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R.J. Mitte discusses breaking barriers and overcoming adversity

R.J. Mitte discusses breaking barriers and overcoming adversity

Courtesy | AMC

R.J. Mitte discusses breaking barriers and overcoming adversity
October 31
00:07 2015

Matt Payne | Senior Staff Writer


The 13-year-old boy growing up in Louisiana never thought he was different from his peers.

He attended parent-teacher conferences, saw friends come and go, flirted with girls who caught his eye and underhandedly sold sandwiches his mother packed in his lunch during middle school to save up for the technology of the future: a PlayStation 2 video game console.

He also has mild cerebral palsy, walking with a distinctive gait and speaking with a tone that would unintentionally attract the attention of others.

“Some kid came up to me one day. He just asked me, ‘What’s wrong with you, man?’” actor R.J. Mitte said. “I never connected the dots that my disability made me any different from anybody else, so I said, ‘I don’t know. What’s wrong with you, man?’”

Mitte, who portrayed Walt “Flynn” Jr. on the award-winning television series “Breaking Bad” needed no introduction as clamoring fans gathered Oct. 30 at the UNT Murchison Performing Arts Center for his keynote speech, part of UNT’s Fine Art Series.

During a Q&A with Mitte, media arts junior Benjamin Angrisano was first in line to express his admiration for the actor.

“I love great TV, and he was a part of great TV,” Angrisano said. “What differentiates him more so than his disability is his versatility.”

Angrisano said he has always been captivated by Mitte’s charisma.

“He’s got a genuine youthfulness to him but can also play mature roles, like John Travolta in ‘Grease,’” Angrisano said. “I think that says a lot about his character as a person.”

Mitte said he’s been touring college campuses to discuss overcoming adversity. Mitte expressed the importance of an individual mindset and proactive attitude.

Mitte immediately conceded most of the audience at the Murchison probably wouldn’t be there if not for the success of “Breaking Bad.” In an exclusive interview, Mitte described coming to terms with his celebrity status.

“Everybody wants to be famous and get more Twitter followers nowadays,” Mitte said. “When you’re provided with the platform fame gives you, there is more responsibility to be genuine and avoid crossing the line of fabrication so pervasive throughout the industry today.”

Mitte said being true to character in the midst of a critical industry remains ever important.

“We like to dwell in our own realms of comfort, but I wouldn’t want to be given my own idea of what I think is ideal for myself every single day of my life,” Mitte said. “There are so many people who want you to fail, but you can’t let fear manipulate you like that.”

Mitte said he never let his cerebral palsy guide his journey through stardom, but rather embraced the condition he was in.

He attributed his success to acceptance and involvement in what he described as extra work. As a supporting cast member on sets like “Hannah Montana,” he seized opportunities as they presented themselves.

Another opportunity was the open call from “Breaking Bad” directors for an actor who was relatively tall, had bushy eyebrows and cerebral palsy.

During the closing Q&A, Denton resident Georgia DeLeon, who also has cerebral palsy, asked Mitte to elaborate on building a career in acting as a disabled individual. It was her first time speaking with someone else with the disability.

“Mitte is inspiring because he doesn’t hide in the shadows of his disability,” DeLeon said. “The thing is, we’re all different, and the first thing people notice about others are often their disabilities. But we’re all human as well. We have to be gentle with each other.”

In response to DeLeon’s question, Mitte described his journey as one that has been self-defining, yet remains incomplete.

“Too many people choose to live in a mindset of ‘can’t.’ I’m still evolving as a human being. I’ve got plenty of time to mess up,” Mitte said. “We’re all still learning though, and no one is normal. I’m continuously seeking opportunities that will push me to grow.”

Featured Image: Mitte portrayed Walt “Flynn” Jr. on the award-winning television series “Breaking Bad”. Courtesy | AMC

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