RJ Mitte: Living the Good Life
The talented and handsome Breaking Bad actor from Lafayette stays busy in Hollywood, serves as a role model for many and proudly reigns as a celebrity co-chair for the Louisiana SPCA’s Howling Success Patron Party and Gala this fall.
American actor RJ Mitte didn’t have to wait long to nab the role of a lifetime. After moving to Los Angeles in 2006 as a teen with his family for his little sister’s acting career, Mitte signed up for acting lessons. Shortly thereafter, he was cast as Walter “Flynn” White, Jr. in AMC’s outstanding dramatic series Breaking Bad — created by Vince Gilligan and often touted as one of the greatest and most-watched television shows of all time. For all five captivating seasons — from the riveting opener on Jan. 20, 2008 until the final episode on Sept. 29, 2013 — Mitte played the role of Walter, Jr. (the son of main character Walter White, played by Bryan Cranston).
The show’s main plot line follows Walter White (a.k.a. Heisenberg) — a high school chemistry teacher diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer — who embarks on a criminal undertaking to manufacture and sell methamphetamine (and who becomes a drug kingpin in the process) in order to secure the financial future of his family before he passes away. Breaking Bad has won myriad awards, including multiple Emmys and Golden Globes, and Mitte is honored to have played an integral part of such a mesmerizing show.
“It was an amazing experience and opportunity; I loved it,” Mitte says about his time with Breaking Bad. “No one knew in the beginning what the show was going to become, so we were lucky. The stars were aligned and everything worked out perfectly. I learned so much, and Bryan and Anna [Gunn, who plays Mitte’s mother, Skyler White], and everyone who was a part of the show, are all just so incredible at what they do.”
Diagnosed with cerebral palsy at the tender age of three, Mitte has made great strides at triumphing over challenges and actually had to regress from his mild condition in order to portray Walter, Jr. the way Gilligan imagined his more severe form of it. Mitte even learned to use crutches for the role. “I did have to amp it up for the show — I had to work on it,” Mitte says. “It was eye-opening to see what could have been and what I had overcome, so that’s important.”
Mitte’s genuine positive and fearless attitude toward life has elevated him into a role model for others. Over the years, he has participated in public speaking to inspire people to help see past disabilities and to bring awareness in eliminating the stigmas often attached to handicaps. “I try to inspire people to make a difference, and I try to set an example and show people that they are not alone,” he says. “Everyone has the ability and the responsibility to go out and make a difference. I encourage people to set goals and then reach them; to go ahead and push yourself; go out into the world and accept who you are and be who you are. Each person and their goals are different. It is never a dull moment! People have to be reminded that they have self-worth and they do matter because many forget that. Plus, it gives me an excuse to travel.”
The charming actor is a board member of SAG and works with the organization’s Pacer and I AM PWD (Inclusion in the Arts & Media of People with Disabilities) campaigns, which champion equal opportunity for people with chronic illness. He’s also an official Celebrity Ambassador for United Cerebral Palsy and a Love to the Rescue Ambassador for Shriners Hospitals for Children, where he was once a patient.
“I just did a walk for the Shriners, and they had a great turnout and raised a lot of money,” Mitte says about the first annual Walk for Love and Family in Minneapolis this past July. “The Shriners diagnosed me with cerebral palsy, when no other doctors could diagnose me. I was going to have heel chord surgery in a week — and I was with my grandmother, who happened to run into a Shriner at a car dealership she always went to — and she told him that no one really knew what I had. He said, ‘Take him to Shriners; they’ll diagnose him and start seeing him immediately,’ and they did. At the appointment, they measured my legs, they fit me for braces, and started occupational and speech therapy that same day, and I didn’t have the operation. I was very lucky. At that time between 75 to 80 percent of people who had that operation never walked again properly. Shriners do an amazing job and make such a difference in the lives of children that people just aren’t even aware of.”
Although Breaking Bad has officially come to a close, the talented young actor’s exciting career has no foreseeable end in sight. The dashing Mitte is a celebrity face and model of the GAP International 2014 Lived In Spring campaign and was headed to the U.K. for another modeling gig at the end of July. Mitte co-starred on ABC Family’s primetime hit show Switched at Birth for nine episodes this year as Campbell — a pre-med student paralyzed by a snowboarding accident, working in a free clinic with Daphne (actor Katie LeClerc’s character).
Mitte recently wrapped filming for Who’s Driving Doug, a coming-of-age movie where he’s the lead man, Doug, a sheltered college student who embarks on a road trip with two others to escape his overbearing mother. “I am No. 1 on the call sheet, numero uno, thank you very much!” laughs Mitte. “It was a lot of work playing the lead, and I’m excited to see how it turns out. I am so lucky to have worked with such a great cast and crew on that movie and on Switched at Birth.” Mitte is also executive producer for an upcoming documentary called Vanished: The Tara Calico Story. “Kidnapping and human trafficking are serious issues, and we’re trying to make a difference with this,” Mitte says.
While Mitte remains a hot commodity in Hollywood, the Lafayette native keeps Louisiana in his heart at all times. “New Orleans is such an amazing experience,” he says. “All of Louisiana has this spirit about it that you don’t find anywhere else. When I’m talking at these events in different states, I notice they don’t have the unique qualities of Lafayette and New Orleans because those places don’t have our history. It’s really special to come from an area that has that. Everyone in my family is from or lives in Lafayette, and I spent my whole childhood there for the most part — fishing every day with family all over the state, like in Grand Isle and Houma. I have many memories of this great state because no matter how far away you move, Louisiana always stays with you. Traveling gives you perspective that with Louisiana’s culture; we like to have a good time. Every time I say I’m from Louisiana, people say, ‘OK then, let’s drink!’”
This fall, Mitte is performing a commendable service for his home state; he’s a celebrity co-chair for the Louisiana SPCA’s Howling Success Patron Party and Gala (la-spca.org) on Nov. 15 at the Hyatt Regency New Orleans. “I’m a big animal guy; I love animals,” says Mitte, who recently lost his beloved family pet, Miss Pearl, a Scottish terrier. “She passed away in September at the age of 19. She was so amazing, well mannered and smart — such a unique individual. You could talk to her like she was a person; you really can talk to any dog like that. Having a pet is a big responsibility, and I’m never home. I don’t even have time for a relationship, much less a dog! But I’m thrilled to support the Louisiana SPCA and all the wonderful work they do for animals. Animals are important in our world and there are certain times animals are better than people!”