RJ Mitte, the handsome 20-year-old has endeared himself to viewers in his sensitive portrayal as Walter Jr, a differently-abled teenager coping with his father's cancer in the Emmy Award-winning series, 'Breaking Bad'. He opens up about dealing with bullies, landing a life-changing role for this show, and his film plans
Q. You were diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy at the age of three. Doctors tried to straighten your feet using casts; you wore leg braces and used crutches for most of your childhood. How difficult was life then?
A. It wasn't difficult. I had a regular childhood. I never thought of myself as different. I thought putting braces was just another thing that I had to do before I was ready for the day.
RJ Mitte. Pic courtesy/Daniel Martinez Matallana
Q. Were you bullied a lot, like many kids with Cerebral Palsy? How would you react?
A. I've dealt with kids making fun of my braces, and how I speak and walk. I was pushed and shoved, and I had my hand broken once. But I never allowed that to bother me because I saw who was doing it to me. They were people for who the most exciting part of their day was when they'd make fun of me. It would be their most intelligent conversation. You can't grow and flourish if all you're doing is crushing something or destroying someone. That's not growing, or learning. The traits you learn while hurting someone are not what the world and the society is looking out for. You develop social skills in schools, classrooms and playgrounds. That is what defines you as a person and what you carry forward as a trait to adulthood. What are people who bully, who take away their identity going to take into adulthood? How is that experience going to help them? It's sad. You have to learn to pity people like that.
Q. Tell us about your early years of struggle in LA. Did people look at you differently when you approached them for roles?
Yes. But, I wouldn't tell them I had Cerebral Palsy till they asked. But this happens, and as an actor you need to take it in your stride. You want people to see your work, give auditions and hope that you have a long career.
Q. We heard that Vince Gilligan, the show's producer, wasn't convinced to cast you as Walter Jr because he felt you were too able-bodied to play the part. Tell us more.
He wasn't. But, I went through three rounds of test. I auditioned, I did screen tests and he finally said, okay.
Q. How did you prepare for the part? Did it bring back a lot of childhood memories?
In case of playing Walter Jr, it came down to life experiences. It brought back a lot of memories from my childhood. I grew up with it, and I was able to use that to motivate myself and fuel the character.
Q. Hollywood tends to give more exposure to people with different skin colour and sexual orientations. However, the same can't be said about differently-abled people. Why?
I think it's because Hollywood tries to glamourise everything, disabilities even; it needs to start getting more real. That said, things are getting better.
What next (after 'Breaking Bad')?
I just filmed two movies — 'Dixieland' and 'Who's Driving Doug'. I'm looking forward to their release.
As a celebrity youth ambassador for United Cerebral Palsy and a spokesperson for I AM PWD RJ Mitte partnered with Shriners Hospital recently for a PSA (Public Service Advertisement) campaign called Cut the Bull in which he helped bring awareness and prevent bullying for people with disabilities. “Bullying will be around forever; it’s part of human nature. But, what you can do is set an example and show people that you are taking a stand, that you think it’s wrong,” he asserts.