Original Disaboom Story:
At age 16, R. J. Mitte (pronounced MITT-ee) is the breakout funnyman in AMC’s edgy, dark comedy centering on the terminally ill Walter White, a high school science teacher who starts manufacturing drugs to pay for his treatment for lung cancer. While White keeps his side business to himself, he does have a strong bond with his son Walter Jr. (played by Mitte), whose teenage angst is further complicated by cerebral palsy. Although Mitte, like the character he plays, lives with cerebral palsy, most casting directors wouldn’t be able to distinguish him from able-bodied actors. Mitte’s is a mild case of the neurological disorder and almost imperceptible thanks to extensive therapy. The teen had to make adjustments to play his Breaking Bad role, including exaggerating some of cerebral palsy’s more pronounced symptoms.
Relearning Cerebral Palsy
“It was very hard to regress,” Mitte told MSN’s TV News. “I had to stay up real late so I could learn to blur my speech more. I had to learn how to use crutches so it didn’t look like I’m faking walking. I didn’t want to look like just another faker, because I really have it. If you're going to do it, you have to do it the full way. No matter if you're regressing or if you're trying to make it look bad, you need to still try to do it right. It was hard at first, but after a while everybody would help me out. For example, I used to walk on my toes a lot when I was a kid because I could barely move my feet, so when I was learning to portray Walter Jr., my mom would remind me about that. It was a big help.”
Disability on TV
Bad is Mitte’s first major series and, as an actor with a disability, he remains a rarity in a Hollywood seemingly obsessed with perfect bodies. On the small screen, he reminds viewers of a vast demographic missing in the media. His role bucks the traditional convention of an industry currently populating television with people who are of Amazonian height, with sport-chiseled features and so many other things that most viewers aren't.
When speaking to USA Today about Mitte, Vince Gilligan, the creator of the series, said, “What I love about RJ is he’s like his character: He doesn’t feel sorry for himself. He’s a teenager who just happens to have cerebral palsy.” Gilligan developed the part of Walter Jr. in honor of a now-deceased man with a disability he befriended in his youth at New York University.
Because Walter Jr. uses crutches and has a different speech pattern, the effects of the condition are clearly a part of his on-screen life. Yet the words "cerebral palsy" have never made their way into the show’s script. To his parents, Walter Jr. appears to be simply their son, not their son born with cerebral palsy. Likewise, the role may mean Mitte will someday be known as an outstanding actor instead of as an outstanding actor with cerebral palsy.
Breaking Bad was created by highly acclaimed writer, producer and director Vince Gilligan (The X-Files) and executive produced by Oscar-winner Mark Johnson (The Chronicles of Narnia, The Notebook, Donnie Brasco).
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