RJ talks about his debut on the catwalks, his new film and his budding DJ career.
“RJ is larger than life”, that’s the first thing I observed about him. His aura is gigantic, playful and he takes over the room when he’s in it. The former “Breaking Bad” star just wrapped up his first DJ tour across the States, has a few new films about to release and last week popped up on the catwalk for Vivian Westwood in Milano. RJ Mitte just can’t stop the element of surprise and never before has there ever been an advocate for people with disabilities like him!
Hi RJ and Melinda, thank you for sitting with me today. Do you guys enjoy being back in Europe?
[RJ] Yes, I am. I always have a blast being in Europe. It’s also my first time in Italy so that’s cool.
So you walked Westwood yesterday, how was that for you?
[RJ] It was amazing. I’ve never had an opportunity to do something like that before and I’m so thankful to the whole Westwood team for giving me that opportunity.
Were you nervous?
[RJ] Um, Yes a little bit, I’m always nervous with something new and I’ve never walked a show. But once I start it I can do it.
You nailed your first look with you boobs out, right?
[RJ] Oh yeah, that was interesting and I didn’t really expect I would be showing boobs in my first show. I’m conservative with what I wear so this was interesting for me. I think it played out well. Free the nipple!
You and Andreas Kronthaler seemed to hit it off. Was it cool to work with him and Vivienne and would you like to do it again?
[RJ] Andreas was a pleasure, and it was great to work with the whole team again. They’re a big family and have an amazing family dynamic. It would be a true honour.
RJ what are your favorite mens designers?
[RJ] I like Todd Lynn, Armani, Moods of Norway, Fendi and Vivienne Westwood of course. These are some of my favorites, but I like good fabrics.
You were in the UK earlier this year as well. How was that trip and what were the highlights?
[RJ] It was good, so much fun, and exhausting! I got to meet Samantha Cameron at 10 Downing Street. She also does work with Scope, so that was very cool. I spoke at Oxford Union to the future leaders of the world and that was definitely an honor. We we’re flown there by Warner Music as guests. Those guys are always very cool.
Did you enjoy the Brits? Who did you meet?
[RJ] I did enjoy the Brits. I met a lot of people. The people here in the UK are so lovely and always so polite. I hung out a bit with Ed Sheeran. What a cool dude. That was definitely his night!
How amazing was Madonna’s come back from the fall?
[RJ] Madonna is amazing, even with that fall; she got right back up and did what she needed to do. It just shows you how much she loves doing what she does.
Rj, I want to start from the beginning of your life and try and work chronologically through the years, so my first question is: Where were you born? Can you put us in the picture of the very early RJ years?
[RJ] I was born in Mississippi and adopted at birth. I had died during childbirth and was brought back to life hence how I ended up with Cerebral Palsy. CP is caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain at childbirth. At that time Mississippi had some unfortunate health care rules.
In what way have the health care rules changed in relation to CP, or in general for that matter?
[RJ] I think the rules have changed as more people understand health and what the human body is capable of. We still have a long way to go, but there are a lot of amazing people making great strides
Do you feel that being adopted has made an impact on your life, and was it a difficult thing for you to except as a child?
[RJ] Since I was adopted at birth, I don’t think of it like that. My parents are my parents. I think my mom gave me the best life she could. They never made me feel less or treated me differently. I was their child and that was it. Even after they found out I had CP, nothing changed. I felt like my life was very normal and that everyone had to do the things I did. I was never made to feel I had a disability. I didn’t even know I had a disability until I went to school.
You were around 3 years old when it became apparent that you had CP? I’ve read you were almost misdiagnosed. Can you tell us a bit more about this?
[RJ] I was diagnosed through Shriner’s Hospitals’ for Children at age 3. It wasn’t so much about being diagnosed, as they just didn’t know what was wrong.
How did you manage with your disability throughout your childhood and teen years?
[RJ] I didn’t know I was different until I went to school and a kid looked at me and said: “What’s wrong with you?” And I said: “Nothing, what’s wrong with you?”
Did you get teased at school?
[RJ] I was bullied. People like to prey on individuals they feel are weaker than them. In sports I was doing well and this kid came and broke my hand, I also got choked out at school.
Did being teased at school make you stronger as a teenager and how did you channel the negative energy?
[RJ] I don’t know if teasing makes you stronger, but what it does do is make you want to prove people wrong and utilize my disadvantages as advantages.
Prior to Breaking Bad you were involved in Hannah Montana, Everybody Hates Chris and Weeds. How old were you when you started?
[RJ] I started acting at age 13. My little sister was discovered at a water park in Houston when she was 1 ½ years old. They wanted her for a Lucille Ball campaign. So we came to LA, did the campaign and people here told my mom that if they wanted to keep doing that, she should get an agent. So we were interviewing agents and I happened to be there that day and the agent said: “Great, we like her and we’ll sign her. What about your son?”
My mom said, “Oh he knows nothing about acting” and then whispered, “He has CP, he hears the word “No” too often.” The agent pushed my mother aside and asked me if I wanted to act. I said “Sure” and she had me read something and then said: “Great, I’ll take them both.” So I started doing background work on about 13 or 14 shows including: Hanna Montana, Weeds, Everybody Hates Chris, etc… About 6 months in, I got an audition for Breaking Bad and after five auditions, four in LA and one in New Mexico, I got the role and the rest is history.
We talked about the good and bad parts of being famous in the past. Looking at the better side, do you enjoy working with charities and helping people?
[RJ] I enjoy working with organizations that are close to my heart. I have the same vision as the people at Shriner’s Hospitals for Children in the US & Scope in the UK. We are both working to change how the masses view people with disabilities or challenges. People who are “differently abled.”
Can you tell me about the #CutTheBull Campaign?
[RJ] #CutTheBull is a campaign that was developed by my manager, Melinda, myself and the team at Shriners & 1st Degree last August. We wanted to bring awareness that kids who are “differently abled” and are more likely to be bullied than kids without disabilities because they are seen as weaker individuals. I was bullied because of my disability. We won’t ever end bullying. If we did, we would have world peace, but we can try to prevent it and educate people to be more understanding and to stick up for those who need help.
You’re also the “Love to the Rescue Ambassador” for Shriner’s Hospitals for Children, the ambassador for United Cerebral Palsy, you sit on the diversity committee at SAG/AFTRA, you do work with the US government for people with disabilities and are currently working with the Charity “Scope” in the United Kingdom. Dude, how do you fit all this in?
[RJ] I have a very intense schedule. I feel like I’m on the road most of my life, but it allows me to see so many aspects of this world, and I’m very thankful for that.
Melinda do you also enjoy the work you and RJ collaborate with for Charities?[M] I do. I feel very passionate about RJ’s charities for my own reasons. People don’t know but my father was disabled at the age of 18 when he had to have a brain tumor removed. It left him with partial paralysis on the left side of his body. I have a funny story. I actually never knew my father was disabled until I was about 13 years old. He walked me to school and I met my girlfriend. As he walked away this friend asked me why my father limped. I said that he doesn’t limp and she replied that he does. We started to get into an argument about it and then she said: “Look” and we turned around and I looked at my father and that was the first time I ever saw him limp. When I got home I asked him, why he limped and then notices his left hand didn’t work like mine and he told me the story. We never treated him like he was any different. He was just my dad and I loved him, he was perfect to me.
Regardless of our differences we are all beautiful in our own way. I want the world to see that.
You have a new film coming out: “ Who’s driving Doug “. Can you tell me a bit about your role and the film?[RJ] I play Doug, the lead. Doug has a severe form of Muscular Distrophy. He’s in a motorized wheel chair and can’t really move his bottom jaw. Doug has a crazy mother who smothers him. He gets out of his comfort level and goes on a road trip of discovery with his driver. It changes his life. There are some twists and turns along the way. It will make you laugh and make you cry, but he comes out a better person in the end. A lot of the events in the movie are based on true events of the writer, Michael Carnick. Michael and I are good friends. He’s a talented writer.
What other projects do you have in the pipeline?
[RJ] I have a film that premiered at Tribeca called “Dixieland”. Starring Faith Hill, Riley Keough & Chris Zylka. I play a dealer and the manager of a strip club. We shot that in Pearl, Mississippi. I wanted to take some time off of work and do something fun, so I’m taking a month off in April to do something I’ve wanted to do since before I was on Breaking Bad. I’ve just finished my first DJ tour. I love music and would like to share my music with people. “Who’s Driving Doug” should be released later in the year. I have some projects coming up this summer and I’ll be doing some modeling as well.
What would be a role in a film you would love to play? Even a remake or someone in history that you would like to play?
[RJ] I’m actually trying to get a remake of a Nordic Film I really liked making. I would also like to do a post apocalyptic action film.
Are you enjoying the work you are now doing with fashion?
[RJ] Yes, I am. I really enjoy being on location, shooting and being able to collaborate and meet new and interesting people. That is always the best part for me. The art of it all, the actual work and creating something.
The GAP Campaign was your first big modeling job. How was it to work with David Sims?
[RJ] It was awesome. It was so quick. We shot for less than an hour. I had just had a huge hamburger before we shot and once I got in front of the camera I realized what a bad idea that was.
You have an amazing Manager, Melinda. Can you tell us about the relationship you have? Sometimes I feel you’re like sister and brother.
[RJ] Yes, Melinda is family. She’s amazing and basically works 24/7. We’ve known each other for about five or six years. We started as friends. She was directing a movie in New Mexico and I was working on Breaking Bad. She became friends of the family. Then I was interested in her film and asked her if I could come on as a producer. She said yes and we are now almost finished with the documentary we’ve been working on. Then years later I fired my management and went through several managers. I had discussed Melinda with my mom because we knew she had managed talent 10 years previously, but left that part of the business. My mom asked her to come on and manage me and Melinda said no. My mom asked every week and sometimes every day for six months straight, Melinda kept saying no, that managing was behind her and she was a filmmaker now. My mom usually gets what she wants because she’s determined and she knew that no one would put in the time or energy into my career like Melinda does. Melinda has always been very passionate about her work. She’s puts everything into it. She does everything passionately and with emotion. Finally we wore her down and she gave in and said yes in May of 2013. That was about two years ago. We are definitely like brother and sister and we fight like brother and sister too! She is also my little sister’s God Mother.
Melinda how did managing RJ come about?
[M] I met RJ in early 2010 through a mutual friend while I was directing a film in New Mexico. I became friends with the family and over this time I slowly got to know RJ. He wasn’t really around in the beginning because he was working on Breaking Bad, so I got much closer to his mom and sister originally. About 6 months later RJ’s Manager came to me and said that RJ wanted to come in as an Executive Producer on my movie. I was surprised and of course said yes. So we started working together for the next two years and became much closer. Before the last season RJ let his old manager go. They went different ways and he went through another manager, but it didn’t seem like they were happy. Since I had managed talent in the past I was helping to guide his career since the people he had in place didn’t really seem to be doing what they were supposed to be doing. Eventually his mom asked me to come in and manage RJ. I said that I didn’t want to do that anymore. Well, Dyna Mitte always seems to get what she wants and she asked me everyday for six months until I gave in. In May of 2013, I finally said yes and I’ve been managing him since. I definitely feel that I have given him a well-rounded career and taken him to the next level. He is doing what he loves, what he is good at, but more importantly he is doing what the universe, God, whatever you want to call it has placed him here to do. One thing is certain RJ was chosen for a reason. He never sought out this line of work, he was chosen and RJ like myself are agents of change and we both have a path to make this world a better place. When I see how we came to work together it makes perfect sense to me. We were placed in each other’s path because of all the work that has lead me to this place. Separately we are good in our own way; together we can literally change the world!
Melinda, what were you doing before you started with RJ. You were an executive at Fox, right?
[M] I had many lives before I met RJ. I was an executive at Fox for years. Then I got into documentaries and also worked at Jeff Skoll’s company “Participant Productions” building Social Action campaigns. Jeff inspired me to open up my own production company. I had a 15 year career before I met RJ. I also managed talent along the way, but had retired from that part of the industry. It feels like everything I’ve done has lead me to this moment.
I hear you guys are heading to Australia later this year. Are you looking forward to this? What would be your hit list of things to do there?
[RJ] Yes, we are! I think we both are looking forward to it. I want to go scuba diving and maybe do some fishing and see the country. We have some friends in that area that would love to see us.
Interview by Paul James Hay