Guests gathered in the Main Auditorium May 20, excited for RJ Mitte’s highly anticipated talk. In the two-hour special presented by the Dragon 24 collective, the “Breaking Bad” actor enlightened the audience on his journey of successfully facing life with a disability.
Mitte, known for his breakout role as Walter White Jr. in the multi-award winning AMC series “Breaking Bad,” is a lot more than just an actor. He in fact totes many hats, from brother to mentor to philanthropist.
He had humble beginnings growing up between the cities of Lafayette, Louisiana, and Austin, Texas, and began to show the signs of a disability early on. After years of not getting a clear diagnosis, he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at age three at a Shriners Hospital for Children. He began treatment soon thereafter.
Although a permanent condition, there are many ways to treat it with therapy as it is not genetic.
Mitte, who was affected by an umbilical cord wrapped around his throat at birth, was set on the path to healing with the routine treatments from the Shriners Hospital through the aid of bone braces.
“Through the Shriners Hospital, they allowed me to work and to maintain control. To grow in my life down the path needed for recovery in my life — to be stronger — what I needed to do to be me. Without the knowledge that it gave me, I couldn’t do what I do today,” Mitte explained.
His opportunity to act would come when his sister, still young at the time was cast for a Lucille Ball campaign. The agents who found great potential in inviting her into a role at Universal Studios also saw great potential in R.J. From that point, he signed under talent agent Debra Manners.
His initial screen-time included roles as an extra in shows such as “Hannah Montana,” “Everybody Hates Chris” and “Seventh Heaven,” among others. These experiences translated into an audition for the developing show “Breaking Bad.”
He was eventually selected after auditioning five times.
“I went in, I read for this character that [was listed as having] dark hair, big eyebrows and mild cerebral palsy — I got all that. They hired me and it changed everything. It allowed me to see and be a part of something I could have never dreamed of,” Mitte said when asked about the importance of his casting.
With greater fame also came more charitable opportunities. He has since answered his social calling by serving on his grandfather’s insurance foundation and as a youth spokesperson for the National Disability Institute’s Real Economic Impact, as well as a spokesperson for I AM PWD campaign. He is also currently a part of Kaiser’s nationwide anti-bullying campaign.
“Having a physical disability makes you twice as likely to be bullied — I dealt with my fair share. Having braces on my legs, talking funny, walking funny made me a target, it made me stick out. A lot of people thought I was abnormal. … I explained to them that I have cerebral palsy and usually most people would get it. More often than not, if you’re open with people, and you are willing to express who you are and show who you are, people will be open with you too,” he shared.
Working behind the camera, Mitte learned what it means to be “seen.”
“People see you now, just as much as they see me. Now it’s your turn to put yourself out there and to elevate your community,” Mitte shared with the audience on the importance of using social media as a positive outlet.
“Everyone one in this room has a gift, different from everyone else in the room. Utilize it, believe in it. You may not find it, you may not see it, but it’s in you. And it may just be who you are. You may never see that gift, but other people do, so don’t hide who you are,” Mitte encouraged the audience.
He used public speaking, a realm outside of his comfort zone, to grow personally and help others on their path to self-discovery.
“I realized the thing that was going to push me to the next level. What I need to do to be the better me. It all comes to us in different ways, and we all realize this in different ways. I could harness this, I could utilize this,” Mitte elaborated.
As the year comes to a wrap for the class of 2019, Mitte also included words of wisdom for the seniors who are about to trek into the horizons of their futures.
“We all come to a point in our lives of what’s next, what the next step, hurdle. You don’t always have to face the [options] all at once … Find what you truly need. Find the one thing that you need out of each of your wants. Go do it, you have access now. If you don’t, no one else will,” Mitte preached.
As the night came to a close, students were selected to ask questions of their own. Intimate and eye-opening in candor, Mitte answered students on questions pertaining to finding balance after disappointment in pursuing a passion, clarity in choosing a fulfilling career and the onset of type casting and other faults within the industry.
“Find what you love. It’s simple steps. You can have more impact in your community that you believe in,” Mitte answered, with what was the final theme of the night.
Provost M. Brian Blake also emphasized that Drexel students have resources to use when facing personal challenges of their own if ever need be.
“Whatever challenges you may face, there are others who are in situations that are worse. While you sometimes may feel alone or trapped, there’s always someone available to help,” Blake shared.
Mitte currently plays a recurring role in Starz original comedy series “Now Apocalypse” and is slated to appear in several projects that are currently in post-production.