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28 July 2021

ListenABLE: RJ Mitte on representation and disability as a strength.

RJ Mitte shot to global fame playing Walter White Junior in the hit television series Breaking Bad. The role was a breakthrough for the actor and his multilayered character shone a spotlight on the potential of actors with a disability.

Hot on the heels of the launch of his brand new film Triumph, Mitte recently appeared on the ListenABLE podcast, speaking about acting and how he sees his disability as a strength, not a weakness.

Today, we’re sharing highlights of his chat with Angus O’Loughlin. Of course, co-host Dylan Alcott was overseas winning Wimbledon at the time. A huge congratulations to Dylan from everyone at Leap in!

On getting a break.

RJ Mitte spent all of his teenage years playing Walter White “Flynn” Junior, over eight seasons of Breaking Bad, which ran from 2008 to 2013.

“(Breaking Bad creator) Vince Gilligan wrote my character in memory of a friend he had in college. When I got the role I was 13 turning 14 and I remember auditioning five times, four in Los Angeles and once in New Mexico. The role really was me. It said ‘dark hair, big eyebrows and mild cerebral palsy’ and I’m like, this is my role. I went in with that mentality and just put myself out there.”

On representation.

Growing up, Forrest Gump was the closest RJ saw to representation of a person with a disability on the big or small screen. He says Walter Junior was well received by the disability community, not only because he was played by an actor with cerebral palsy but because the focus was not on his disability.

“Walt Junior had cerebral palsy but he wasn’t disabled. That’s the biggest thing that I feel is so important when we see characters on television that represent individuals with disabilities. Their disability isn’t what makes them a character. It’s who they are, where they came from and how they got there through determination and strength and that’s what makes them so strong and independent.”

Disability as a strength.

RJ challenges the perception that disability is a weakness and says his family always told him “can’t is a decision”. It’s this attitude that saw Mitte play soccer for six seasons while wearing casts and braces to help straighten his feet.

“We might not be able to do something but through training and exercise and time, we can learn how to do it. We can evolve to do it, it just takes that effort.”

On endless possibilities.

RJ had the opportunity to be a commentator at the 2016 Paralympics, remarking that it was amazing to see what people are truly capable of.

“Having a disability allows you to not just adapt to your environment but you create a new environment that includes inclusivity that allows evolution and growth…The possibilities are endless.”

Angus chimed in with: “It’s not so much even about smashing records, it’s about smashing the glass ceilings of what people perceive the human body can do. It’s easy to run. Try doing it with one leg”. RJ adds: “or no legs!”

On abled bodied actors getting roles playing disabled people.

“I have a different take on this. A lot of people get angry. It’s not about able bodied actors playing disabled roles. It’s about disabled individuals not even being able to get into the room to audition for those roles. Even them having the opportunity.”

“We need to have more representation of disabled actors in mainstream media. It’s great for kids, it’s great for adults, it’s great for people who aren’t around disability to see the real world.”

Listen to the complete episode on Apple Podcasts or Listnr.

​​Calling all aspiring actors! Your chance to audition for a US TV series.

Is your dream to be an actor? An Australian casting company is calling for adults with disabilities aged 20-60 to audition for an American television series.

Applicants must be available to shoot in Queensland over the next five months. To apply, complete the application form and audition on the McGregor Casting website. Submissions close this Friday 31 July, so you’ll need to be quick.

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