This week's Emmy Awards were a bittersweet moment in the lives of Breaking Bad fans. While the fanatically loved series cleaned up at its final awards show, winning five of its eight nominations, it also served as a reminder that Sunday nights with Walter White are no more. It's officially time to move on. Few people are more keenly aware of this than RJ Mitte, the actor, producer, activist, and occasional model who, for the largely foreseeable future, will be best known as Walter White, Jr. (a.k.a. Flynn), the only son of the world's most famous fictional chemistry teacher turned drug kingpin. Mitte recently spoke with us about new projects, advocating for actors with disabilities, and why Breaking Bad should never have been on TV at all.
DETAILS: Was there a single moment, movie, or event that inspired you to become an actor?
RJ MITTE: I moved out to Los Angeles when my sister booked a film project. I was 12 or 13 and I was homeschooled, so I didn't really know anyone and acting classes were a way for me to meet kids my own age. That's what really started it and then it just turned into a career. I was doing acting classes a couple of times a week and then I was doing background work in between that. I was on maybe 14 different shows doing background before I auditioned for Breaking Bad about six months after I started.
DETAILS: The day that you filmed your final scene, was it strange to know that you weren't going back to the set?
RJ MITTE: It was really odd, but we were just happy to be able to work on an amazing, amazing project that had just captivated so many people. We had such an amazing time being able to be these characters and it was nice that we each had our endings. We were able to grow and we were able to close out the story.
DETAILS: Do you have a personal favorite episode of the show?
RJ MITTE: It was the pilot. That was definitely my favorite episode.
DETAILS: Being that you were only 14 when the show started, how did you deal with the recognition that came with being on TV at such a young age?
RJ MITTE: That's the thing, no one noticed me until about a year ago. No one really cared because no one really watched until about a year and a half ago. Some of the companies I try to get a hold of now are like, "Oh my God, we love the show!" Whereas a few years back they were like, "We don't want anything to do with you." [laughs]
DETAILS: Your character is notable for a number of reasons, one of them being that he has cerebral palsy. When you first began doing press for the show, were people surprised to find out that you, too, had CP and that your interpretation was more than just acting?
RJ MITTE: Well I think the shocker was that people didn't know I could walk. People were definitely surprised by that, which was funny.
DETAILS: The role brought a lot of much-needed attention to characters and actors with disabilities and has really helped you build a platform as an activist for change. What is the biggest hurdle you see today for actors with disabilities or the representation of characters with disabilities?
RJ MITTE: I think there are quite a few hurdles and there are some amazing organizations that I work with [to address those]. It's really disappointing to see how close-minded people still are today.
DETAILS: What impact do you think that you, personally, and Breaking Bad had on helping to dispel some of the misconceptions that exist?
RJ MITTE: I think that, for starters, you're seeing a real character on television—someone with a real disability who is a real person—and I think that shows the world something that they don't normally see. There are only around five percent of actors with disabilities on television, maybe less. I was one of only maybe four people at the time. It used to be two percent; I am saying five percent now because it's hopefully gotten a little bit of a boost. These are real people. They are not just people you hide and stick on the couch. These are people who are living, who are breathing, who are living their lives.
DETAILS: You've talked before about how you needed to think back and re-learn many of the physical challenges you faced as a child to create the character of Walter, Jr. and the fact that sports and exercise helped you in overcoming some of those initial challenges. What part do sports and exercise play in your life today?
RJ MITTE: Well, I've really been lazy for the last two years, but I'm always doing something. I lift weights, I have tons of running gear, and all kinds of things. It comes from stretching and keeping my tendons loose so that they don't contract. Just maintaining my body—that's the trick. You have all these kids who exercise and exercise and go through the treatments and go through the motions, and then they forget that they still have to stretch. And your body retaliates and takes it back.
DETAILS: How does your workout routine change when you are in the midst of production on a show or a movie?
RJ MITTE: You get exercise when you are in production because you're working, so you're still burning calories. And you can stretch anywhere. You don't have to be at home; you don't have to be in a workout gear to stretch. That's the beauty of stretching.
DETAILS: What are some of the things that you like to do in your free time?
RJ MITTE: I'm trying to remember, because I haven't had downtime in like four years. [laughs] I like to fish, I like to hunt, I like to surf. I 'm always doing something, even if it's playing video games. I play a lot of video games and watch a lot of Netflix.
DETAILS: What about your personal life? Are you seeing anyone?
RJ MITTE: No, I am not seeing anyone. My life is pretty much playing parts, my bed, and that's about it. [laughs]
DETAILS: You recently made the transition from television to film with House of Last Things and Who's Driving Doug. What is the biggest difference in filming a television show versus a movie. Do you prefer one over the other?
RJ MITTE: With television you have a longer connection with the person. You have a lot of time to build the relationships versus a movie, where you have to build them much quicker, which doesn't always work out. They're both fun though.
DETAILS: With Breaking Bad you had a rare opportunity, particularly for a young actor, to have a really full character arc. In the beginning you are sort of a sweet, naive teenager and by the end you are like the man of the house, protecting your family. So you really got to play everything. What is it that attracts you to characters now that you've been able to dabble in such a wide range?
RJ MITTE: One thing Breaking Bad gave me is the ability to tell a good script from a bad script. With that ability comes many things. I'm very lucky to be able to see characters that I want to be. When I would go out for something, I always looked at the character and thought, why would I be perfect for this character? And I still do that. Breaking Bad helped me do that.
Mitte in Breaking Bad, courtesy of AMC
DETAILS: Can that be tough though, considering how great the scripts for Breaking Bad were? Can that spoil you?
RJ MITTE: Oh, it definitely spoils you. But you should always have a comparison. And at the end of the day, you can't say, 'Oh this is like a Breaking Bad script,' 'This is going to be a hit,' 'This is going to make it.' Because it probably won't. The odds of Breaking Bad working were one to a million. This show probably should never have been on television and it almost wasn't. We were very lucky to have what we had.
DETAILS: Is there a specific genre that you think you will gravitate toward more as your career continues or a type of film that you'd really like to do?
RJ MITTE: I like drama, and hopefully more action. But hey, at this point, I'll do whatever anyone hires me to do.
DETAILS: Do you have any desire to go behind the camera?
RJ MITTE: Yes. I'm actually an executive producer on Vanished: The Tara Calico Story, a documentary that we've been working on for about four years now.
DETAILS: You were recently featured as one of the faces in Gap's Lived In campaign, which selects unique young artists to highlight their classic, casual style. What are your go-to wardrobe staples?
RJ MITTE: Jeans and T-shirts. I am more about the fabric. I don't care what it is as long as it is good fabric. I will pretty much wear anything for the most part.
DETAILS: So you just turned 22 and have already accomplished a lot more than many other actors have by this age. Yet you still have your whole career—and life—ahead of you. Where do you see yourself 20 years from now?
RJ MITTE: I'm not really looking that far ahead. [laughs] When it comes to my career, I just keep moving forward. Hopefully in 20 years I will be on an island somewhere far away.