At only twenty-two, RJ Mitte has found an amazing space to inhabit that rests between self and performer. The actor-producer is slowly etching out his place within the Hollywood elite. Though still relatively fresh to the scene, Mitte is already beginning to tread into legendary territory, having just come off of his six-season roll as doted and eventually devastated Walt Jr. on Breaking Bad, arguably the biggest television show of the last five years. Critics have already deemed Breaking Bad a game changer in the medium of television with many citing it as the most important series in recent history. Yet, for Mitte, the success is secondary to the experience. “I’m just happy to keep having these amazing characters. It [Breaking Bad] was a dream come true. It’s more than an actor could want, working on an amazing set with talented people. It was like a real family.” He was recently the recipient of the first-ever Starbright World Inspiration Award from Starlight Children’s Foundation, and has been actively speaking about living and working with cerebral palsy and the challenges that he has faced along the way.
Indira Cesarine: How did you start acting?
RJ Mitte: I started acting to meet kids my own age, and six months later I auditioned and started working on Breaking Bad. It was insane, it was amazing!
IC: What was it like when you first started working on Breaking Bad? How was it being on set?
RM: It was a dream come true. It’s more than any actor could want, working on an amazing set with talented people. I play a high school student that happened to have cerebral palsy and family issues. What normal family doesn’t have their problems? It was nice when I got the part of Walt Jr. My CP wasn’t as bad as his but I still went through all the therapy as a kid. I went through all the stretching and I knew what this kid had to go through to keep control over who he is. It was an amazing eye-opener to be able to see everything that I had to overcome and was able to watch another person go through it.
IC: So I imagine that helped you really relate to your character, as well as push you further with your work?
RM: It really does. You have a character that had what Breaking Bad gave it – the possibility – it really is a dream come true to be able to have a role like that.
IC: How do you feel the disabled are represented in the media? As the spokesman for actors with disabilities for the Screen Actors Guild, as well as the representative of “Inclusion in the Arts and Media of Performers with Disabilities”, you must have a strong point of view on the subject?
RM: My point of view on the disabled community in arts and film is interesting. There’s a lot of discrimination against people with disabilities. It isn’t so much a color, gender, or religion issue, rather than the standpoint of the discrimination that people have and that people with disabilities are not strong, which is not true. People have a stigma that people with a disability aren’t as capable of holding a normal job or having a normal life, which isn’t true. People have normal lives every day. Living with a disability doesn’t make you disabled. Having a disability gives you the knowledge that no one will ever understand without going through it. I think the SAG and the union have done an amazing job in their diversity department of making people with disabilities heard. There are quite a few disabled activists – Marlee Matlin, Robert David Hall – and there are many people that are working right now to make television and film a better place for people with disabilities. I find that it’s something that’s growing every day but it’s still something that needs to be worked on. More and more people are jumping behind this because they understand. It should not be a stigma. It’s not a “thing”, it’s real life and it’s one thing that you’ll never be able to change. I find people think they’re untouchable until something happens to them. I think when something happens, where someone is paralyzed or someone does have a stroke, it gives them a whole new perspective and a whole new understanding of life.
IC: Did you ever face a situation where you felt like because of your cerebral palsy, you were confronted with people who underestimated your abilities?
RM: Every day. For the longest time people thought that I needed crutches, that I needed a walker, that I need more help than I do – and it’s not true. It’s interesting to see what people think of someone that they haven’t met but they know have a disability… it’s just interesting.
IC: Just because someone has a disability doesn’t mean they can’t do their job well; it’s just a question of having that faith in them.
RM: It’s exactly that. It’s just sad that there are so many people who don’t have that faith, or make that leap and don’t have the faith to actually believe in another person. That’s what I try to do. I speak at colleges and that’s one of the main things I try to do: to tell people to be understanding. Just because someone has a disability doesn’t make them any different than anyone else, and they should understand. I try to bring that point to them because people forget that. Like any issue or born-prejudice, it takes a while for people to understand that they’re not different before they realize that ‘Oh I guess that is a little prejudice,’ or ‘I guess that is discrimination.’ It takes a while to change a mindset of any group or organization; it usually takes a slap in the face before they realize that they’re doing anything wrong. So it’s sad that sometimes it comes to that, but I think what’s going on right now is a great movement. I find that many more people are jumping behind the bandwagon and getting a greater understanding of life in general.
IC: The convention of disabilities is helping bring to light a lot of the issues going on and that’s been a big movement globally, so it’s great to hear that Hollywood is coming to terms with it as well. Previously, it was pretty rare for there to be actors on TV shows that were actually disabled.
RM: Slow and steady wins the race. The thing with this is to keep fighting because there’s such a stigma about people with disabilities and many of those things people think are not true and completely inaccurate.
IC: How much do you draw on your own personal experiences when you prepare for a role?
RM: When I come up with any character I try to base as much on my life as their life. I try to base what and how that character feels in a situation and then use the emotion of what I had to go through; where I had to be; what I had to do to be able to be where I’m at; and do what I do as a brace, kind of like a backbone. Every character needs a little bit of struggle and I find that it just helps to make the character a bit more real. Realism is the best way when you’re working on anything, especially as an actor. The more real you are, the better your performance will come out.
IC: What do you feel has been the most difficult performance of your career?
RM: I think every performance is a difficult performance since they come in levels like, who you’re with, and what you’re trying to achieve in the scene. Each scene faces its challenges and each challenge has another challenge. I find there’s always something that will be challenging you, but the thing is to face it, give it accurate portrayal, and come out on top.
IC: Did you had a mentor for your career as an actor or is this something that you went off and did on your own?
RM: I had a mentor for the first several years. My manager was my teacher and he taught me everything. He taught me how to act pretty much and I just took it from there. I think all the training in the world will not prepare you for a job. It’s you that has to solidify and it’s you that has to take it for yourself. It’s just knowing the scene and knowing who you are, and it takes a little bit to understand that. Once you grasp that, I think it helps a lot better in the process.
IC: Do you have a favorite contemporary actor? Do you watch a lot of films and TV?
RM: I watch tons of films. I spend a lot of time on Netflix; I watch and stream at least three times a day. I don’t have a favorite actor in general. I watch someone on television and then meet them in person and have a hard time differentiating between the two people, because I don’t recognize people from their roles. I can’t put names to faces, but I can put faces to faces and names to names, but I’m not good at doing the crossover.
IC: Do you have a favorite film?
RM: I have tons. I know that’s such a cop out answer again but I go through movies all the time. I like older films; I enjoy classic films and films that actually tell stories. You know what I mean? Like, before people got tainted. You still have amazing stories but sometimes they completely miss their mark and you watch the old films then watch the new films… you see how much heart people had in the older films and then how heartless people are in the newer films. It’s just interesting to see the difference between the two.
IC: How do you feel with regards to your own work in TV versus film? You’ve crossed over into both, what do you prefer?
RM: I just like the work. I’m happy. I’m working on Switched At Birth on ABC Family right now and I have a couple of things in the pipeline that I’m working on — we’ll see if they pan out. You never know until you’re filming it. I have an amazing job. I love doing what I get to do. It has its own faults and things that you have to give up, but I love creating characters and working on the set. I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else when I’m on set.
IC: I also understand that you’re producing.
RM: I am producing a documentary about a missing persons case. We’ve been working on it for four years now and it’s really great. It’s a labor of love documentary, but it’s a really important story for people to hear and a really important story to be told. It’s something to keep going on because it’s about a missing person that hasn’t been found yet. It’s really important that people see this story and more people see stories like hers. Because this is a recurring thing. This is a factor that’s happening everywhere. Not just in a desert, not just in one or two states, but in all states people go missing every day that shouldn’t go missing. It’s just a tragedy. Something that people need to realize – it is a major part of this world. We’ve been working on it for four years and they’ve recently formed a task force to reopen the case and try to find her again.
IC: Do you think the documentary helped instigate that?
RM: We think so, because in all honesty, there was no reason for them to open this case. This case happened in 1988. This is a 25-year-old case that a lot of people have forgotten about and don’t care about. If they don’t know someone who it happened to, they generally don’t care. They are reopening the case and looking into it. I believe that us stirring the pot and the family stirring the pot pushed them to reopen the case.
IC: What’s amazing about working on a documentary is that you can make an impact. Do you have any other plans with documentaries in the future?
RM: Anything could happen. I’m just trying to go one job to the next. Let’s finish the first one! (laughs) and then we’ll talk about number two!
IC: Do you have a motto or words of wisdom that you live by?
RM: I don’t know… “grit your teeth and hope for the best.”
IC: This issue is our Legendary Issue, are there any artists that you feel are legendary and that have inspired your work?
RM: There are quite a few legendary people that don’t so much inspire me but have given me an outlook that has driven me to certain directions that I want to go. There are legends. There are people who are truly remarkable at what they do, and what they’re able to achieve and bring to the screen. Not just on television and film, but life in general, there are people who are legends and there are people that are able to do the impossible. I think it’s amazing when people have that capability and that structure to achieve something that not many people are able to achieve.
IC: I think what’s amazing about you and your work is that you’ve drawn so much from your personal experience to create your own entity.
RM: I’m just happy to keep having these amazing characters. I’m very lucky to go from one amazing show to the next. Breaking Bad was amazing and had an amazing cast and crew. It was really like a family, very tight-knit and close. And Switched At Birth, everyone is very kind and it’s a very close cast. I’m happy that they brought me on and that I’m a part of their set right now. It’s one of those things, when you’re lucky enough to go from one great cast and crew to another great cast and crew.
IC: What sort of projects do we have to look out for this year?
RM: At the end of the day, the business that we’re in – a lot can happen in 24 hours. That’s the one thing about film and television, arts and media. What happens to us in 24-48 hours could consist of 30 phone calls with 50 people talking and then you can finally get the job. A lot happens really quickly and you definitely find out who runs what very fast.
IC: You obviously have a very charming presence – what is your current state of romance?
RM: My current status is single. I’ve been single for a little bit…
IC: Is it true that you used to date Miley?
RM: No, I never dated Miley. There were rumors and I have no idea how those rumors started. I think that people just love to talk. I don’t know why, it’s insane. I did a little bit of work on Hannah Montana when I first moved to Los Angeles. I was thirteen and knew nothing about acting; I’d never been on a set before or been around cameras. I was freaking out on Breaking Bad. That was my first ever time speaking in front of a camera. I would do background on a show and then they bumped me to a regular student and then hopefully they give you a job. I was working on Hannah Montana, Weeds, and Everybody Hates Chris. I was doing that to learn how the set works and see the functionality of it. For some reason people thought things were bigger than they actually were and it just went off from there.
IC: It’s a compliment, right? I mean, she’s pretty hot.
RM: Yeah, she’s hot and I have no problem with that rumor… I don’t have a problem with dating rumors!
For more exclusive photos of RJ, pick up your copy of The Untitled Magazine‘s “Legendary” Issue 7!
Interview by Indira Cesarine for The Untitled Magazine
Photography by Indira Cesarine for The Untitled Magazine
Fashion Editor: Brendan Cannon
Additional Styling by Indira Cesarine
Grooming by Debbie Gallagher @ Opus Beauty
Photographed at Milk Studios, LA
RJ wears a striped shirt and jacket by Dior Homme
RJ wears a shirt and trousers by Robert James, jacket by Jacob Holston
Make sure not to miss our behind the scenes video of RJ Mitte at his photo shoot!