streak too. Again, all things that are completely realistic, relatable, universal things about a person. So, the writers did me a huge favor by writing Carly as a fully-formed character with opinions, ideas, and idiosyncrasies. To keep Carly on the side of the audience, I was nervous about how they would handle that kind of characterization. It was tough. There was so much backlash for this relationship. As soon as the relationship between Carly and Shaun got physical, I started getting really hateful comments from people on social media.
DC: Oh, that’s horrible!
JN: I know. I had to take a huge break from that, which was frustrating. The other part of it is that it’s an interracial relationship, and as much as people would like to think that America is past that, we aren’t. There are so many, specifically, white women who had problems seeing this interracial relationship portrayed on television. That part was also really tough. As soon as Carly broke up with Shaun, and said, “I know that you’re in love with this other person and I don’t think we should do this anymore.” That’s when I stopped getting the hate comments. It was hard for people to see Carly and Shaun in a happy relationship, but as soon as she sacrificed herself, essentially for his love for Lea, they were on Carly’s side. That was a very interesting thing to experience.
DC: That is very interesting, though I know for a fact that the majority of the fans loved Carly. What was your favorite part of filming season three?
JN: Oh, gosh. I can’t say I have a favorite part, specifically. Everything kind of blends in together when you’re doing television. You might be shooting one episode while reading the script for the next episode and doing ADR for the last episode. Everything kind of gets jumbled up, but most of my work for the entire season three was with Freddie (Highmore), and that was, hands down, my favorite part of being on the show. I liked the cast. Everybody was welcoming and warm, but this was the first time in a long time I felt like I was doing a stage production. Stage, film, and television are all very different entities, but there is a collaborative relationship that you have when you’re working in the theater that is often missing in film and television because there are so many other voices that end up trumping the actor’s voice. You’ve got the director, and the DP, and the producers, and the writers. That’s just the nature of television. But being able to work with Freddie set the tone for me. He always showed up, and he made it feel like he and I were the most important part of portraying the emotional integrity of the scene, and all the other stuff was the icing on the cake. We always showed up on set together, and we would talk about the scenes we were shooting. He would listen to me if I had an idea or question, and he would ask me for things as well. It was just such a lovely experience to have with somebody who was both very professional but also really warm and down-to-earth. I really can’t say enough good things about Freddie. I’m going to miss working with him all the time. I’m nervous that there aren’t enough leading male actors like him in Hollywood, and I’m hoping that he is not my pinnacle. I hope that I get to work with a lot of other great male actors in my career.
DC: That’s great to hear, and I’m hopeful that you will too! Now, in addition to the culmination of the Carly, Shaun, and Lea storyline, the other big shocker of season three was Nicholas Gonzalez’s departure, aka. Dr. Melendez’s death. The entire fanbase was completely shaken by what happened to one of their favorite characters. What were your thoughts when you heard that was happening?
JN: It was really weird, and it had been a rumor for a while too. We knew that the finale was going to be a two-parter and that somebody was going to die. Of course, in my head, I was thinking, “oh my God! It’s got to be Carly, because I’m the newest person in the cast, and I’m totally expendable.” When we found out that it was going to be Nick, I think everybody was really shocked and surprised. It seems like there was a whole lot more storyline to get out of that particular character. They had set up the relationship between him and Claire. I know a lot of people considered that problematic because he was a superior, and I totally understand that, but the show still set it up. Then, to take it away at the very end was a huge surprise.
But again, as you said earlier, that’s network television for you. They do what they do, and you just go, “Okay,” and you keep watching. There is something very honest about that too. Nobody in the world is necessarily safe, though I think it probably had a different effect than the writers anticipated because of the quarantine. That episode aired right in the middle of us finding out about the pandemic and learning that it’s really dangerous outside, and we have to stay home. It’s possible that the audience’s reaction was even bigger than it would have been without a pandemic because the world already feels like chaos. People turn to television to escape that. Then, when your favorite character ends up dying very unexpectedly and tragically, it feels like there’s no safe place for you.
So, it was tough for us as a cast to learn that, but Nick handled it graciously. I feel very confident that he’s going to go on and continue to do awesome work. He’s a talented actor, so I don’t have any worries about him. I do think it’s funny that my first thought was, “Oh no, Carly’s going to die in an earthquake.” She does not die in an earthquake, but I don’t know how much she’s going to be back because Shaun decided to declare his love for Lea. So, she didn’t die in an earthquake, but she did get her heart broken, which is kind of the same thing sometimes.
DC: That leads well into my next question. The show’s creator, David Shore, has said in other interviews that he would love to see you back on the show as Carly, but it wouldn’t be in the same capacity. Has there been any discussion beyond season three as to what the future may hold for Carly? If you can tell us, has there been any discussions about season four and potentially returning?
JN: I will be honest with you and tell you there have not been any discussions. The Coronavirus is partly to blame, I’m sure.
DC: Of course.
JN: I would hope that Carly doesn’t just disappear from the show. My biggest fear is that she was brought on with the sole purpose of elevating Shaun. As you said, she was a pivotal point for him to evolve a little bit in a different part of his world and his romantic life. If that was her sole purpose for being on the show, I would be disappointed. I hope that’s not the case. They laid all these great nuggets about Carly throughout the show, like the fact that she has an autistic sister that she’s close to. I was hoping we might be introduced to her at some point in the season, and it didn’t happen. There’s potential for us to see that. I actually have a lot of thoughts on that. I love Shaun’s character. I think he’s so great, but I also think it’s really important to show that autism doesn’t look just like one thing. We say it’s a spectrum all the time, but we don’t always see that as a spectrum on television. They tend to have people who have savants, or people who were super smart, or have this super interesting talent. Those are the kinds of people that audiences like to watch, but not everybody on the spectrum is like that. I would love to see Carly’s sister, Andi, make an appearance at some point. It would be cool if we get to expand upon her romantic life outside of Shaun’s character. I’m not going to put out into the world who I think that she’d be with, but I do have an idea of who that would be on the show.
DC: Ooh. Interesting!
JN: Yeah! I don’t want to say it because I want it to happen, and I feel like if I say it, it might not happen. I’m going to keep my mouth closed, but I will say that it would be a nontraditional pairing. It’s somebody that you’ve seen Carly have scenes with a bunch of times, and they’re coming from very different places, but they always seem to meet in the middle in a really interesting way.
So, I was not invited to be a series regular again in season four, but that doesn’t mean that Carly won’t show up. I could certainly come back. It’s so weird to talk about wanting to go back on the show because right now I’m so focused on just surviving this pandemic. It’s hard to imagine a future where I’m back at work, but I know I have to be hopeful and optimistic and look forward. I’m hoping that Carly will still be, in some parts, a member of the cast of this show.
DC: I hope so too, and that’s actually another great transition to my next question. Right now, your social media posts, specifically your Instagram posts, are what’s getting me through this quarantine right now.
JN: You’re so sweet. Oh, my gosh, Denise.
DC: I’m obsessed with all your posts about your crafting and sewing, and your karaoking. Your fans love it all, and if they want to learn more about what else you do, aside from The Good Doctor, they can visit your TryCurious blog. Can you talk a little bit about the kind of posts you have on your blog?
JN: Sure! Before I was an actor, I’ve always been a maker. I’ve always been into craft and art. I started out as an illustrator. I’ve called myself an illustrator since I was seven years old, so that’s very important to me. Then, as I got older and was able to have access to the internet… I sound like such a grandma right now, but I didn’t have that when I was little. Now that I’m an adult, I feel like literally anything I could possibly want to know about the world is at my fingertips. That’s how I prefer to learn most things. I’m self-taught in most of the crafts. I’ve been sewing my wardrobe for about five years now. I’ve been making shoes for about three or four years. I love to knit. I love to make pottery. I love to do woodworking. I reupholster furniture. I occasionally do watercolor painting. I love to bake. Pretty much anything that there is to try, I’ll try it. That’s why my Instagram name is @jasikaistrycurious. I’m really curious about trying things. Not necessarily because I think I’ll be good at them. I just like to learn things, and I have a lot of patience with myself, so if I’m not very good at something, I won’t immediately stop. I’ll keep going until I either get better at it or learn something new about it. That’s pretty much what I post on my social media. My blog is www.jasikanicole.com. It’s mostly a sewing blog where I give reviews of patterns. I make a lot of garments for my partner, who just came out as non-binary recently. I used to make them clothes to fit their body, because they wanted a certain type of fit that wasn’t always found in women’s wear, and they have since had top surgery within the last year. So, now I’m making clothes that fit a slightly different body and talk a little bit about it on my blog sometimes. Yeah, it’s a fun time.
I don’t do a lot of tutorials, but I hope that my posts and my social media inspire people to go out and learn things. I think the older that we get, the less important hobbies become to us. A lot of people have jobs and kids and just really busy lives. They end up neglecting the kind of creative part of themselves that pushes themselves out of the comfort zone and paints with their fingers and make stuff that’s ugly, but they don’t care about it because it’s just fun to do. I’m hoping to inspire people to try and get back in touch with that — some kind of creative outlet that used to feed them at some point.
DC: Well, I think you’re accomplishing that because after following your posts and being stuck in this quarantine lockdown, I’ve pulled out my knitting needles again, and that’s something I haven’t done in years.
JN: Oh, my gosh! Thank you so much. That’s awesome.
DC: Yeah, of course. So, given the current state of the world right now, with so much of the future uncertain, you may not have an answer to this right now. But, do you have any upcoming projects that you’re working on or anything coming down the pipeline in the future that you want to share with our readers?
JN: About a week before we went into quarantine, I recorded a new audiobook. The first audiobook that I ever recorded was called Alice Isn’t Dead, which is a podcast that I narrated for three years, and I loved doing it. This audiobook is a YA novel called The Betrothed. It’s the first book in a trilogy, and it’s about a young woman who, I think, ultimately is going to become a bit of a warrior. I’ve only read the first book so far, so I don’t know, but it was really fun to record. Unfortunately, a lot of my future audiobook projects have been canceled because I don’t have an at-home recording studio, but I did get this one recording done. I think that audiobooks are a particularly great thing to have in your life during quarantine while you’re bored and trying to figure out ways to pass the time. Hopefully, people will check that out.
Sending a big thank you to Jasika Nicole for taking the time out to chat. Make sure you’re following her social media pages: