The script has been read, the white coat has been cleaned and the staff is back to solving problems and saving lives. Having returned to St. Bonaventure Hospital last week with the rest of the cast of ABC’s The Good Doctor, Nicholas Gonzalez, who plays Dr. Neil Melendez, shared what he loves about acting, being a father and why being a member of the Hispanic community is so important to him.
“I’m a father now, so I’m in a Renaissance period for myself where I feel everything has come together,” said Gonzalez of his daughter, now 2½. “She is what I was really waiting for.”
Unlike other actors, who catch the acting bug as children, Gonzalez’s first foray into his craft came in his 20s. However, the self-proclaimed class clown always found a way to perform with his brother growing up.
“My brother and I were latchkey kids. We turned on the TV and did our homework while watching stand-up comedy. Improv was actually the first thing that got me interested in performing,” said Gonzalez, who grew up in San Antonio, TX.
While enrolled at Stanford University on scholarships for cross country and track, the investment banking major saw an improv class being offered that caught his eye.
“I thought, ‘what a fun escape from everything else,’ and when I came back from studying abroad in my junior year, I just wanted to do more acting,” said Gonzalez, who began to take acting classes. “I met a graduate student who did her thesis on this play and was trying to find the right person for the role. She approached me to do a 20-minute monologue, and after I read it, she asked if I wanted the spot. To me, it was one of those moments that’s an unequivocal ‘no, I don’t do that,’ but for some reason I said ‘yes’ and everything changed.”
Gonzalez polished his skills by performing in classic and contemporary theater and began landing acting jobs. In his 30-year career, Gonzalez has appeared in the Lifetime original movie, My Little Assassin, the film Scenes of the Crime alongside Jeff Bridges, the lead role of Alex Santiago in Showtime’s original series, Resurrection Blvd., and appeared on Melrose Place, Walker Texas Ranger, That ’70s Show and Pretty Little Liars. Currently, he can be seen on The Good Doctor as attending cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Neil Melendez, who oversees surgical residents.
“I enjoy my community and we built an amazing one on the set of this show. Freddie [Highmore] and everyone else were dedicated to making it an amazing work environment for everybody,” said Gonzalez of the cast and crew as the series enters its third season. “This season, you’ll see a lot more concentration on romantic relationships, friendships and a focus on other story lines that weren’t nurtured at heart. I think audiences wanted to see a lot of that because we’re a procedural show, but we also have to have an all-inclusive storyline.”
Nuanced writer David Shore of House fame knows how to work a theme that touches everyone’s lives, something that The Good Doctor, and Highmore, who plays Dr. Shaun Murphy, an autistic surgical resident, have received rave reviews for since the show aired in 2017. With something for everyone including the characters, Gonzalez is continually amazed, but also proud of the man that Dr. Melendez has become.
“His intelligence, pride and ego make it easy for him to be a great surgeon, but he’s at a place now where he has to find a balance between going off of scans and tests and finding a margin between the dangerous decisions. This season he shuffles between those rules a bit more,” said Gonzalez, adding that viewers will also see more of his new relationship with fellow doctor Audrey Lim (Christina Chang).
As for working with Highmore, Gonzalez said that the young actor has an aura that makes everyone respond to him.
“He is a very wise, mature and talented individual and always celebrates everybody before himself,” he said of his colleague, whose character has further pushed into light the discussion on autism. “There are a lot of shows that are shining a light on what has been considered non-neuro normative, but the response to The Good Doctor has been so overwhelmingly positive from the autism community, activists and family groups. It’s very humbling to be a part of it and I’m happy the conversation is happening.”
Being of Mexican descent, Gonzalez shared that there was a point in time where he struggled to identify with his culture.
“I once had a conversation with a reporter who asked if I considered myself Mexican. I said ‘I know you consider me American, but when you ask me about what I am, that’s what I identify with,’” he said. “My family is from Mexico and we have always seen ourselves as such. Because that culture is so meshed in my upbringing, growing up in a town like San Antonio, it’s so Latino dominant and I had more than enough role models to help shape who I am.”
Gonzalez is an animal rights activist and also holds close to his heart the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles and Friends of El Faro, an organization that helps support Casa Hogar Sion orphanage.
“I have worked with the Children’s Hospital of LA for a very long time. We do blood drives every year and it is so easy to support anything involving children because to see a child in pain and families that can’t afford care, it’s heartbreaking. I now know what it’s like to have a kid and to make sure that everything is exhausted for their care,” he said. “A dear friend of mine adopted Casa Hogar Sion orphanage years ago and for the past eight years, I have been going to Tijuana, Mexico, to help. Working with these children, aiding in the immigrant crisis by visiting detention centers and bringing out buses to teach kids and engage with them is just about humanity. A lot of people volunteer and feel very strongly about the immigrant crisis.”
Catch Gonzalez as Dr. Neil Melendez on The Good Doctor, which airs Mondays at 10 p.m. ET on ABC, as well as in the upcoming holiday movie Christmas on the Range.