Through a series of coincidences too numerous to recount here (and none of which involve the JR:RJ similarity), I was given the opportunity to interview R.J. Mitte, who plays Walt Jr. on AMC's award winning show Breaking Bad, of which I am an unabashed fan. Given that the the first episode aired in 2008, R.J. has literally grown up on the show -- from the teen who once played Hanna Montana's love interest, into a twenty-year-old actor who's coming into his own. The interview ranges quite widely as we discuss his favorite teams, how growing up in several areas of the country has informed his attitude toward sports, what his thoughts are on breakfast, and what it's like to work with Bryan Cranston.
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J.R. Wilco - I hear you have a number of dogs. What kind do you have?
R.J. Mitte - I have a Scottie. My little sister has a Javanese, and my Mom has a Yorkie.
Wilco - The dogs normally travel with you I guess?
Mitte - Yeah. Well, I pretty much take my dogs everywhere with me. Because my dog is old, 18 now, I like to have him everywhere I go.
Wilco - That's a lifelong relationship there. You've had that dog since you were 2 years old, right?
Mitte - Yeah, I have. I've had him my whole life.
Wilco - That's a serious deal right there. So yeah, you'd want to have him wherever you go.
Now you grew up in Austin and Louisiana, and I've lived in Austin for the past 15 plus years. Do you get back to Austin often?
Mitte - I was just in Austin a couple of weeks ago actually. I was there for -- I work on a foundation there. I was doing that there and I get back every once and a while. But you know what, unless it's for work, I don't really get out too much. I'm just trying to stay busy, you know? Just trying to keep working, keep going.
Wilco - I want to start off with the sports questions before we get to Breaking Bad. So, you're a Lakers fan, am I right?
Mitte - I am a Lakers fan. I'm a little bit rusty, but I am a Lakers fan. These are my teams: it's Lakers, Spurs, and there's a local team in Louisiana I used to watch. But to be completely honest with you, my game watching skills in the last little bit have been off. I keep track of scores and stuff on my phone, but I haven't been to a game in a while.
Wilco - Well we need to remedy that if we possibly can. How long have you been a Lakers fan?
Mitte - About 5 years now.
Wilco - Okay. Is that right around when you moved to L.A.?
Mitte - Two years after I moved to L.A, I became a Lakers fan. It was a friend of mine, Luenell. She's a comedian, she's done work with Katt Williams, she was in Borat, she was in Hotel Transylvania. She's a real good friend of mine and she got me hooked to the Lakers.
Wilco - Gotcha. So who's your favorite player on the Lakers?
Mitte - Well, it all depends on who's not f---ing up.
Wilco - [laughs] Well if you've been cheering for them for the past 5 years, you've been through some good times and bad times too. Is there a favorite game, or series, that really stands out in your memory?
Mitte - There was one. There was that playoff series two years ago, they were up against, I think it was the Hornets. It was L.A. versus the Hornets and the Hornets were up and the Lakers turned around and won it.
Wilco - Yes, this would be two years ago when Chris Paul was going off against them. It looked like he was going to win that series singlehandedly, really.
Mitte - No, no, it really did. He was really on fire. Everything he was doing was in the right spot at the right time. But then the Lakers turned it around.
Wilco - Yep, they found a way to shut him down.
Mitte - They did.
Wilco - So you said you followed the Lakers and the Spurs as well? How long have you been following the Spurs?
Mitte - For a while. You know as a whole, my whole family has been -- we each have boxes and stuff, and go to football games and basketball games. My dad really got into it. I really don't have a favorite team.
Like, I'm not really -- you know how people have their sides, "How can you be this fan? How can you be that fan?" I have my team, but as whole I enjoy the game. I just enjoy the play. To be an athlete, it's gotta be a really great feeling for those athletes because they train their whole lives and their body is their instrument. Win or lose, they do stuff that no one else can do on those courts and those fields. I couldn't imagine doing what they do.
Wilco - Yeah, it is pretty incredible. Are there any other sports besides basketball that you follow?
Mitte - I follow soccer, I follow football. I'm not a big baseball fan. I do follow baseball but it's mostly soccer, football, and basketball and lacrosse.
Wilco - Lacrosse? Awesome. So, who are the soccer clubs and the football teams that you follow?
Mitte - My soccer team is Lancaster. And then for football, I follow the Saints, and then I follow the Eagles, and I follow the Cowboys.
Wilco - Pretty eclectic group you got there.
Mitte - Yeah. You know what, I've lived and traveled in all of those areas and I've become a fan over the years. I enjoy it. I used to play soccer, I used to play football. I was never really good at basketball, my jumpshot is horrible. [Laughs]
Wilco - Well, we've got some Spurs on the team right now that can't shoot a jump shot either. Tiago Splitter for one.
I love that it's been about the places you've been and traveled to that got you going on those teams.
* * *
Wilco - Let's transition to some Breaking Bad stuff now. First question I have to ask you is: Are you tired about being asked about breakfast yet?
Mitte - [Laughs] It's funny, it's funny. I never realized how off people would go on about the breakfast stuff. And people love it. And I'm like, "Oh okay!" I was never a big breakfast fan, I like to sleep in, so my breakfast starts at like noon. So it's just funny, but people love it. I'm all for it, if they love it, I love it.
Wilco - Yeah, I Tweeted my followers to see who wanted to ask you a question, and almost all of the suggestions were breakfast.
Mitte - Breakfast?
Wilco - I said, "I think he's been asked about breakfast often enough by now."
Mitte - Nice. Well you could put in there that I'm a big bacon fan.
Wilco - There you go! Fan of bacon, that's great. I think one of them was: Waffles or scrambled eggs? So we'll say out of those two choices it's bacon.
Mitte - Well, I'll go with scrambled eggs.
Wilco - Ok, great. So tell me, did you get to drive the Challenger?
Mitte - I did, a little bit. I get to drive it every once and a while. It's mostly a prop car so, if we're not using it in the scene, I'm not usually driving it.
Wilco - Right. But you did get behind the wheel?
Mitte - I did get to get behind the wheel, a little bit. It's nice. It's a good car. So, I would definitely recommend it.
Wilco - So are you currently filming, or have you wrapped?
Mitte - We are currently filming. Right now, everything we're shooting is in New Mexico. It's 100% locally filmed in New Mexico. Our production offices is out here [in Los Angeles], but everything else is in New Mexico. The scripts are insane though, they really are amazing.
Wilco - I'll bet everybody you're talking to wants to know what's happening, so I'm going to give you an opportunity to misdirect. Is there any misinformation you want to drop on us?
Mitte - Lots of good misinformation. One: It was all a dream.
Wilco - I love that.
Mitte - Yeah! It was totally a dream. And actually it was all Walt Jr.'s imagination because actually Walt did die of cancer, and this is all a dream of Walt Jr. coping to keep his father alive in his mind.
Wilco - Terrific, I love that. Sounds just like Vince Gilligan!
So you've played Walter Jr. for quite a while now. I'm sure you've got a good grasp on how he'd react in a given situation. Lets say he finds out what his parents have been up to. Which parent, his mom or his dad, do you think he'd be more disappointed in?
Mitte - You know what? I don't know if he'd be disappointed in his family, I don't think he would. Walt Jr. cares about his family very much. He really -- after almost losing his dad, everything that happened, I think he would have a lot of thinking to do, and be worried about whats going to happen after all of this. But I think he would side with his dad out of everything. He really -- even though his dad hasn't spent a lot of time with him recently, Jessie has kind of become his second son. And all the time has been with Jessie. You know when you get in that situation you just kind of want their father's attention? I think anything they do will be right in his eyes. I think that's what would happen.
And because Walt Jr. wants that father attention I think he was scared of losing him. And he got him back and it's going to be interesting to see how everything is going to play out. Because I think he will side with his dad.
Wilco - Now you were involved with most of the episodes but all of the stuff you're in -- all of the worst stuff is completely away from you. So give us your perspective to where Walt Jr. is and the show as a whole.
Mitte - The whole as a show is a shit show. It's really insane right now. If you're caught up on season 5 we ended with a happy little family and a twist at the end of that I'm really interested in seeing how everything is going to be played out with Hank having an idea of what Walt has been up to, and how everything is being laid out. I think over time it's going to start eating at Hank and it's just going to bring everything down. But I'm definitely interested because you can't go this far and kill as many people as Walt has and get away with it and not have something on your conscience. And not have this eating at your soul.
Wilco - I watched that last episode and thought, "Wow, what a great place to cut it off." It's the ultimate, "Shit or get off the pot," moment.
Mitte - Yeah, it really, really was.
Wilco - He's literally --
Mitte - Literally on the pot and it drops a bomb in his lap, literally.
Wilco - [laughs] Now tell me, what's the favorite scene that you've been involved in so far?
Mitte - My favorite scene would be with me and Bryan when he's injured. That was a really good scene. I really enjoyed doing that with him.
Wilco - That was awesome, he talked about his father, and you bring it back around with your perspective which just blows him away because it's the exact opposite of what he's trying to do with you at that point, right?
Mitte - Exactly. It's definitely an emotional scene and it's one of my favorites. But, you know what? As a whole, I enjoy everything I get to do on the show. Every shot, every scene, new characters, new people, incorporating new things. It's just -- it's really an amazing job. I love what I do. I love being able to be a part of Breaking Bad and it really has been an amazing experience, and it's going to be an amazing season finale, and an amazing end to the story.
Wilco - Yeah, I'm excited. I've got a lot of people sitting on pins and needles waiting for what happens next.
Mitte - I'm on pins and needles.
Wilco - That writing group is absolutely insane I have been in awe of them, honestly. The way they plot all of that in and make it seem like there is no way to get out and then find a way that's completely valid for the character and in the world they've created, and there is just no way for you to see it coming. It's incredible.
Mitte - It's pretty much the equivalent is that we are -- you know, where are you based out of? You're based out of Texas, right?
Wilco - I'm in Austin.
Mitte - Yeah, you know how you're driving in Lakeview and they have all those deer crossing signs? You know how people people speed through there and the deer jump out? It's pretty much just a matter of time until the deer jumps out and he hits it.
Wilco - [laughs] Yeah there is a right way and a wrong way to hit a deer. If you're hitting those brakes, you've just pegged their legs underneath and they fall right into your lap, right?
Mitte - Exactly.
Wilco - So Bryan Cranston is a notorious jokester on the set--
Mitte - Yeah.
Wilco - I'm going to give you a choice of which answer to go with here. What is the best story of a prank that he's pulled off on you, or a just a favorite gag you've seen him pull? Which one of those do you want to go with?
Mitte - Let me think... Favorite gag that he pulled on someone. He's done quite a few, it's definitely funny because he's very musical -- they're all, except for me -- everyone sings.
Wilco - Sings? Everybody sings? Okay.
Mitte - Yeah, and it's not really a joke or anything but they definitely like to sing on set. It's definitely funny to see when Betsy and Anna and Bryan and all of them are singing to someone, it's definitely entertaining.
Wilco -So has Bryan pulled anything on you on the set in the middle of a take or while they were setting up?
Mitte - They just bust into song. The set is an amazing set we have so much -- it's like a family, it really is.
Wilco - Yeah, my best friend is an actor in L.A. and we talk all the time about the shows we watch and especially the ones we enjoy and besides Breaking Bad, we like The Office as well, and we were having a conversation recently and Ryan the Intern is played by B.J. Novak, and his name shares a certain rhythmic similarity with yours. B.J. Novak, R.J. Mitte. Anyway, I accidentally flipped the names when I was talking about you guys and it got us thinking: which do you think would be a better switch, an episode of The Office that was filmed in Breaking Bad style, or Breaking Bad as a mockumentary?
Mitte - I would say the flip of The Office to Breaking Bad style.
Wilco - Okay so you've got all of these silly office situations lit and with all the music behind them and all this tension but they're just talking about silly little office talk?
Mitte - Pretty much!
* * *
Wilco - So with the work you've done, do you prefer comedy or drama?
Mitte - You know what? I'm happy to work. I love them both. I've done more drama than comedy but I'm always down for comedy. Comedy is fun. Comedy is -- comedy! People are laughing, people are having a good time. But on Breaking Bad, we have had some of a comedy in it as well. I've always -- Breaking Bad is kind of like a dark comedy.
Wilco - It is, that's the way I like to describe it when people read the synopsis of the show and I'm trying to get them to watch, I'm like --
Mitte - Call it a dark comedy.
Wilco - Yeah, it really is. it's got a ton of comedic moments there.
Mitte - Definitely has some funny stuff. It's really cool to see how it comes across on screen.
Wilco - Yeah, it is. So being known for you work on Breaking Bad, do you find that people in the industry or in Hollywood are surprised when they meet you for the first time? That your case of C.P. is not as serious as Walt Jr.'s?
Mitte - You know what? They do. The plus is that I don't really get recognized because of it. Because people expect the crutches. People are like, "Aren't you missing something?" And it's just funny to see what people think when I'm walking on two feet. It's funny, it's really cool. You know it comes in handy when I'm out. I'm sure Bryan and everyone gets bugged like crazy.
Wilco - Absolutely. So, I understand that you do some advocating, and specifically what I'm interested in is the work that you do against bullying. Can you talk about that some?
Mitte - Yeah, yeah, I'm a big advocate against bullying. I definitely believe that kids have enough trouble going to school already, they don't need other kids making it harder. And with everything that's been going on with the school system and everything, and now everything that's been going on now with the shooting, it's just going to be harder and harder for kids that want to go to school.
And I'm definitely a big advocate for having kids going to school, and of not being afraid of going to school. And I've done other organizations against bullying and at the end of the day what it gets down to is knowledge. Kids don't have a structure that they don't know, and it really is sad and it shouldn't affect how you judge and what you say to somebody. And I definitely talk to kids and I talk to students about showing support for your other classmates, supporting other kids in your class, and just being there.
Wilco - I love that, that's great stuff. Do you have any upcoming projects that you want to talk about?
Mitte - I have a couple. I have a movie called, "House of Last Things" that we're having a season premiere at a film festival. And hopefully we'll be having distribution and drawing out to people. It's kind of a suspense-thriller. And just staying busy. Looking for new work, keep moving forward, just enjoying.
Wilco - Okay so last question, I've gotta ask you, how did you get involved in ballroom dancing?
Mitte - I got involved in ballroom dancing because in Albuquerque I needed to choose a P.E. and out of everything, I figured, why not? Ballroom dancing. It could come in handy, and it has come in handy, trust me.
Wilco - I'll bet! So do you have a favorite dance of all that that you've done?
Mitte - Yeah, I like the tango and the waltz.
Wilco - Well, I really appreciate your time R.J. This has been fabulous to talk with you.
Mitte - No worries.
[Editor's note: Major thanks to @jortle for transcribing the audio of the interview to make it
easier possible to edit. - JRW]
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