“Breaking Bad’s” RJ Mitte on Disability, Success and Banishing “I Can’t”
Advocacy According to GLAAD’s "Where We Are On TV” report for the 2017-18 television season, 1.8 percent of regular primetime broadcast characters had a disability. Though this marks a slight increase from previous years, visibility for disabled individuals is clearly still sorely lacking in popular media. But there’s always RJ Mitte.
Though he’s no longer on primetime, the actor, model, producer and activist has never let disability banish him to the sidelines. Through all five seasons of AMC’s beloved series “Breaking Bad,” the multi-talented 25-year-old portrayed Walt Jr., a character with cerebral palsy.
“Can't is a decision. You choose to say 'I can’t’ do something.”
Mitte was himself diagnosed with the disorder at age three. "I had AFOs [ankle-foot orthosis braces] and casts on both my feet, so to me those were actually very normal in my daily life.” It was so normal to the young Mitte, he didn’t realize any difference between himself and his peers until he first went to school. “Kids saw my braces and saw my casts and were like, 'what's wrong with you?' I didn't understand it in the beginning,” he shares. "I was like, 'this is normal.’ I thought everyone had braces or wore casts or had some form of physical or occupational therapy because I grew up with it.”
Though he admits that he “dealt with [his] bullies,” Mitte found strength and support in his family, "They would drive me four hours north to Shreveport, Louisiana, from Lafayette, Louisiana,” he shares, "to get my casts, to get my treatment, to put me in any type of therapy I could possibly be in." Early on, Mitte adopted his grandfather’s outlook on life: "Can't is a decision. You choose to say 'I can’t’ do something. That's not actually accurate. That's your body arguing with your mind. That's a lie. If you push through it you can." Thanks to a decade of traditional and alternative treatments — and a headfirst dive into school sports — Mitte has been able to walk without leg braces since age 13.
In addition to his many creative pursuits, the award-winning actor works to spread awareness for many causes, but especially the disability community, serving as a celebrity ambassador for United Cerebral Palsy. “Everyone needs to remember we all have challenges,” Mitte urges. “We all face tragedy, we all face turmoil. To take time to relax and to slow down is something that is really crucial in our lives because we don't do that. We have to remind ourselves to slow down and be with the people we care about.”