Getting the part of Walt Jr. on AMC’s Emmy-catnip “Breaking Bad” was eye-opening for the 20-year-old R.J. Mitte. It was Mitte’s first major industry job, and it was in a show about a chemistry teacher who resorts to making crystal meth to pay for his cancer treatments.
Mitte was 13, and his family had moved to Los Angeles via Louisiana for his younger sister. He started acting as a way to make friends when the perfect job presented itself: “Breaking Bad” creator Vince Gilligan wrote Walt Jr. as having cerebral palsy, requiring the use of crutches. It was an homage to an old friend, and Mitte, who has a less serious case of the disease, was honored to take part.
Walt Jr. is, naively, the center of the storm on “Breaking Bad,” stuck between the obviousness of his parents’ crumbling marriage and the secrecy of why it’s happening. When he was younger, Mitte wore heavy braces on his legs that made walking difficult; he was bullied over it. Playing Walt Jr., “I had to see things I went through when I was a kid, and do them over again,” he says.
The part has also made him aware of a massive Hollywood oversight: There are hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities in this country, yet they are portrayed in less than 3% of speaking roles. Learning this has made him an outspoken advocate for equality and anti-bullying.
“Before acting, my biggest aspiration was to work on a fishing boat and join the military with a friend of mine,” he says.
Impact: Actor’s role on “Breaking Bad” has grown with each season.
Next: “The Devil’s Ink.”
Causes: Spokesman for “I AM PWD,” which advocates for actors with disabilities.