Breaking Bad centers on terminally ill high school chemistry professor Walter White (Malcolm in the Middle‘s Bryan Cranston). Diagnosed with inoperable cancer, White decides to build a slush fund for the family, using his science background to concoct a prized version of the street drug crystal meth.
Mitte portrays a teenager who is a bit of a smart-aleck at heart, but a good kid who doesn’t pity himself, he just wants to be treated like everybody else. “That’s precisely how RJ wants to be viewed”, says his real life mother “We never wanted him to think he couldn’t accomplish what he wanted to in life. He just hopes other people with disabilities set their goals high. He’s a role model. I’m very proud of him.”
Breaking Bad is Mitte’s first major role. RJ landed the role as an actor with a disability in Hollywood, which is so focused on brawn and beauty. Though he has fun on the set and enjoys his castmates, he’s still adjusting to being in front of the camera. “It’s cool and it’s scary at the same time.”
Although he has the good looks, “Sometimes, if there’s a choice between someone disabled who has never acted and an able-bodied actor who’s had acting jobs, the decision is to go with someone who has the experience,” says Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan. Gilligan, 41, wrote the part of Walter Jr. to honor a handicapped friend, now deceased, from his college days at New York University. “What I love about RJ is he’s like his character: He doesn’t feel sorry for himself. He’s a teenager who just happens to have cerebral palsy.”
Mitte never figured he’d be an actor. The Louisiana native moved to Hollywood after his sister, Lacianne, was spotted by a talent agent in late 2005. His manager thought Lacianne was too young, but he suggested RJ might be actor material. “We saw qualities in him right away — he’s extremely photogenic and has charisma — he’s got a witty, somewhat snarky sense of humor.”
Mitte eventually got a recurring gig as an extra on Hannah Montana, but not because of his disability. Typically, casting directors can’t distinguish him from able-bodied actors. “At first, we didn’t tell them. So it would be a shock when they found out,” Mitte says. “Some act a tiny bit weird. I just make them laugh, and they’re fine.”
RJ still finds time to fish, play paintball, go to the movies and hang out with friends. He recently took up ballroom dancing too! “You can do anything if you set goals,” he says. “You just have to push yourself.”