RJ Mitte: Overcoming Adversity

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Known for his incredible performance as Walt Jr. in the popular AMC series Breaking Bad, 22-year-old RJ Mitte has become an inspiring example of how disability can be transformed to ability. Mitte suffers from cerebral palsy, yet does not let it prevent him from doing the things he loves.

Last Thursday at TCNJ, Mitte spoke about overcoming adversity in the film and television industry, as well as in life. In an interview before his lecture, Mitte shared some of his experiences in the industry so far, his plans for the future and some inspirational words of advice.

Although Breaking Bad has had its final season, Mitte continues to move forward in his acting career. He will have a small role in Dixie Land, and will be starring in a movie called, “Who’s Driving Doug?”

In the movie, he plays a boy with muscular dystrophy who goes on a road trip and discovers how independent he can be, the actor explained. “Not a lot of people give you opportunities,” said Mitte when describing the film. “They see the chair first before they see you.”  

At age 13, Mitte moved to Los Angeles. “And when you move to LA and you don’t go to school and you don’t join a gang and you don’t act, you’re not going to make friends and you’re not going to meet people,” said Mitte, laughing. He was working only six months when he booked Breaking Bad.

“I loved the pilot,” said Mitte about his first appearance on the hit series. “It’s one of the reasons I’m still an actor today.” He called the cast a family, and had a “fun experience on set.”

Mitte is involved with many philanthropic organizations that work to improve the lives of those with disabilities. He said he is, “always trying to educate and to remind people that they can do what they want.” He encourages this depsite any physical, mental, or any other thing that is challenging you from being who you want to be.

The young actor has never seen any of his “challenges” as an adversity. “I’ve always looked at them as strength and knowledge,” he said. “Looking at the positive versus the negative.”

Growing up with leg braces, casting and having endured feet-binding treatments, occupational therapy and speech therapy, Mitte never saw these as abnormalities. “I grew up with this. I know this. It’s my normality,” he explained.

He went on to say, “If you allow fear to manipulate who you are, you’ll never be who you’re intended to be.” He believes many people base their decisions on fear. “If you allow fear to rule over you, you’ll never be who you’re meant to be,” he reiterrated.

When asked how he felt Hollywood was progressing with giving more opportunities to actors who have overcome adversity such as himself, he said, “More and more people want real character. They want real people. Real characters that hit home, that have challenges. Slowly but surely, it is changing and it is growing.”

During his lecture, Mitte shared more about his life experiences and what those experiences taught him. When he was young, kids would ask him, “What’s wrong with you?” He explained that people saw his disability first. “Everyone has these challenges in their life,” said Mitte. But he didn’t refer to his disability as a challenge. Instead he referred to it as knowledge. 

He shared with the audience, “I love action scenes.” He wishes he was able to be a part of more of them.  His “disability” gave him the ability to carry his knowledge with him over to his roll as Walter’s son in Breaking Bad.

Today, Mitte plays Campbell on ABC’s Switched at Birth, who was paralyzed from a snowboarding accident. He likes how the show discusses different disabilites. Mitte expressed, “It shows the normality of life.”