Breaking Bad star RJ Mitte reveals how he’s transformed his challenges into covetable career success, and why ‘can’t’ is never an option.
What defines us? Sitting across from 23-year-old RJ Mitte, one could say a lot of things. In his working life, Mitte is as much a producer as he is an actor, and is currently in the midst of producing a documentary on the unsolved kidnapping of student Tara Calico. “There was a big cover-up in this small city,” he explains. “People have gone on to create lives and live their existence. She’s still missing today, but it’s about her disappearance and the people that were involved.”
Within the confines of the Knightsbridge hotel room in which we converse, Mitte is warm, chatty and extremely courteous, but to the outside world, the young actor is best known as Walt Jr. in Breaking Bad – the cult series named by the Guinness Book of World Records as the most critically acclaimed show in television history. However, at this point in time, the most apt definition for Mitte is cheerful, but tired. An early start to the day is set to be followed by a glittering night at the BRIT Awards: “I have a really cool outfit for tonight,” he tells us. “I’m excited.”
Mitte’s diary for the week reads like a working actor’s dream. He’s attending an awards show, shoots, travelling and, as he proudly informs us, giving a talk at Oxford University. A packed schedule may come with the territory, but Mitte’s foray into Hollywood was never in search of fame or fortune. “I originally moved to Los Angeles because of my little sister,” he says. “If you move to LA and you don’t go to school, don’t join a gang or don’t act, you’re not going to meet anyone or do anything. So I started acting and doing classes to meet kids my own age. About six months later I auditioned for Breaking Bad.” Five auditions and a flight to New Mexico later, “and the rest is history.”
Since his breakthrough role in Breaking Bad, Mitte’s career continues to thrive. This year, he has starred in feature film Who’s Driving Doug?, which is about a character with muscular dystrophy. “He’s at the point in his life where he goes home, he goes to school and that’s it. “It’s a very basic existence,” explains Mitte. “His driver ends up quitting on him and his new driver gives him an opportunity to change his life. They take a road trip to Las Vegas. It’s cool.” The actor also found time to shoot highly anticipated movie Dixieland, working alongside a star-studded cast including Riley Keough (Elvis Presley’s grand-daughter) and country music star Faith Hill. “I love being part of a crew,” he says. “When we do shoots and we have a good crew, good photography, you’re able to create something that people enjoy. That’s fun for me.”
This enthusiasm for all aspects of his art, whether behind or in front of the camera, is infectious, but what sets Mitte apart from a lot of his young Hollywood peers, is that each of his pursuits has a purpose: a purpose to educate. “People need to look at disability as knowledge,” he insists, “because without my disability I wouldn’t be here. I would’ve never got Breaking Bad. I would’ve never been a part of what I am now. People have challenges for a reason.” Much like the character he portrayed in Breaking Bad, Mitte has a mild case of Cerebral Palsy, a hurdle he has taken in his stride and turned into a voice for change and empowerment. “Can’t is such an interesting thing,” he muses. “I grew up with a marine grandfather so can’t wasn’t an option. People say, ‘I can’t overcome this.’ No, you’re choosing not to. You have to fight. No one has an easy path. But [it’s] an opportunity to change your perspective and your mind-set.”
Mitte is adamant that these challenges not only have the ability to change the individual’s perspective, but those of others too, and it’s this openness to discussion that has led to an award being named in his honour (Media Access’ RJ Mitte Diversity Award) and earned him a position on the Screen Actors Guild as spokesperson for actors with disabilities. As with everything else in his career, he takes this responsibility to heart: “It’s important to show how normal a disability is,” he says. “People need to be less fearful and more willing to step out of their realm of comfort: to step out of what they think they know.”
It’s an industry that’s becoming increasingly accessible. “You don’t have to have a big production anymore,” Mitte points out. “You can create your own projects using your iPhone.” It would seem that for progression to truly take place, perhaps we should start by taking can’t out of our vocabularies.
Talent / RJ Mitte Photography / Paul Whitfield Fashion Editor / Marianna Frannais
Production / Huma Humayun Hair / Keiichiro Hirano @ David Artists
using Bumble and bumble Make up / Julia Wilson using L’Oréal Photography Assistant / Christos Markou
Styling Assistant / Ria Polychroniadou Special Thanks to The Wellesley Hotel, London