RJ Mitte played Walter “Flynn” White Jr. on the acclaimed AMC crime drama Breaking Bad. He chatted about the legacy of his iconic character and new film Triumph.
Other than Breaking Bad, Mitte is also known for his roles on Switched at Birth and Now Apocalypse, in addition to reprising his role as Flynn in an episode of Robot Chicken.
Feature film roles include River Runs Red (opposite John Cusack and Taye Diggs) and The Recall (opposite Wesley Snipes).
Read on below for RJ Mitte’s full interview with Courageous Nerd. It has been edited for length and clarity. The full conversation is available to listen to on YouTube, linked below.
Welcome, RJ and thank you for taking the time to do this!
RJ Mitte (RM): Hey, my pleasure, man. Great [to be] speaking with ya.
You’re obviously known around the world for playing ‘Flynn’ on Breaking Bad. How long before landing that role did you start acting?
RM: I started acting to meet kids my own age. If you move to LA; you don’t go to school, don’t join a gang or don’t act (which are practically the same thing), you’re not going to meet anyone. I moved to LA actually because of my little sister. She got cast out of a water park in Houston, that’s kind of what brought us to LA. She was doing this job for Universal, it was a Lucille Ball campaign.
We were there and I was like, “Oh well, she’s doing the acting thing. Might as well try it myself.” I started doing Extra [background artist] work. I recommend to anyone who wants to get into the industry, try acting or get some experience, to do Extra work. It provides so many basic skills that you really need to learn, when you don’t have so much responsibility.
I started as an Extra on Hannah Montana, Everybody Hates Chris, Weeds, 7th Heaven and about 13 other television shows and movies, all within the first six months of my career. Shortly after, about a year into it, I started auditioning for Breaking Bad. I was 13 turning 14 when I auditioned for the show and started it. I was 20 turning 21 when I finished the show.
As Breaking Bad became more successful, was there any pressure in having such an acclaimed show as your first major role when trying to book other parts?
RM: It really kind of messed me up when I would I go out for other roles because people couldn’t see any other character than Walt Jr. A lot of people that work in the industry build up a lot of work in a lot of different things. Then they have the hit, right? I kind of did the opposite; I got the hit and now I’m trying to build the portfolio where it’s not just like ‘known for one character’, you know?
It’s a good thing, it’s a double-edged sword. I wouldn’t be able to do what I do today if it wasn’t for Breaking Bad. The reach that gave me, the skills and the knowledge that I was able to utilise. It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing. I’m very lucky for it.
And of course, Bryan Cranston had just finished seven seasons playing a father on Malcom in The Middle. With that in mind as well as the fact that he was the lead, how was your dynamic on-set?
RM: The thing is, everyone goes ‘mentor this’ or ‘impart wisdom there’. There wasn’t really anyone who took me by the shoulder and said, “Let me walk you through the industry, Son.” It was more or less like they pushed me down the stairs and said good luck. When it came to Breaking Bad, we were a very family dynamic show. There was a lot to learn. No one gives you free knowledge when it comes to this industry.
If you’re willing to be patient, look, observe what’s happening around you when it comes to a show like Breaking Bad, you learn automatically. No one really has to go like, “These are the ABCs”. You’re in it, you’re past the alphabet or the learning curve, you’re there. Play your part, do your thing and step up.
Bryan, Anna [Gunn, “Skyler”], Betsy [Brandt, “Marie”], all of them were like my mom, dad, aunt and uncle. On TV and in real life. It was a special group and I don’t think when it comes to cinema or television that we’ll really have that again. We’ll get close, but that was a perfect storm, man.
The show also featured a talented supporting cast – Giancarlo Esposito, Dean Norris, Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks. How much knowledge were you able to soak up from these veteran actors?
RM: Yeah, again, there’s something you can learn from everyone. The biggest thing is: what works for someone, doesn’t always work for you. Just because you see that someone did the steps to get there doesn’t mean those same steps will work in the same manner. There is something to learn about trial and error, seeing where people succeed and where they fail.
People really only tell you about the times they succeed but really what you want to learn from are the times it didn’t work out. What were you doing and how did it not convey properly? At the point of everyone I was working, they already figured out the wrenches, where the kinks are. I just tried to learn all the good habits I could and move forward.
Eagle-eyed fans may noticed that Flynn and Jesse Pinkman never interacted during the entire five seasons. Do you wish you had more of an opportunity to work with Aaron Paul?
RM: I definitely wish we could have had a scene together. He’s a great actor, great friend and one of those unique people you definitely have a lot of fun with in a scene. It’s a shame we never got that far, but you never know.
Spoiler Alert – Although Flynn survived Breaking Bad, he did not appear in the Netflix film El Camino. Since you stopped playing him, have you imagined how the character’s life has been since the events of the show?
RM: There’s many avenues I thought of that Walt Jr could go down. Portray those type of characters, bring back a lot of familiar faces and have some good times.
Moving on to your new film Triumph – you play an aspiring high school wrestler who, like yourself, has Cerebral Palsy. What were some of the challenges associated with taking on this role? How important it is for an actor to portray CP authentically?
RM: You know, it’s a great honour. To be able to highlight my disability, to highlight Cerebral Palsy. Normalise isn’t the right word, I can’t think of another… make it more normal in the media to see characters like myself with disabilities. To be out there and have that type of way where people are like, “Oh, that’s a different character. The representation is accurate.”
It’s so important that people can have something to look to when it comes to disabilities. That’s why it’s so important that we get more individuals with disabilities on screen. Really, just more individuals with diversities that reflect our society. That reflect the people that are great actors that represent diversity, that have the impact and can hold the weight.
How would you describe Triumph to anyone who hasn’t heard about it?
RM: I would describe Triumph as a young man who has one year of high school left and has a dream. He wants to accomplish that… think about how many people were in school playing rugby and football. That last year, they’re like: “If I don’t play this, I’ll never play it in my life.” They don’t do it and live their whole life thinking, “What if I played that last game?” This story is, “What if I didn’t accept no?”
What if I was able to talk to the person I wanted to talk to, meet the person I want to meet or be the person I want to be. That’s what this story is about, creating that world and being that person that you want to be. No limitations, because people will put limitations on you. People will put these ideas of repression, “You can’t do this” or, “You’re not capable of doing that.”
That’s a lie, that’s inaccurate. No one knows what you’re capable of until you try it, until you put that effort into it.
As their involvement can vary in projects which centre on a real person, did you have much interaction with the real Michael Coffey?
RM: He was on set every day. I saw him every single day on set pretty much, except for some reshoots. I spent a lot of time with [Michael], trying to recreate him and embody him. When you play a character that’s alive… a lot of people playing period pieces so they have to do their research online, right?
Luckily, my subject was still alive. So, I could study him, see his mannerisms… how he would talk, how he would walk. Not copy it to a tee, but really just kind of embody that type of movement and flow, in my own way.
Academy Award nominated Terrence Howard is your co-star in Triumph. Without giving too much away for anyone who hasn’t seen it, how would you describe the relationship between your characters?
RM: Great! You know, we had an amazing cast… Terrence Howard, Grace Victoria Cox, Colton Haynes and many others. Terrence, he only worked on set for a few days. I’ve been working on this project for about five years. So, he was there, like, a week. Great guy, he’s a character, man. He’s definitely a character, but it went well, we got the shots and he’s off to the next one.
Another upcoming projects of yours is The Oak Room. What can you tell us about that?
RM: It’s out! Triumph and Oak Room, they’re both out. Oak Room is about a young man who comes back to his hometown to settle a debt, but settling it with a story. It’s a story of a man who walks into a bar. He’s telling a story of a man who walks into a bar, telling that story of that man walking into a bar.
It’s very deep in storytelling, I wouldn’t say supernatural, but a thriller-drama. It was a lot of fun, a Canadian film. Great actors, great people, we were very lucky to have that. It’s on VOD and you can catch it. It’s in the UK, doing really well. We had a 90 on Rotten Tomatoes for The Oak Room and for Triumph, we had 95 on Rotten Tomatoes for a little bit. So, that’s a win.
What do you hope to accomplish with the rest of 2021?
RM: Just a lot. Really just get Triumph and Oak Room out there. I’m just finishing up another film called Isaac, I have another week left on that that I have to go back to LA for. I’m in the middle of a Community Development Project – real estate investing, stuff like that.
I’ve been focusing over the past five years on my family foundation and work here in Brownsville, Texas. I moved here about a year-and-a-half or two years ago. We just got approval for our phase 2 of a 5-phase plan; just broke ground, got all our permits and we’re building a Park and Rec area, food trucks and science centre. That keeps me very busy and a lot of bureaucracies, my friend.
In closing, what would you like to say to fans of Breaking Bad, your wider work or you personally?
RM: Thank you, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do today if it wasn’t for the fans. If it wasn’t for people that wanted to hear or see me, listen to us talk, I wouldn’t be here, right? You wouldn’t be talking to me! I have some amazing fans in the UK and I love Great Britain.
Thank you again for taking the time, RJ. Take care and stay safe!
RM: You as well, thank you again.