‘Breaking Bad’ Actor RJ Mitte Kicks Off SPA’s Fall Distinguished Speaker Series
RJ Mitte, best known for his work as “Walter Jr.” in AMC’s Breaking Bad, kicked off SPA’s Fall Distinguished Speaker Series in Alumni Hall Wednesday night. Mitte has cerebral palsy and talked extensively about the difficulties of living with a disability.
Despite the serious nature of Mitte’s topic and the adversity he faces, Mitte engaged Alumni Hall in laughter throughout the night with his honest and whimsical views.
He walked on stage and asked the crowd, “Is anyone here in Delta Chi? I was hanging out with them last night and they told me they would be here.” Unfortunately, nobody in the crowd admitted whether or not they were in Delta Chi.
This opening set the tone for the rest of the night: Mitte was funny, open, honest, and inspirational. The actor began by talking about his childhood in Louisiana, describing his upbringing as “very interesting,” with a big smile. When asked about whether or not he related with Breaking Bad character Walt Jr., Mitte said, “I pretty much grew up the same way that kid did.”
The actor told the unique and insightful story of his diagnosis with cerebral palsy. During his childhood, Mitte’s grandmother would trade in her Cadillac for a new one every year. When he was three years old, Mitte went along to the dealership. The car dealer looked at young RJ and immediately told Mitte’s grandmother he should be tested for cerebral palsy and even recommended a hospital.
Even with years of “poking and prodding,” Mitte wasn’t diagnosed with anything specific. After going to the hospital that the car dealer recommended, however, Mitte was diagnosed with cerebral palsy within an hour. In no time, doctors prescribed him a regiment of physical therapy and training that included casts and crutches.
Mitte began to understand that he was different from the other kids when he first attended public school. A student came up to Mitte and asked what was wrong with him, but Mitte didn’t think there was anything wrong with him and told the other student just that. Mitte went home and asked his mom about it, who told him that he had cerebral palsy and explained exactly what that meant.
“I wouldn’t have the abilities I have today without my disability,” Mitte said. “This is all I’ve known; this is all I’ve ever known.”
Mitte’s family moved to Los Angeles when he was 12 because his younger sister was picked up by an advertising agency. Mitte explained that his family, led by his single mother, was struggling financially and looking for an outlet. Mitte worked as an extra for a dozen big shows and movies – including Hannah Montana and Everybody Hates Chris – and after six months, he was cast as Walt Jr.
Living with a disability is something Mitte believes everyone deals with. Disability affects everyone, Mitte said, and “…it’s not just a physical thing, it’s not just a mental thing; it’s a family thing, it’s a friend thing.” Mitte stressed one of the most important things in life is to meet these disabilities head on and step out of our comfort zones: If we aren’t challenging ourselves and evolving into better people, then what’s the point?
Mitte told the crowd everyone is in the same sinking metaphorical ship. His disability just happens to be physical, but for some people, the disability is much more difficult to pinpoint.
Mitte said he hopes people will become more open with disabilities in the future, comparing the way people feel about disability to the mole joke in Austin Powers. Mitte noticed people will tip-toe around the fact that he has a disability, but says disabled people would be happy to talk about their disabilities.
“If [someone] thinks you have a disability, they sure as hell are not going to mention it,” he said.
Mitte’s talk was entertaining and humorous, but more than anything, it was eye-opening. Mitte showed everybody in the audience we all have more in common than we may think. He stressed sometimes the most difficult aspects of our lives lead to the greatest opportunities.