Roy Frank Mitte, aka. RJ Mitte is an American actor and advocate for Cerebral Palsy, who came into the limelight for playing Walter Hartwell White Jr. on AMC’s Breaking Bad. The character of Walter “Flynn” has cerebral palsy, which impaired his speech and motor control.
Unlike his onscreen character, RJ Mitte has a mild form of cerebral palsy, which enables him to walk without crutches. However, the 29-year-old actor has experienced many of the challenges as his onscreen character in real life. Perhaps this is why his character appears so relatable to people with visible disabilities.
What is Cerebral Palsy?
Cerebral Palsy is a neurological disorder that affects 3.6 per 1,000 children in the United States. It’s a condition that can appear in early childhood and affect body movement and muscle coordination. Often the extreme muscle stiffness can lead to permanent deformity.
A Quick Glance At RJ Mitte’s Life
RJ Mitte was adopted shortly after his birth by Roy Frank Mitte Jr. and Dyna Mitte. During his birth, he wasn’t breathing, which led to permanent brain damage. The Triumph actor was later diagnosed with cerebral palsy at the tender age of three. After that, Mitte had to endure ten years of painful physical treatments and therapy, along with casting and leg braces.
Throughout his childhood, Mitte had to use leg braces and crutches. As a result, he overcame many social and psychological challenges as his onscreen character, Walter Junior. In an interview with Brain and Life, Matte said, “People with CP overcome hurdles every day. One thing I’ve learned from my disability is that when there is an obstacle, you adapt and grow. You can’t let that obstacle break you down and discourage you.”
However, with regular exercises and efforts, he eventually overcame his disabilities. He hasn’t worn leg braces since 13 and even plays sports, even though it seemed almost impossible earlier as per his medical condition. Mitte acknowledges that he is fortunate to have a supportive family that has constantly shaped his confidence and self-esteem.
How RJ Mitte Prepped up for His Breaking Bad Role?
Although the character of Walter Jr. wasn’t quite like him, it certainly had relatable elements. There were also areas where he could bring alive his experiences. “When it comes to mannerisms and posturing, how I hold myself, how I hold my crutches… .it’s finding where I could put subtleties in that and highlight [my performance,]” said the actor who was auditioned five times to play the part.
According to RJ Mitte, the first time he noticed actors with disabilities was Geri Jewell on The Facts of Life and Danny Woodburn in Seinfeld. But, he never thought that their disability made them any different. This is why he could efficiently channel his performance pressure from being a disabled actor to an actor, in general.
R.J. Matte is Changing Perceptions about Cerebral Palsy
As a disabled child, Mitte was verbally harassed and bullied in his childhood. Eventually, he learned how to stand up for himself. His role on Breaking Bad was indeed a lifetime opportunity to educate the audience about CP and lend them more insights into the lives of people with physical disabilities.
In Breaking Bad, Walter is a seventeen-year-old boy born with cerebral palsy. With his life-changing role in the Golden Globe and Primetime Emmy Award-winning show, RJ Mitte has been changing perceptions of people who think that people with Cerebral Palsy have lower intelligence. He believes that it is not his disability but his ability that helped him to be who he is today.
On the work front, Mitte has made a massive difference in disability representation. Although 26 percent of adults in the United States have some disability, disabled actors hardly make their way into Hollywood. The prominence of Mitte’s character on Breaking Bad paved the way for his recurring appearances in Switched At Birth and the 2019 comedy-drama, Now Apocalypse. It certainly made clear that disabled performers, too, can pursue their dreams in Hollywood if they are considered capable by the showrunners.
Regarding community outreach and being vocal about cerebral palsy or being physically disabled, RJ Mitte has been a strong advocate. He feels Breaking Bad has not only opened up new doors of opportunities for him, but it has also amplified all the causes he works for.