Reporting on the Rio Paralympics for Channel 4, RJ Mitte – who played Walt Jr on the hit show Breaking Bad – on his nonchalant approach to fame, why he’s excited about the Paralympic games in Rio and how he wants the film industry to become more inclusive of those with disabilities
Words: Rachel Mantock
Catapulted into fame after Breaking Bad received a cult following, RJ Mitte has since starred in the coming of age film, Who’s Driving Doug and more recently played the character of CJ in the gritty crime drama, Dixieland alongside Chris Zylka and Riley Keough.
This month the acclaimed actor is in Rio, on the reporting front line for the Paralympic Games. He’s not particularly excited about a specific sport, but engrossed by the games themselves generally, stating that: ‘I don’t really have a favourite sport, I’m mostly interested in the dynamics of each sport and the tactics that each of these amazing athletes use.’
A great advocate of equality when it comes to opportunities for those with disabilities, RJ Mitte, who, like his character Walt Jr on Breaking Bad has cerebral palsy, tours the US to speak at schools and universities, raising awareness of disabilities and to highlight the importance of inclusion in industries that are traditionally elite, such as the arts and media.
His message is one of self belief, confidence and hope, stressing that he wants ‘each student with a disability to know that anything is possible and that they shouldn’t view their disability as a hindrance to what they want in life.’
A disabled actor shouldn’t only be able to play a disabled character, they should be considered for other roles and given an equal playing field
‘Everyone has moments where they feel like they are not good enough, including me. You have to rise above it and realise that you can achieve anything,’ he says. ‘In terms of the arts and media industries, a disabled actor shouldn’t only be able to play a disabled character, they should be considered for other roles and given an equal playing field.’
Aside from his role covering the Rio games and his acting commitments, Mitte has also dabbled with modelling, having walked for Vivienne Westwood last year and featured in the English rock band, Nothing But Thieves’ music video for If I Get High, the narrative of the video coincidentally drawing multiple parallels to that of Walt Jr: ‘At the core, the narrative was really about loss and wanting to go back to a prior time, before that loss occurred,’ he says.
The enormous popularity and success of the Breaking Bad franchise was forecasted by no one and when asked what he thinks it is about the show that drew people from all walks of life in, he reflects and says: ‘It was the sheer realism, even though what was happening was so out of the ordinary, people related to the characters and the emotions they were feeling on a very deep and personal level. That’s what I think kept everyone hooked.’
You can never become complacent, you have to ride the wave but the key is to get off before it crushes you. You have to always evolve and learn new things, education should never end, acquiring new knowledge constantly is essential. You can’t do one thing forever
Mitte takes a rational, ‘focus on the bigger picture’ approach to fame, explaining that, ‘you never really know if a show will take off or not, so of course I didn’t expect it to get the reaction that it did’.
‘You can never become complacent though, you have to ride the wave but the key is to get off before it crushes you. You have to always evolve and learn new things, education should never end, acquiring new knowledge constantly is essential. You can’t do one thing forever.’
Of London, Mitte says that it’s a great city with a lot to offer but that his friends in the area are what he loves most about it, as an eclectic mix of inhabitants is what gives an iconic city vibrancy. With his intelligent, refreshing approach to Hollywood success, a feverish drive and relentless commitment to trailblazing the way when it comes to equal opportunities for those with disabilities in the media, Mitte is just warming up.
His approach to all things is an approach that lacks insecurity and all traces of the ‘impostor syndrome’ many of us suffer from all to often. Yet, he’s also without arrogance, possessing an otherworldly balance between confidence and humility with a profound understanding of what is really important in life, much like many of the superhuman athletes he admires.