Best known for his portrayal of Walter “Flynn” White Jr. on Breaking Bad, RJ Mitte is an actor, advocate and philanthropist who has carved out his niche in Hollywood by breaking down stereotypes and changing people’s mindsets with his easy going demeanor and positive outlook. He currently stars in the inspirational wrestling drama Triumph, also Terrence Howard. At the age of three, Louisiana native Mitte was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, but that has never deterred his drive to succeed in television and film. A chance encounter with a casting director led to his move to Los Angeles and Mitte quickly landed roles on various shows such as Weeds, Vegas, Everybody Hates Chris and co-starred on ABC Family’s primetime hit show Switched at Birth, before being cast in his life-changing role on Breaking Bad. Mitte has since made his way to the big screen, starring in multiple indie films in the past few years, including Dixieland, starring in his first non-handicapped leading role, and Time Share, winner of Sundance Film Festival’s World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Screenwriting in 2018. (Photo by Bobby Quillard.)
Three Great Things is Talkhouse’s series in which artists tell us about three things they absolutely love. To mark the release in Cinemark theaters of Triumph, the inspiring sports drama starring RJ Mitte, Colton Haynes, Terrence Howard and Jonathan Schaech, actor and Breaking Bad alum Mitte shared some of the things that bring him the greatest joy in life. — N.D.
I grew up fishing and it has always been a huge part of my life. I’m a big believer in sports, including outdoor sports, and I think it’s so important to have life skills like fishing. Growing up, my grandfather and uncle were both fisherman. My uncle actually was in the Bassmaster Elite Series this past year, among the top 100 anglers in the nation. Fishing is something I’ve been passionate about my whole life: from deep-sea fishing, to lake fishing, fly fishing, and even shrimping. Everything! I’ve fished anything you can ever imagine being fished in. Fishing creates such a community, and when it comes to a father and son, and a mother and daughter, the family dynamic of fishing is generational. It’s passed down and really alters a person. It’s such a unique thing in people’s lives.
My first fishing memories are of being on the boat when I was two or three years old. There are photos of me where the fish is almost bigger than I am! I grew up immersed in fishing, because for my uncle and my grandfather it was a part of their daily lives. I spent a lot of time with them, charter fishing and working on the boats. I remember one time, I hooked my uncle in the head and I thought the hook was stuck in a tree, so I just kept pulling pretty hard on it! He had to go to the hospital, because it was a trout redfish hook, which is made of steel and doesn’t come out very easily.
I’ve caught swordfish before and even some sharks, but the biggest thing I’ve ever reeled in was a manta ray. It was larger than the boat. We pulled it up, and realized real quick we had to put it back. I’ve even accidentally brought up a great white shark before. That was scary. When you bring up a predator like that, it’s definitely a surprise, because you never go fishing intending to catch those. It’s always accidental.
I’ve fished in many different places and am lucky to have a lot of friends who like to fish as well. I live in Texas now, so I’m enjoying all the Gulf fishing, but I miss the Pacific and the tuna over there.
I love cars. My father was big into racing and motocross, so I’m an engine guy. I even have a couple of cool cars: I’ve got bus, a Nissan and an old 1969 Mercury Cougar. I like speed, but I am very safe and careful, because it’s not just my life at stake – there’s other people on the road. I grew up with different types of cars and as a kid went on a lot of road trips between Louisiana and Texas. When I started my career in California, I would do road trips from Louisiana to California, three or four days in the car, chilling back and forth. And then when I got Breaking Bad, I would drive between L.A. and New Mexico and do it in one day, sitting down. So, I’ve spent a lot of time in cars and it’s become a part of my life.
At the moment, I’m working on a school bus that I’m in the middle of building out. I’m pretty good with engines, though I usually leave it to a trained professional. But if I have to get a car to run, I will get it to run. I just don’t know how long it would run for, or safely! My Cougar acts up a little bit, so I have to fix something occasionally, like finding the sweet spot on her ignition. Luckily, I have family members who were engineers and always building things. My grandfather actually invented a safety shut-off valve for oil rigs, and my uncle was a mechanic, so as a kid they were always tinkering with something. Because I was around it, I grew up seeing how machines work and grasped the fundamentals of mechanics. I liked taking things apart and putting them back together.
One of my favorite memories of being in a car is from when I was little and my father and I were in a race car. We were on the track and going at over 130 miles per hour. It was an unbelievable experience – the speed, the G force behind it – everything! My father and I were estranged for a long time, although luckily towards the end of his life we rekindled our relationship, but that time in the race car is one of the few fond memories I have of him. When I look back, I try to focus more on the good times, and that was definitely one of them.
TV and Film
My entire life I’ve watched movies and TV shows, and it’s such an amazing experience to be able to make a living as an actor and be part of that world. It’s surreal to see where I’ve come from and then to be on a show like Breaking Bad, which is such a pinnacle piece in television history. To even be a part of that is just unbelievable.
It’s such a mind-altering experience to watch a movie or a show and see how it emotionally affects you, for the positive or for the negative. An aspect of acting I really enjoy is how the emotional component changes with each individual job, that you are there to bring emotion out in people.
Even now when I’m acting, I don’t really think about how I’m going to be on TV or in a movie. I’m just in it, and it still doesn’t really dawn on me. I just do my part and create this world, and then I move on. It’s important for me that I don’t linger on it. It’s nice to be able to step away from whatever I’ve made and just let it be its own entity, separate from who I am as an individual. I’m not a big fan of watching my work; I don’t like to see myself on TV or hear my voice, because I’m such a hard critic. If I were to do that, I’d tear myself apart.
But I do love watching other people’s movies and shows! I just revisited Saving Private Ryan – it’s such a good movie. Lately I’ve been watching a lot of anime, like Death Note and a bunch of late ’70s, early ’80s Japanese anime, because I like that type of drawing. It’s very 2D, but everything is very perfect and cinematic. For me, that’s what I like to see in television.
Featured image of RJ Mitte by Bobby Quillard.