RJ Mitte is one of the most inspirational and influential actors around today. Starting out as a background actor, RJ received the role of a lifetime in 2008 as Walter White, Jr. on Breaking Bad, one of the biggest television shows in years. Now that the hit series has come to an end, the charming actor continues to score more roles including Switched at Birth and the upcoming film, Who’s Driving Doug.
I had a very insightful conversation with RJ about what he’s been up to lately, life as an actor, his memorable experiences with Hollywood Undead and Steel Panther, his advice for dealing with bullies and more.
Alex Obert: So you were in Washington DC this week for Beyond the Red Carpet, can you tell me about that?
RJ Mitte: I was a part of a panel and it was great. I was in DC for two days, but before that, I was at Fashion Week. It was just a whirlwind, man. It went very well and I had a good time. It was an amazing panel and we were lucky that everyone on the team was very receiving of the message we were talking about, the economic value of having productions come to film in your state and the impact that has on the community. Also what you’re able to do when you have a community that is behind you and how welcoming it is. We’re lucky to be able to travel and be a part of all these different states.
Alex Obert: How did it develop that you were able to attend this?
RJ Mitte: I’ve worked with SAG-AFTRA for some time now and I was invited by them to speak and be a part of the panel. And I was more than happy to. I’ve worked with different forms of government, equal opportunity and employment offices and I was lucky enough that they invited me. I was more than happy to say yes. It turned out to be perfect timing because I was there, then we drove up to New York for the week and went to some fashion shows, then drove back to DC. It was something.
Alex Obert: With all this talk about what’s going on with you lately, you have a film entitled Who’s Driving Doug coming up. How do you adjust to being a part of an independent film after previously being a part of Breaking Bad, one of the biggest television shows of all time?
RJ Mitte: A job’s a job. The trick is to keep working. I loved it, we had a great crew and a great set. I love being able to work with amazing people between Switched at Birth, House of Last Things, Breaking Bad. I’ve always had a really amazing crew and Who’s Driving Doug is a great example. I learned so much from being a part of Breaking Bad, I know what to look for now. I was lucky enough to go from Breaking Bad to Switched at Birth, it was such a pleasure. Such an amazing, well-rounded crew and cast. And shooting this movie was a pleasure. It’s a great story and it’s going to be an interesting story when it comes out and everything is put into effect. You just never know until you see it.
Alex Obert: What’s the process of filming one episode of Breaking Bad compared to filming a whole movie?
RJ Mitte: It’s about three weeks for a movie and about a week for Breaking Bad. At the end of the day, that’s the only difference. They both take the same level of professionalism, what you learn and how you behave with the crew and the cast. You have good projects and you have a good script and you’re able to work with a good crew, and even though it presents challenges, you have to face them. You have to learn and grow from them. That is the business. Breaking Bad will be one of many projects. At the end of the day, Breaking Bad will just be another project, one that I can hold with pride. The trick is to keep developing projects and keep working on them.
Alex Obert: Starting out as a background actor, do you feel it shaped you to be more humble? From my perspective, it seems as though one would be more observant in that role since they don’t have to focus on memorizing lines.
RJ Mitte: It gives you a perspective of the set and it’s a great way to learn. I was working on about fourteen shows all at the same time. I was able to learn and see what you have to do. Being a background actor, if you mess up, you mess up the scene. Do you really wanna be that one background actor that causes them to keep reshooting? No one wants that. If you develop the knowledge of what it’s like to be able to do that, it’s a great privilege. I learned a lot from working in the background. I learned so much working on the shows and each show was different. There were no two shows alike. I worked on Hannah Montana, it was like a five camera set. And others are normal sets where you use the two camera operation, you have walls and you have to shoot around the walls. You have to be able to maneuver. It all depends on your crew and how your crew plays out. It’s a great way to learn. I recommend anyone that wants to get into this business to start with some background. You can see how things work and it’s an amazing way to learn.
Alex Obert: Who inspired you to be an actor?
RJ Mitte: No one really inspired me to be an actor, this job kind of picked me. (laughs) And I was lucky enough to start a career and Breaking Bad has given me a career. I promise you, if I didn’t get Breaking Bad, I wouldn’t be in this business. I was lucky enough to have friends and family inspire me. The people that mostly inspired me were my grandparents. I was lucky enough to have them and other people in my life. I went through enough craziness and drama to use it as life experience.
Alex Obert: What was it like for you to work with established actors on Breaking Bad with this having been your first major role?
RJ Mitte: I learned a lot from all the actors. Bryan and Anna and Dean and Betsy and Bob, all of them. With everyone that was a part of it, I learned so much. I watched how they worked. I watched what they did. I watched how they got ready. It was a great experience to see unfold in front of me. All the characters had their own art and they all completely morphed into other people. There’s things I learned on Breaking Bad that no one else will ever learn. And I was lucky enough to be a part of it, I was there. It was definitely an experience.
Alex Obert: With everything that you do, both in and out of acting, what is it mean to you for people to tell you that you are an inspiration to them?
RJ Mitte: It’s an honor to be able to inspire people. That’s what everyone hopes to be able to achieve and be able to work towards, being an inspiration for others and being that person people look up to. If I am able to do that, I feel fortunate. I think it’s definitely a pleasure to watch and see people that I can inspire.
Alex Obert: How do you become inspired?
RJ Mitte: I’ve had my own challenges and I’ve been lucky enough to fight them. You have to do what you have to do to survive. You have to be able to grow and form. People should really put more belief in themselves and feel inspired to be who they are.
Alex Obert: With the challenges you mentioned, you have also stated that you dealt with bullying while growing up. What advice do you have for dealing with bullies, whether it’s at school or at work or whatever the case may be?
RJ Mitte: When it comes down to bullying, I think it’s definitely a problem. People need to be able to stand up for themselves. And not just stand up for themselves, but to stand up for others. I definitely think when it comes down to bullying, it’s about setting an example for others. That’s one of the biggest things that I think people tend to forget about. They forget that they have the ability to make that statement and make that stand against someone that is trying to do harm towards you. I think it’s definitely an important factor. And people are always scared to make that stand and to take that into their own hands. It’s not so much doing it with aggression, but doing it in a way where people cannot use it against you. Do it in a way where you can take it and turn it into a positive versus turning it into a negative. Bullying will always be around, the issue will never be resolved. Some say that they’re fighting against bullying with hopes of stopping it, but bullying will never stop. People need to understand that. Human nature does this. It’s been going on for hundreds of thousands of years. I think what it comes down to is putting self belief in you and putting it in others. You are not alone and you can stand on your own two feet. When someone comes and is being an aggressor, know that it is too far and show them they cannot push you around and they cannot take who you are away from you.
Alex Obert: I agree with that and it is very insightful. On another note, you recently mentioned that you have a desire to work on music.
RJ Mitte: I want to learn how to play guitar and piano. I love all forms of music. I’m a big rock fan. I love guitar solos, as well as anything with an instrument. I love everything from classical to heavy metal.
Alex Obert: And you’ve been in a couple music videos. How did you get the part for the Hollywood Undead music video for the song, Dead Bite?
RJ Mitte: I’ve known them forever, man. Johnny 3 Tears was my neighbor. I lived next to him when I was fourteen or fifteen. He’s a great guy in a great band. They tried to get me to be in another music video which I was really sad we weren’t able to do, it was for a song called Bullet. I really wanted to do that song, but it fell through and we ended up doing Dead Bite instead. It was a fun and I ended up making amazing friends from that. Being able to chill and work with them, we had a blast.
Alex Obert: And there’s also your appearance in the music video for Party Like Tomorrow is the End of the World by Steel Panther.
RJ Mitte: That came about through a friend of mine named Corey Soria, who actually shot Dead Bite. That’s one of the amazing friends I’ve met through that. He called me and I was actually at the SAG Awards, he goes, “Hey, we’re shooting a music video for Steel Panther, you wanna be a part of it?” And I’m like, “Yeah! Let’s do it!” This is at 11:30 at night. So then he sent me the address and I went right over. We shot it and it went from there.
Alex Obert: So they basically informed you that your role in the music video would be to throw up?
RJ Mitte: I had no idea until I got there. They told me, “You’re gonna push her in the pool and throw up right here.” And I’m like, “Okay! We can do that.”
Alex Obert: It was disgusting, but hilarious.
RJ Mitte: It was pretty funny. And the funny part was that it was cereal. You can’t really tell, you have to really be looking. It was all good, we had a blast. It was a good set. The Steel Panther crew is such a good crew. I went to see the band at House of Blues in Hollywood. And dude, they rock it!
Alex Obert: And they got you up on stage!
RJ Mitte: Yeah, they tried to get me to sing. Not gonna happen. I’ve been lucky enough to meet amazing people. I actually got to become friends with Styx. I’ve seen them quite a few times, they kill it every time. Those that I’ve been able to work with and hang around with, they’ve been real and honest and true to who they are.
Alex Obert: What’s the best concert you’ve ever been to?
RJ Mitte: I definitely recommend seeing Styx. Every time they perform, they kill it. I’ve seen Hollywood Undead quite a few times, they’re always fun. When bands like Hollywood Undead and Steel Panther are on stage performing, the energy radiates. I think each artist has their own vibe and has their own ability and resonates through to who they are. Each concert I’ve seen has its own different aspect. You know who’s amazing that people should see before they’re not playing anymore, Motley Crüe. I hate that right now is the farewell tour because they still killed it, man. They got it, they hit that hard.
Alex Obert: What is the feeling like for you being a part of a music video as opposed to filming a television show or a movie?
RJ Mitte: It’s a whole nother vibe. I like shooting music videos because they’re fun. You get to enjoy being there moreso been being on a standard set. As an actor, I go there and I’m like, “Oh, I can play around and have a good time!” It’s about having fun and being with the crew. You get to listen to them jam, but sometimes you get sick of it because it’s the same song over and over again. (laughs) At the end of the day, you’re ready to kill people. But for the first six or seven hours, it’s killer. It’s when you get to fourteen hours when you’re like, “I just wanna go home!” I think it’s fun though, man. If you get the opportunity to shoot a music video, take it!
Alex Obert: Before we wrap up, what are your plans up ahead?
RJ Mitte: Hopefully Switched at Birth, we’ll see how that goes. I’m waiting to hear back. They hopefully start season four soon. And then I’ll be traveling around the country speaking and talking about diversity and disability and making a difference in the community, not just for you, but for others. And we’ll see what happens with Who’s Driving Doug, we got a rough cut of it and hopefully it turns out well. Hopefully people enjoy it, so we’ll see how that plays out. And to just keep working, that’s what I hope for. I hope to get some more shows in, see some more bands. But it’s just about living and always working.
Alex Obert: That’s the way of life. I’d love to thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it.
RJ Mitte: No problem, man!
Photographer: Daniel Martinez Matallana