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In Toast, an adaptation by the Billy Elliot writer Lee Hall of Nigel Slater's memoir of family and food in the West Midlands of the 1960s, Highmore plays the future cookery writer from his mid-teens through to catering college.
Slater's enjoyable autobiography is almost Proustian, if you substitute Jammie Dodgers for madeleines; it tells, through the cooking and confectionery of the era, the story of his mother's premature death and the takeover of the family home by the cleaner – and soon-to-be stepmother – the hostile Mrs Potter.
And they just want you to be able to turn up every day and carry on working.
They have a horrible fear of 10- or 11-year-olds, that they're going to say 'I don't want to play today.'" That never happened with Highmore.
"That was a while back," he says now, as if reviewing a long-distant youth instead of a mere six years ago. "I went to the same [secondary] school all the way though," he says. You spend a few months away every year, but when you go back it would be the same people, rather than having to make new friends.
They didn't really see you differently; it was like you'd gone away on holiday or something." Highmore was a hard-working scholar, unlike the character he plays in his next film, Homework, which was shot earlier this year in New York, where he shared a rented apartment with father.
"He's a few years older than me, but our families have known each other for ages, not just through acting," says Highmore.
"You know that she's always doing what's best for you.
And the roles I take have always been family decisions.
Things became a good deal more serious with Finding Neverland.
The story of JM Barrie's friendship with the family which inspired Peter Pan, it was an international hit, and the 12-year-old Highmore had cinema-goers worldwide blubbing in their seats and award-givers lining up to honour him. It came out two years after we'd filmed it so there was this break, and perhaps that helped as well." In the meantime, young Freddie got on with his schooling – at a primary school in Hampstead Garden Suburb in north London, then at the fee-paying Highgate School.