RJ Mitte talks turning challenges into assets

Breaking Bad star advocates for disability representation

Through his own platforms, the TV actor aims to remove the stigma associated with disability.
Published: March 5, 2021
Actor and diversity and equality activist RJ Mitte spoke to SU students about the need for greater representation of people with disabilities in the TV and film industry.

Intercultural Collective’s Disability Cultural Center and University Union hosted Breaking Bad star RJ Mitte Thursday night for a discussion about transforming challenges into strengths as an actor with a disability. Mitte talked about his experience with cerebral palsy and using his platform to advocate for others.

Mitte began his talk by explaining that he wasn’t diagnosed with cerebral palsy at birth, and for a while, he learned to live without a diagnosis. His parents split up when he was only two months old, so he spent a lot of time going between Louisiana and Texas. Mitte says that his parents knew from a young age that something was different about him, but after taking him to countless doctor visits, they still didn’t have an answer. It wasn’t until Mitte went with his grandmother to trade in her old car that he finally got a lead. A gentleman at the car dealership turned out to be a Shriner, a doctor who worked at Shriner Hospitals for Children specialized in helping children with disabilities. On the spot, the retired doctor said, “Your grandson has cerebral palsy.”

Shortly after, Mitte’s parents took him to Shriners Hospital for Children where he was diagnosed within the hour. From there, he started occupational therapy, speech therapy and physical therapy. “From 3 to 13 I was in braces and casts,” Mitte explained, “But I never really let it define me.”

At the age of 12, Mitte and his family had the opportunity to go to LA for the first time. An agent saw Mitte’s 1-year-old sister at a water park and asked them to fly to LA for an audition. Little did Mitte know that this trip would change his life. When in LA, he ended up auditioning for Breaking Bad.

“When we are given an opportunity, you never know how far it’s going to take you,” Mitte said.

When it comes to representing disability in film, Mitte says it is important because including disabled characters and actors represents everyone. Showing disabilities in films and movies, “changes the mindset of how we view disability, how we treat people with disabilities,” Mitte says. “To me, having a disability is a very normal thing.”

Mitte continued, saying, “a disability doesn’t make you disabled. A disabled mindset makes you disabled.”

Through Breaking Bad, Mitte says, “I fell in love with acting and performing and really using my platform to educate and impact others like myself in a positive manner.” Growing up, Mitte was always taught to give back and be supportive of the people around him. Breaking Bad gave him the ability to advocate for people with disabilities and have his voice heard.

Mitte explained that we all can make a difference. “We all have a disability some way in our life,” he says, “It could be physical, it could be mental, it could be family, it could be friends, it could be something that you have no control over. But by learning from it and growing from it, you’re able to adapt to your environment and affect people positively.”