Interview: RJ Mitte

Spindle met with RJ Mitte last week, firstly known as the most adorable and humble guy from Hollywood, and secondly as Walt Junior from Breaking Bad. Not only has he basically not stopped auditioning and filming since he was 12, but he’s working with charities such as Scope and serves as the official Ambassador for United Cerebral Palsy and Shriners Children’s Hospitals across the USA. He is continuously working to rid people of pre-misconceptions that many have of disabilities.

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[Shirt – Levi’s, Jeans – Waven, Shoes – Dr Martens, Watch – Triwa]

So you’re not originally from Hollywood…

Yes well, I moved to Hollywood when I was 12/13 years old. We were living in Texas at the time, I’m originally from Louisiana, Texas but we were living in Houston at the time. An agent saw my sister and wanted her, we were like “sure why not”. Where we were living there wasn’t a lot going on. We went out to Hollywood and she got the campaign and they wanted her for some other stuff so we were looking at agents for her. The agent said, “oh what about you” and my mother said “he knows nothing about acting”. She’s like [whispers] “he’s got CP” [laughs].

It’s a very negative business. It’s a very harsh business. Everyone takes everything for granted, if they can get away with it, they will. It’s not really good for children but I was like “sure, why not”. If you move to Los Angeles and you don’t go to school, you don’t join a gang, you don’t act, you’re not going to meet anyone. You wont do anything. I started working as an extra doing background work.

Wasn’t that in Hannah Montana?

I was in the whole first season of Hannah Montana. Everybody Hates Chris, Weeds, Seventh Heaven, I was doing quite a few shows and movies, I was doing about 13 all at the same time within a month to six month period and auditioning regularly. Then my agent called me and said “we have an audition for you, it practically describes you. It’s dark hair, big eyebrows and mild cerebral palsy”. It was like “oh, this is perfect. This is me”. [laughs] I went in and it was Breaking Bad.

I auditioned five times, four in Los Angeles and one in New Mexico. I auditioned one day and flew out the next day. I went in and got there at like 7:30, auditioned, went up to my room, went back down for a test screening and that’s where they want you to meet the other actors to make sure you’re not crazy.

Make sure you can socialise.

Make sure you can socialise and they can talk to you. I went back up to my room and they called me and the rest is history.

And it really is history. You spent most of your teenage years on set.

I did. I was 13 turning 14 when I started Breaking Bad and I was 20 turning 21 when we ended Breaking Bad.

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[Jumper – Penguin, Shirt – Levi’s, Jeans – AG]

Do you think you learnt anything that any non-Hollywood child actors would’ve learnt?

I mean, I’ve learnt a lot in different aspects of my life, acting was just one of those aspects. I learnt so much from everyone, the crew and the cast and the people that were involved. We really had an amazing group of people. We had a crew of 500. From old to young to in the middle [laughs]. It was like a family. A very big family dynamic.

Everyone on set knew we had something special. You can never imagine that a show is going to blow up the way it’s going to blow up. But we all knew we had something unique. We knew we had something that no one else had done, and people loved it. People had so much fun filming and creating this project. You see it. That’s the thing when you have that passion, you have that life in your art and in your work, it goes through whatever you’re doing. You both see it, you see you for who you are, you can’t lie to a camera.

But for your character, you had to learn how to use crutches, and almost had to make attributes of your CP more severe.

To a degree, and this is the thing, people are very visual. The more I’ve realised, I didn’t do that much work to make my character’s CP stand out. People saw the crutches and it clicked, it snapped. They didn’t have to have anything else other than the crutches. The crutches done it. It maybe more of a stutter and it may seem like that but it wasn’t really that much. There was a lot of pauses and a lot of separation and people just assume. That’s the thing, people assume.

It’s interesting how the brain works, especially when it comes to disability, of how people see disability and how disability is portrayed in television and film. When people see disability they think severely disabled. They see someone that they cannot relate to because they do not have it, so it makes it stick out more. I think it’s funny because it’s not the case. People have disabilities of all sorts. Extremely disabled and not, having the ability to get around but they choose not to sometimes and they choose to play the victim, but that’s not the case. A disability is knowledge. A disability is growth. It gives you an opportunity to overcome what you think you cannot overcome. If you look at Walt Junior, he was not disabled. He may have walked with crutches, he may have a bit of a speech impediment, but he was not disabled.
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[Jumper – Levi’s, Jeans – Levi’s, Shoes – Oliver Sweeney]

You’re doing lots of work with British charity Scope and you’re conducting a talk at Oxford Union, it’s all about getting rid of people’s pre-misconceptions about disabilities. What are the main points you’re bringing up in that talk?

I’m going to tell them a little bit about my history and where I come from, but my main point is changing their mindset. Taking something and reminding them of the power of changing a mindset. If you can change a mindset in one individual, you can have more effect than most people in this world because of the affects of that.

Breaking down someone’s belief system is a very strong action but it’s a very dangerous action if you do the wrong thing with it. If you break someone down and put the wrong thing into them, it destroys their whole foundation and destroys that person’s integrity. If you can show them the strength that they have within themselves, the mindset they need to be in to evolve and to grow and to flourish and to have an impact. Not just for them, not just for their family, but for the people that are watching them.

No one wants to be the first person. No one wants to be that person to step out a realm of comfort. But if you’re not that first person, who else would be that first person? That’s a sad thing because without that there is no growth. We become stagnant.

During New York Fashion Week a model walked down the runway who was the first to do so with Downs Syndrome.

I know her! Jamie Brewer. She’s awesome. She’s the first woman and person to walk the runway with Downs Syndrome and it’s a groundbreaking achievement. This is a result of years and years of breaking down that stigma. Years and years of organisations, like Scope, and like United Cerebral Palsy, these organisations have been working for years to that level and it’s finally changing. People are finally seeing it as an asset. And also, how lucrative it can be. A lot of these bigger companies, you have to show them how lucrative it is. You’re not going to loose money, you’re going to be okay [laughs].

You have to show them how, I don’t like to use the word normal because no one’s normal, but how normal a disability is and how normal that type of lifestyle is. Most people have challenges. You’re not human if you don’t have a challenge. You have to evolve and you have to grow and you have to continue to adapt with these challenges. I think it’s always funny when you see people that are very close minded individuals, they’re very standoffish towards new ideas and testing the waters. But if no one tests the water how do you know it’s nice.

You wouldn’t be able to know how nice the shower temperature was…

True [laughs].

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[Jacket – Parka, Shirt – John Smedley]

You’ve got some films coming out soon, Dixieland and…

Who’s Driving Doug and I have another one on Netflix. I shot Dixieland and Who’s Driving Doug this last year, hopefully they’ll be released this year. Audition, audition, audition – the story of my life. I just keep moving forward. I’m also doing some modeling stuff.

I was going to say if you’re acting career ever fell through, you’re modeling career would take it.

It’s still working. I’m auditioning for some theatre work out here.

In the UK?

In the UK, yes. Trying to get some more work over here.

And you also DJ?

I do, I do. I have a couple of gigs coming up in April. In all honesty, it’s all the same thing, it’s all an art form. You should want to be able to try to do it all. You should be more than able to stretch this muscle and stretch who you are as a person, because you can’t survive off of one type of platform. And yes, you will spread yourself pretty thin, but you are able to learn and over time that thin spreading get’s a little bit thicker [laughs].

Do you have any top songs you play when DJing?

It’s going to be a mixture. It’s impossible to pick, you’re talking hundreds of thousands of songs. I know at least one song, I’ll be using the ‘Crystal Blue Persuasion’ from Breaking Bad, and a few other Breaking Bad mixes. It’s a Breaking Bad theme so it’s going to be good. I’m always working. I’m not a professional DJ, it’s just fun. It’ll be a good show and I’ve never done a crowd before. I’m interested to see what happens. I’m always working and I’m always going, it’ll still be working but fun working. This is another great outlet for me to try. I think it’s going to turn out really nicely. I have a lot of cool friends sending me a lot of cool music, so I got tons of it.

Credits:

Styling – Rickardo Mattocks-Maxwell

MUA – Jay Pinxie Turnbull using MAC Cosmetics + Bumble and Bumble