When Playing the Part is a Reality – Actor’s Character has CP, but so Does He.

Published: September 14th, 2016

Category: UAD Student Blog

Roy Frank “RJ” Mitte III is an American actor living with Cerebral Palsy. He is best known for his role as Walter “Flynn” White Jr. on the popular AMC show Breaking Bad. His character has cerebral palsy, but what makes RJ Mitte unique to this part is that he has CP himself.

Cerebral Palsy is a neurological disorder caused by brain injury (or damage) or abnormal development that takes place while a child’s brain is still developing before birth, during birth, or immediately after birth. Cerebral Palsy is the most common childhood disability, affecting approximately three out of every one thousand live births in the United States.  Currently, 764,000 children and adults in the United States are living with CP.

There are five main types of Cerebral Palsy: Spastic, Dyskinetic, Ataxic, Hypotonic, and other/mixed. Each of these can be broken down further and spastic is the most common. The primary symptoms of Cerebral Palsy are weakening of muscle tone, gross and fine motor functions, balance, control, coordination, reflexes, and posture. Other symptoms usually seen include oral motor dysfunction, speech impairment, and poor facial muscle tone. The severity of brain damage determines the level of severity for these symptoms.

Cerebral Palsy is a non-progressive disorder, meaning that the muscle impairments following the brain damage will not worsen over time.  CP is considered a non-life-threatening condition, with the exception of some severe cases. It is incurable and the effects are long term.  However, with treatment, therapy, surgery, medications, and assistive technology CP can be managed to help maximize independence, reduce barriers and increase inclusion that will lead to a greater quality of life.  Every case is unique to the individual and the effects can range from mild to severe. Most children with CP can live long and happy lives well into adulthood given the right care.

RJ Mitte was not breathing when he was delivered through an emergency caesarian. The result – brain damage.  He was not diagnosed with CP as a result of this damage until the age of three (RJ Mitte. (n.d.)). Mitte was fitted with leg braces and given crutches, which he used during most of his adolescence. He explains the process as very painful, stating the doctors would bend his legs “into place and put casts on” and “after a week or two, they would cut off the casts, bend [his] feet more, and then cast them again.” However, through exercise and sports such as soccer, RJ was able to walk without casts and crutches by the time he reached his teenage years.

Currently, he does yoga regularly to prevent leg stiffness and takes a prescription for muscle relaxation. He has expressed that he continues these tasks because if he stopped, his condition would worsen. Dr. Chaniyil Ramesh, a pediatrician who specializes in CP, has confirmed this. He stated, “The one treatment we know works incredibly well is regular exercise. This improves symptoms in all cases.” (Rush, G.). RJ endured ten years of various types of therapy but also had a lot of family intervention. His mother would have him fold towels to help with hand-eye coordination and fill jars with pennies so that RJ could play with them to develop sensory and motor skills (Epstein, E.).

It is apparent that RJ experiences some speech impairment due to CP, however with years of speech therapy as part of his daily childhood routine, he is able to speak intelligibly now. He actually had to regress and learn how to slur his speech and use crutches for his role in Breaking Bad; aspects he had not experienced since childhood (Rush, G.). Mitte classifies his role ofBreaking Bad’s Walt Jr. in a statement as “an eye-opener to what [he’s] managed to become. Until [he] got the role, [he] never thought what [he] went through was something odd” (Epstein, E.).

Here is a video interview of RJ explaining a bit about himself, his childhood and his role on Breaking Bad.



Resources cited:

Epstein, E. (2015, April 06). Special Needs: Breaking Bad’s RJ Mitte Talks About Growing Up With CP. Retrieved September 05, 2016, from http://www.laparent.com/special-needs-RJ-Mitte

RJ Mitte. (n.d.). Retrieved September 05, 2016, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RJ_Mitte

Epstein, E. (2015, April 06). Special Needs: Breaking Bad’s RJ Mitte Talks About Growing Up With CP. Retrieved September 05, 2016, from http://www.laparent.com/special-needs-RJ-Mitte

Rush, G. (2013). It’s not an act – I really do have cerebral palsy, says young star of Breaking Bad… but unlike his character, R.J. Mitte can cope without crutches and his disability hasn’t put off a growing army of female fans. Retrieved September 05, 2016, from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2357324/Its-act–I-really-cerebral-palsy-says-young-star-Breaking-Bad–unlike-character-R-J-Mitte-cope-crutches-disability-growing-army-female-fans.html

Stern, Kenneth A. “CerebralPalsy.org | Help, Resources for Children with CP.” Cerebralpalsy.org. Stern Law, PLLC, 2016. Web. 05 Sept. 2016.