Best known for his role as Walter White Jr. on "Breaking Bad," actor RJ Mitte talked with Windy City Times about his work to end bullying and his upcoming projects.
Windy City Times: You were diagnosed with cerebral palsy at the age of 3, but I've read that portraying Walt Jr. on Breaking Bad involved quite a bit of preparation for you.
RJ Mitte: Yeah, it did. I grew up with itI knew what he went through and what his world was like, but I never had to really use crutches as an everyday thing, so that was definitely a big eye-opener for me, and it had a big impact, because that could have been me. It was definitely grueling to see everything that I had overcome, especially because right before Breaking Bad I had just got out of braces. I was working and growing and I didn't really need them and learned to walk without them.
WCT: Tell us about your work as the ambassador for United Cerebral Palsy and Shriners Hospitals for Children. You actually went through therapy at Shriners, correct?
RJ Mitte: I did, I went through therapy from 3 to 10. I still went back until I was 18not as much as I should havefor little things here and there like my maintenance. I was lucky enough to get my role on Breaking Bad and it gave me the ability to bring people together, to talk at schools and work with organizations that I wouldn't have had the ability to work with on my own. I owe Shriners so much because, without them, I wouldn't have had the tools to grow and to learn.
WCT: October is Bullying Prevention Awareness month. There are a lot of different factors that contribute to children being bullied, but LGBT youth and children with disabilities or other special needs are especially at risk. What is the #CutTheBull campaign and why you were inspired to get involved?
RJ Mitte: I was so happy we were able to do the #CutTheBull campaign because you see all this "stop the bullying" and "end it now" stuff, and you're never going to be able to stop bullying. But you can cut it out of your life and stand up for what you believe in.
Bullying is getting worse; it's turning into something completely different than when I was a kid. I was pushed down, I had my hand broken and I had people pick on me. I was always the new kid because I traveled a lot. The problem is, eventually there's a point where the bullying stops and it becomes assault. That's no longer bullying; it's dangerous, and not just physically. Physical damage heals; mental damage stays with you. That will never dissipate. It's up to us to set an example, to stand up for what we know is right.
WCT: What can people do besides taking the pledge?
RJ Mitte: For people who take the pledge, I thank them so much. But my main goal would be, if you see something happen, when you see someone being harassed or tormented, that's when you need to not be afraid to step in. Once you step in, other people will, as well. If you make a stand against a bully, they'll be afraid, because they're weak-minded.
WCT: So, you also do a lot of work with the Screen Actors Guild ( SAG ). There's obviously a lack of diverse, fully fleshed-out characters on both the small and big screen, from gender to race to sexual orientation. You've said in the past that you're only one of about seven working actors right now with a disability. Tell us about your work with SAG to give people with disabilities equal opportunities.
RJ Mitte: When I first started, there were only about 2 percent of people on TV with an actual disability. There are more people working in the industry, but on a mainstream show I can count four or five now. We try to bring awareness to the many amazing actors out there. I've been lucky enough to work with a few equal opportunity employment divisions with SAG and the U.S. government and it's been improving in leaps and bounds with how others see people with disabilities from 20 years ago. Things are evolving slowly but surely.
WCT: In addition to acting, you've been modeling and giving keynote speeches on overcoming adversity. What's next for you?
RJ Mitte: I'm shooting a movie called Dixieland and I shot a movie three months ago called Who's Driving Doug? The goal in life is to keep working and keep moving forward before you're forgotten in this business.
For more information on #CutTheBull, visit www.cutthebullnow.org/ .