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If you haven’t seen AMC’s Breaking Bad, you should. There is a reason it has garnered 5 Emmy nominations this year alone. The show follows Walter White (Bryan Cranston), a chemistry teacher who lives in New Mexico with his wife (Anna Gunn) and teenage son (RJ Mitte) who has cerebral palsy. White is diagnosed with Stage III cancer and is told he has two years left to live. With a new sense of fearlessness based on his medical prognosis and the need to secure his family’s financial security, White chooses to experiment in drugs and crime. The series explores how a fatal diagnosis releases a typical man from the daily constraints of normal society and follows his transformation from mild family man to a kingpin of the drug trade.

The experiment gets out of control in the second season, which series critics are calling “bleak, heartbreaking, shocking and bitterly funny.” As danger and suspicion around him escalate, Walt continues to straddle two conflicting worlds: A ruthless swirl of drugs, murder and mayhem on one hand, and a complex and emotionally fraught domestic life on the other. In the no-holds-barred world of Walt White, the end justifies the extreme.

ABILITY Magazine’s Liz Angeles and Chet Cooper caught up to the youngest actor, RJ Mitte, of the hit show, along with his manager, Addison Witt, at an acting studio in Sherman Oaks, CA.

Angeles: So, RJ, how do you like working on the hit show, Breaking Bad?

Mitte: I love it. I get to work with some of the best actors in the business, Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul, who are both up for Emmy nominations. Our show is up for five Emmys and is one of the best I’ve worked on. We are a really tight cast, like family. We do a lot together. We film in Albuquerque, New Mexico, so when we’re off work, we have these little gatherings.

Angeles: The whole show is shot in Albuquerque?

Mitte: Yes. To get the full effect of everything, we like to film on location, more like a movie. We’re actually shooting twice as many days on location as we are on-set because we film in the caverns and the desert. It brings more reality to the crystal meth-making.

Angeles: (laughs) How did you land that part?

Mitte: An audition. My manager Addison and I were looking for the right script for me. I have a very low case of cerebral palsy (CP). With CP, the responses to the brain are a little bit slower because at birth, the brain is damaged due to a lack of oxygen. Every type of brain damage is different. Mine affects my motor skills and the controlling of my muscles. Like, my arm jumps. While we were looking for the perfect part where I could use my disability to enlighten others, we were also looking for a good job. And when Breaking Bad came up, when I read the script, which was so well-written, I immediately thought, “I have to go for this.”

Witt: Vince Gilligan, the creator, was very close to an actor in college with much more advanced CP, who eventually died, but was so inspirational to him, he wanted to add that element into the film.

Mitte: I’m grateful to Vince’s friend, otherwise the character of Walt, Jr. would not exist. Vince told me, “When I first wrote Walt, Jr., I intended to have a person with the disability play this character. Not to cut anybody out, I sent it to everyone, but in my mind, I had already cast the part of Walt, Jr.”

Angeles: He knew you specifically?

Mitte: No, not at the time. He just had a vision of the actor for the character of Walt, Jr. I went on five auditions for this role, four here and one in Albuquerque. That was tiring. So Vince finally made up his mind and we are great friends now. He said to me, “I would not change the person I cast for this role for anything.”

Cooper: If they find a magic bullet that causes the symptoms of CP go away, will he fire you at that point?

Mitte: (laughs) Yeah, Vince would probably say, “Well, since you don’t have it, we’re going to have to kill you off.”

Cooper: Have you seen pictures of his college friend?

Mitte: No. We just talked about him and how much he meant to Vince.

Cooper: Did he use a power chair?

Mitte: No. Like my character, he was on crutches and had braces, too.

Cooper: So you never had to use braces?

Mitte: I did have braces. But I wanted to get out of those so badly, because after a while they’re a pain in the—

Angeles: You get sores?

Mitte: I used to get really bad blisters. I would have to do the casting process for a year and I’d get into my braces, but after a while, I couldn’t do it anymore. I wanted to get out of them and do other things. I’ve always wanted to play sports. What most helped me to get out of my braces was playing soccer. I always wanted to play football, which was my favorite sport, but because of my disability, my hand-eye coordination was off. I couldn’t do that. So I gradually started playing more and more soccer.

Cooper: It seems almost like a Forrest Gump thing.

Mitte: (laughs) Yeah, it really was. They used to tell me, “Run, Forrest, run!”

Angeles: (laughs) Is that what the braces looked like? The ones Forrest Gump had?

Mitte: Kind of. Now they take this plastic silicone model of your leg, and a strap goes across the front of your shin and a couple more straps hold your leg. It makes it completely flat, because with CP, it bends. You want to tip-toe. And I just couldn’t take having that and doing that every day.

Angeles: Do you use crutches in the show?

Mitte: I do in the show, but I don’t need them to walk.

Witt: Vince Gilligan initially did decline working with RJ because—

Mitte: I was not severe enough.

Witt: RJ auditioned on camera which we sent to Vince, and he said, “This kid doesn’t really have the kind of CP I’m looking for.”

Cooper: But a good hammer in the leg—

Mitte: (laughs) I charmed my way through it.

Angeles: Aside from having CP, what is the back story on your character?

Mitte: We have not revealed much about the character yet. We’re still setting up the show. We are going into our third season now. The most back story we have is a typical 16-year-old kid trying to get his life together, who happens to have CP. We’re trying to portray the reality of having the disability and the difficulties of learning to live with it, along with the other challenges like lung cancer and the destructiveness of crystal meth.

Angeles: Is your character addicted to crystal meth?

Mitte: He is not, yet.

Angeles: But he’s going to be?

Mitte: Maybe.

Cooper: Do you home school now?

Mitte: I work with teachers on set and through a school in Louisiana. They give me my workbooks and I fill them out, send them in, and they send me a test with everything that was in the book that I should know. I am actually two years ahead. I should have been a junior this year but I am a senior. I have five credits left before I’m on to college... continued in ABILITY Magazine

ABILITY Magazine
Other articles in the RJ Mitte issue include; Senator Harkin — ADA: 19 Years Of Progress; Humor — Too Sexy For My Chair; Ashley’s Column — Stop The Presses; Sobel Foundation — How To Nurture Good News; Chuck U — Performing Arts Studio West Actors’ Class; Asthma — Cat Got Your Lungs?; Independent Living — Interview With Louis Frick; Ability To Help — My First Chance To Volunteer; Marriott’s — Bridges To Work; Mean Little Deaf Queer — Terry Galloway; ABILITY's Crossword Puzzle; Events and Conferences...subscribe

More excerpts in the RJ Mitte issue include:

RJ Mitte — Breaking Bad Is Good Interview

UN Convention — Words From The Whitehouse

Brazil — UN Convention Struggle

Landmines — Jerry White’s Survivor Corps Mission

Asthma — Cat Got Your Lungs?

Humor — Too Sexy For My Chair

ABILITY to Help — My First Chance To Volunteer

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