For six years, RJ Mitte graced our screens as Walt Jr. on the hit AMC series Breaking Bad. The role wasn’t only a breakthrough for his career, but a crucial opportunity for representation. Mitte, 28, has cerebral palsy (CP). The neurological condition affects 2.4 out of 1000 U.S. children and is rarely seen on film or television.
Find out how RJ Mitte got started in acting and how he’s used his Breaking Bad fame as a launchpad for other endeavors.
RJ Mitte Is Walt Jr. From The Hit Series ‘Breaking Bad’
RJ Mitte was born Roy Frank Mitte III on August 21, 1992, in Jackson, Mississippi. He was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at age 3 and spent most of his childhood in casts to treat the condition. But Mitte didn’t allow CP to get in the way of a fulfilling and physically active life. As a kid he played six seasons of soccer while wearing leg braces; to this day he enjoys skateboarding and snowboarding.
“My grandfather always said, ‘You’re not allowed to take a backseat; you’re not allowed to not do things,'” Mitte told L.A. Parent. “Everyone has challenges in life. It’s what you choose to do with it.”
That attitude is exactly how he earned the role that would change his life. When Mitte was 13, his single mother Dyna relocated the family to Los Angeles and sought to make his sister an actress. A talent agent suggested finding roles for her son, too.
“She said, ‘You know, this business can be very negative and we don’t want that aspect of it,'” Mitte explained to The Guardian in 2015. “‘He has CP and…we don’t want that negativity [in his life].'”
But five auditions later, he was on the set of Breaking Bad in New Mexico. Mitte played Walt Jr., son of protagonist Walter White (played by Bryan Cranston). Like the actor himself, his character had CP. However, Mitte was still expected to flex his acting skills and represent a more severe form of the condition. He used crutches and spoke with slurred speech—neither of which apply to his real everyday life.
Other parts about the character hit closer to home. In the first season, there’s a scene in which Walt Jr. is savagely bullied. Mitte told The Guardian it was a relatable moment.
“I was pushed, shoved, had my hand broken, had my foot broken,” he said. “They kicked my hand, stomped on it. The same with my foot. When you have a disability, people think you are weak. They think they can prey on you.”
“But people like that don’t thrive or grow,” he continued. “They will never evolve as a person and deal with true, genuine kindness.”
Mitte isn’t only wise beyond his years—he also got the last laugh. He gave the next six years of his life to one of the best shows in the history of television, and in 2013, he earned a Screen Actors Guild Award (Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series) for his efforts.
“Nothing I do will ever compare with Breaking Bad,” he said.
RJ Mitte Wants To End The Stigma Around Disability
Mitte’s success didn’t come without challenges. Growing up with CP, he had only one role model to reference.
“The closest person on screen was Forrest Gump–that was my representation,” he told The Guardian. “I played soccer…and my mother would yell: ‘Run, Forrest, Run!'”
That said, Mitte sees his job as an opportunity to pick up where Tom Hanks left off. Any opportunity to be on screen is an opportunity to shed light on CP. It also helps a broad audience understand that Mitte is just like anyone else.
He told Vice, “I think it’s really important that we have real stories on television and film and are having a real impact. People are hungry for realism. They’re hungry to see characters like them and I think that’s what was really important with Breaking Bad.”
Though growing up with CP had its challenges, Mitte never saw himself as different from other kids. In 2019, he explained that the only deviation from a typical childhood was the time he had to invest in occupational, speech, and physical therapy. “It’s something I have lived with my whole life, so I knew nothing else. When I went to school, I discovered I was ‘abnormal’ compared to most of the other kids. But for the most part, I believe I grew up with a very normal life.”
“I feel like I have mastered my version of cerebral palsy,” he added.
RJ Mitte Is Only Getting Started In Acting
Mitte has kept busy with a variety of projects since Breaking Bad wrapped in 2013. The following year, he appeared as a recurring character on the fifth season of the ABC Family drama Switched At Birth. And in 2016, he served as a correspondent for British Channel 4’s coverage of the Rio Paralympic Games.
He’s also made some unexpected appearances, including music videos for the bands Hollywood Undead and Nothing But Thieves. He even walked down the runway for legendary fashion designer Vivienne Westwood.
In 2019, he starred in the Australian comedy Standing Up For Sunny. Although the movie received favorable reviews from Australian critics, Mitte revealed that he’s his own harshest critic. A Sydney Morning Herald article reports that during the film’s premiere, the actor joked to a deaf questioner in the audience “that he was lucky he did not have to listen to him in the movie.”
Mitte has multiple projects in the works for 2021, including a spot in the Amazon series Like It Was Yesterday and starring roles in the upcoming films Isaac and Triumph. We hope that each gig helps the actor move closer to the goal of increased disability representation in media.