Award-winning actor R.J. Mitte shared words of wisdom about bullying and the trials of “being different” in front of an audience gathered in Jackson Auditorium.
In his talk on Thursday, Mitte, who gained notoriety from his role as Walter Jr. in the critically acclaimed T.V. show “Breaking Bad,” spoke on what it was like growing up with cerebral palsy.
“People ask me, ‘How did you get through that?’ But to me, it is nothing special. It is a way of life,” he said. “This was a thing to overcome and grow with. And yes, it was hard, but life is hard, and we all have aspects of our life that will sometimes beat us down. We are fallible, and we do things, and things happen to us, and we have to learn how to grow, and through my disability, I got the opportunity to grow. It may not have been the way I wanted to grow, but it was what was designed for me, and I am very grateful for all my obstacles and all my accomplishments because I learned from them.”
Mitte explained that as a result of his disorder, he spent a majority of his childhood in a series of casts to straighten the ligaments and bones in his legs and spent most of his early years in braces to keep his teeth aligned. Mitte also said that he attended speech and muscle therapy sessions throughout the years, where he would go through rigorous exercises to improve his mobility and speech.
“When I was born, the doctors knew that there was something off with me,” Mitte said. “The first three years of my life, my feet bent down instead of up. Once I was diagnosed, we immediately started treatment, and that started with physical therapy and occupational therapy, and they put me in casts, and they sent me on my way.”
Due to his differences, Mitte said he was the victim of bullying and that the key to overcoming these struggles is to look beyond what others may not understand.
“There was a study that showed that a child with disabilities is three times more likely to be bullied,” he said. “Well, that is true, but it is not just because of your disability, it’s because you stand out. You are unique, and when people perceive you as abnormal, don’t let that define you because you are normal. You are more normal than the person that perceives you as abnormal because this is all part of the human condition.”
Further, into his lecture, Mitte described an experience he had when he was a boy in which he witnessed a woman fall to the ground. As the woman scrambled to rise, Mitte observed as pedestrians made no effort to help her to her feet until he stepped in to help, leading others to follow suit, he said.
“I’m looking around at these people and thinking, ‘I just saw you step over her. You could have been an instant help,’ but they chose not to help, they decided to step back,” Mitte said. “I chose to take that responsibility, and it is a responsibility. We all have an obligation to be that person to make that stand and help each other out. The question is, will you be that first person, will you be that leader, because you are all born leaders, no one is a follower you choose to follow. You can set that trend; you can lead the lost.”
Students and audience members asked Mitte a myriad of questions ranging from the actor’s experiences on the set of “Breaking Bad” to advice with helping others with disabilities.
TLU senior Delani Chambers said Mitte’s lecture was an opportunity to get an in-depth look at her passion.
“I thought the talk was really really cool, especially as someone who has studied dramatic media as an actor,” she said, “To get to learn from someone who’s been working professionally, is really special. To get the opportunity to meet someone like this, especially in Seguin, because it is so small is great. I never thought I would get the opportunities that TLU has provided me, so it’s just really amazing that they do this for the students.”
Before the lecture, several of the university’s Dramatic Media students gathered in the Weston Center Studio Theatre to visit with the actor during a meet and greet.
The actor shared advice on working in show business and led the students in several drama-themed activities.
“Acting is all about engaging,” he said. “What I try to do is bring people out from this stage and make them feel like they are part of this world. That’s why we watch T.V. It’s not just to be that guy sitting on the couch watching the screen, but to be on the screen, to be living the lives, to be a part of these characters and to let that convey into what we perceive as mundane. If you want a strong character, that character has to be real and not just real to other people but real to yourself and believing in what that character does even if you don’t believe in it because that’s what acting is.”
The students all had questions for the actor about his methods and the key to success in a tough career pursuit.
“Life is nothing but one battle after another, one small victory over and over again, especially in this industry,” he said. “You have to maintain those victories and accept what comes with it. It’s a hard industry; you will be defeated; you will lose; you will not always be the favorite; you will not always be the star. But it’s okay to not always be the star; it’s okay to be defeated because not everyone learns from victories you truly learn from your defeats.”