Wednesday, March 5, 2008

RJ Mitte of "Breaking Bad" profiled in Los Angeles Times

Teen actor RJ Mitte, who co-stars in the new AMC show "Breaking Bad," says he hopes his role will let people with disabilities know that some disabled actors can make it in Hollywood. Mitte, who has mild cerebral palsy, plays the son of the main character, Walter (played by "Malcolm in the Middle's" Brian Cranston), a high school chemistry teacher diagnosed with terminal cancer who decides to cook meth to raise money for his family.

"I really hope people with disabilities can see that you can do what you want to do, and accomplish whatever you want," Mitte told his mother.

For a novice actor, Mitte is doing an excellent job in his role on "Breaking Bad. He easily switches his character between smart aleck teen and caring son. His character is presented as just another member of the family, and his disability is rarely mentioned.

The Los Angeles Times article about Mitte also weaves in significant issues about the challenges disabled actors face in Hollywood. The story focuses on a 2005 Screen Actors Guild study by researchers Olivia Raynor and Katharine Hayward of UCLA, which found that "only a third of SAG members with disabilities reported working in a theatrical or TV production in 2003, and those who did worked an average of 4.1 days that year. Chief among the complaints: only being considered for disability-related roles, and then seeing those roles given to able-bodied actors anyway."

Robert David Hall, who has prosthetic legs and plays the coroner on "CSI," told the Los Angeles Times that he believes "there's a discomfort level with showing people with disabilities as regular people. I play a coroner now but most of the roles in my first 15 years were the bitter war veteran or the disability rights guy, never the father, the cop, the teacher."That's my point -- people with disabilities go on trips, they go out to the movies, they buy cars, they have good and bad relationships. We do all the same stuff that everyone does, but rarely do we see that played on films or on TV. We need this to change."