The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

"Breaking Bad" actor RJ Mitte visited UNC, shared his experiences with disability

Actor RJ Mitte spoke about living with cerebral palsy in the Genome Sciences Building on Thursday.
Actor RJ Mitte spoke about living with cerebral palsy in the Genome Sciences Building on Thursday.

But she did it to make him stronger — to make him repeat the physical process and become in control of his body.

RJ Mitte, who stars on “Breaking Bad” as Walt Jr., was diagnosed with a mild form of cerebral palsy at age three. But he did not let this early diagnosis hinder him.

“I had crutches on and off. I was in the wheelchair on and off,” Mitte said. “But I overcame it with lots of exercises — lots of painful, painful exercises.”

Without any form of physical support, Mitte spoke in the UNC Genome Sciences Building Thursday night about disability rights, how he transformed his disability into an asset and how he went from bullying victim to Hollywood star.

Mitte said individuals with mental and physical disabilities are often relegated to a room of mindless inactivity, limiting their capacity to grow.

“People with a disability just get put on a couch — put on a couch with a TV in front of them. That’s not living your life,” he said.

Organizations like Best Buddies, the nonprofit responsible for raising money and bringing Mitte to campus, are helping to alleviate this problem.

Best Buddies pairs UNC students with members of the Chapel Hill community who have intellectual and developmental disabilities

“That’s the thing with Best Buddies — it allows (people with disabilities) to get out and grow. No one wants to do their stretches, their therapy. I mean, how many people want to do their homework on time?”

Defining what it means to be disabled, Mitte emphasized that the term often carries a stigma, but is actually a universal challenge.

“Technically, 75 percent of people have a physical or mental disability,” he said.

“It’s actually 100 percent. Everyone has their challenges, everyone has their faults. Disability is anything that hinders you, but it’s also knowledge.”

He said he does not feel alone.

“My disability affects everyone because all our bodies are fallible. One day we will all need that helping hand.”

Society often carves out the meaning of disability and normalness, Mitte said.

“I didn’t know that I had a disability until I went to school,” Mitte said. “I thought everyone went to occupational therapy. I thought everybody had their things, like braces — they just weren’t on their legs, but on their teeth,” Mitte said.

Though Mitte did not heavily focus on his role in “Breaking Bad” throughout the talk, he did stress the importance of having disabled characters on TV.

“It’s a realism,” Mitte said. “A lot of times it’s not accurate on television.

“People want a realism and something to relate to. People want to see themselves in these roles.”

Marie Sauvee, a French exchange student present for Thursday’s speech, said she appreciated how Mitte spun the boxed-in denotation of normal into a more subjective, personalized term.

To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.

“He has a particular opinion — that being normal is whatever makes you happy,” she said.

Senior Sarah Wiese, who attended the lecture, said she was surprised at Mitte’s humor and optimistic spirit.

“He was really funny, and I liked how he showed disabilities in such a positive light and how he didn’t let anything stop him,” Wiese said.