RJ Mitte shot to fame at the age of 13 when he landed the role of Bryan Cranston’s son, Walt Jr., on the hit show Breaking Bad. Like his character, RJ also has cerebral palsy, which he was diagnosed with at the age of 3. Since Breaking Bad ended in 2013, RJ has carved out a unique path for himself in Hollywood. He’s modeled for the Gap, presented at the 2016 Rio Paralympics, and most recently starred in the feature film Triumph, about a disabled high school senior who strives to be a wrestler.
Listen as RJ openly discusses his own experiences as an actor with cerebral palsy, the impact Walt Jr. had on society, and fighting for more disability inclusion in Hollywood.
RJ Mitte is an Activist and American Actor – best known for portraying Walter White Jr. on Breaking Bad.
Speaker 1: All Inclusive, a podcast on inclusion, innovation and social justice with Jay Ruderman.
Jay Ruderman: Hi, I’m Jay Ruderman, and this is All Inclusive, a podcast focused on inclusion, innovation and social justice. RJ Mitte skyrocketed to fame at the age of 13, when he landed the role of [00:00:30] Bryan Cranston’s son, Walter White, Jr., or Flynn on the hit show, Breaking Bad. Like his character, RJ also has cerebral palsy, which he was diagnosed was with at the age of three. However, that has never deterred his drive to carve out his own unique path in Hollywood.
Since Breaking Bad ended in 2013, RJ has starred in over 20 films in TV shows, modeled for The Gap, and was a presenter [00:01:00] for 2016 Rio Para Olympic Games. In his most recent film, Triumph, RJ plays real-life inspiration, Mike Coffey, a determined high school senior who strives to be a wrestler, despite having cerebral palsy. Throughout his career, RJ has used his platform to help remove the stigma associated disabilities and advocate for more inclusion in Hollywood. RJ, it’s a pleasure to welcome you to All Inclusive.
RJ: [00:01:30] Oh, it’s a pleasure to be here. Thank you all so much for making time for me. And I’m very excited to be a part of this.
Jay Ruderman: So RJ, you were in one of the most celebrated shows on television, Breaking Bad. And you played Bryan Cranston’s son who has cerebral palsy.
Jay Ruderman: How did you end up landing the role of Walt Jr.?
RJ: Like any audition or role I went in, I went in for it, and at the time I was living in Los Angeles. I was working as an extra on shows like Hannah [00:02:00] Montana, and Everybody Hates Chris, and Weeds and Seventh Heaven as an extra. And if you move to Los Angeles you and you don’t join a gang, you don’t act, and you don’t go to school, you don’t really have any business there. So I was acting to meet kids my own age and make some money. And my manager called me and went like, Hey, they’re looking for someone. We really think it fits you.
And the breakdown said, dark hair, big eyebrows and mild cerebral palsy. And I’m like, that’s me, [00:02:30] and went in. Apparently they loved me, so they hired me. I auditioned four times in Los Angeles and then one day they said, all right, well, we’re going to fly you into New Mexico, because we’re already there. They already started filming Michelle with the pilot episode. I was 13 turning 14. This was 2005, went down there, and it came down to me and one other individual, and went in, read for Vince and read [00:03:00] for everyone.
And then came back 30 minutes later and did a screen test with Bryan and Anna for a scene. And about another hour later, I got the call from Vince and said, Hey, RJ, you got the role. Congratulations. We’re very excited for you to be part of it. And pretty much was like, Hey, so you need to head back to LA and come back because we’re already filming.
Jay Ruderman: So it was really quick from being chosen for the role to [00:03:30] jumping into the pilot. That happened really, really fast. So the show was awesome. And your character, you were great in it. You said you were 13 years old.
Jay Ruderman: You moved to LA. Did you want to be an actor? I think I read that your sister was also interested in acting?
RJ: Yeah. So the way that I got brought into the industry was my sister at the time who was one. And agent saw her at a Waterpark and this agent was like, oh, I cast this and I do [00:04:00] this, but initially my role now is casting director. And I’m in the middle of a project and I’m looking at a bunch of redhead babies at the time, doing it for a Lucille Ball campaign at Universal. And again, we’re at a Waterpark in Texas, and she’s like, here’s my information, they exchanged. I really would like to audition her and see her in LA.
And a few weeks later we got a call saying that they wanted to use her [00:04:30] for the campaign and, please come to Los Angeles and we’ll put up your room and board. And we all went as a family, me, my mom, my sister, and went out there for that. But that’s again, why I started acting because I didn’t really know anyone. I didn’t really have a job or have friends. And that was the way that I got my friends and work and thing is, is just start acting and it just turned into a career for me.
Jay Ruderman: So I understand [00:05:00] that Vince Gilligan, who was the creator of Breaking Bad, was looking to cast an actor with disabilities.
Jay Ruderman: But maybe you could talk about before you got Breaking Bad, what was your experience walking into auditions as someone with cerebral palsy, and what were the reactions you were getting in the industry?
RJ: I was very lucky that I got a lot of occupational therapy, my physiotherapy and all the other therapies along the way at a very early age. And so I really [00:05:30] didn’t have too many, that I saw, physical limitations. But I didn’t really, in the beginning stages, tell people I had cerebral palsy, and now the society’s a little bit different. But I’d go in and they would look at me a little funny. And I would eventually though, at the end of my audition, be like, oh, by the way, I have cerebral palsy. I never used, or had my disability to me be a negative.
It only, for me, added to my characters [00:06:00] and amplified what I was doing. And I never really thought about it at the time. And I would just go in and do my best and walk out of the room and I’d be like, that’s what I did. That’s what I could do, and hopefully they liked it. And so sometimes it would be viewed as a positive and sometimes it would be viewed as a negative. Again, this is 2004, 2005 and disability was viewed very differently then, and it’s still is viewed differently [00:06:30] in some circles. But for the most part, I only got positivity out of it, never really had too much of the negative.
Jay Ruderman: So in retrospect, does it seem to you now that Vince Gilligan really was sort of ahead of his time in wanting to authentically cast the role?
RJ: Yeah. I think there’s a lot of people, and I think there still is a lot of people that want to authentically cast their characters and bring their characters into a more real setting. I think there’s a lot of still kickback [00:07:00] on that. Still a lot of people that are like, no, no, no, we want to fit the check boxes. We want to feel what we know works. Vince had great insight when it came to disability, specifically cerebral palsy, is that he grew up with someone… He had a friend in college who had CP, and that’s why actually he based my character off of him. And he passed away and he really wanted to keep his friend alive. And that’s what really, I think, inspired Walt [00:07:30] Jr..
Jay Ruderman: Well, it was an amazing role, and you were the perfect person for it.
RJ: Thank you.
Jay Ruderman: Let’s talk a little bit about authenticity in film and TV, and why you’ve advocated that people with disabilities should play roles of disabilities and we should see more authentic representation.
RJ: My belief on it is that film, television movies, music, all this, entertainment industry is a tool. And this tool could either be used for positive reinforcement [00:08:00] or negative reinforcement. And when we spend the majority of our lives in front of a screen, especially now, what we see really impacts how we treat others, how we treat ourselves, and what we do with our lives. And when you have shows that show positive … And not always, when I say positive reinforcement, not always a happy-go-lucky guy, but just real people with these types of [00:08:30] lives, it really gives people a new perspective.
It gives people a new view and allows people to maybe not be so defensive or afraid to ask questions or want to befriend people that they may view as abnormal or someone that they’ve never really encountered, when they’re like, oh, I’ve seen it on this, so I know a little bit. It gives that bridge where everyone can meet in the middle with [00:09:00] it and talk about it, and be informed. And there’s people that talk today about, oh, I saw this and I was never the same. And that is the greatest gift of television and film, is that new way of thinking, this new version of knowledge that necessarily you don’t have to experience firsthand.
When you get to watch the journey, you get to learn from that journey and evolve with those characters as they take these paths. And not everyone gets to walk those paths, [00:09:30] but if you can see it, and learn from it, and find your path, eventually you can learn down the walk it or learned to walk down it.
Jay Ruderman: That’s so powerful. And I think Michelle Obama once said that, we learn about people who are not like us through television.
Jay Ruderman: Do you think that the character of Walt Jr. helped raise awareness to disability? And what do you think was the impact of the role?
RJ: I always like to think it made an impact in the community. Walt Jr. I [00:10:00] feel was one of those characters that wasn’t disabled. He may have had a disability. People may have viewed him as disabled, but if you look at it, Walt Jr. really wasn’t disabled. He faced challenges, but he faced them head on and he was put in the situations that he had to overcome, not just through his disability, but through his family dynamic. And I really believe that having a character of Walt Jr really [00:10:30] helped the community over the years when there really wasn’t content like it.
Breaking Out wasn’t based on disability. It wasn’t based on Walt Jr., it was just a kid in a family trying to get by, trying to live a life. You can only hope that your work has positive reinforcement in communities, and I believe it did. And I started Walt Jr. and Breaking Bad to give me the opportunity to work with groups like [00:11:00] you and many others and raise awareness, and talk about experiences and share things that people don’t always get to hear. And for me, that’s a great opportunity, great honor, to be able to take my stories and my life and use it as an example for others to grow and grow past me.
Jay Ruderman: RJ, you’re a great advocate, and you’ve had such a big difference in the industry in getting people to think differently. But you know that we’re still living in a time [00:11:30] when you see many actors playing disability. And, in fact, half of the actors who’ve won the Best Actor Awarded at the Academy Awards in the past 30 years, are able-bodied actors who’ve won it for playing a disability. And one thing that really hits home is, in 2017, there was a movie called The Upside and Bryan Cranston played a character in a wheelchair, and he was asked about it by the disability community, about an able- [00:12:00] bodied person playing a disabled role. And he called it a business decision. Did you ever talk to him about that and maybe gave him your perspective on that?
RJ: When all that blew up, I was like, I’m just going to let this settle down. And the thing about is, I think it’s so important that when individuals get the opportunity to audition, that accurate representation is key. The one thing that I do and have noticed over the [00:12:30] 15, almost 20 years of working in the industry, is that all are business decisions, and sacrifices that I’ve had to make to actually keep a job, and jobs where I was like, I’m not going to do that, and then saying, well, we don’t really want you if you’re not going to do that, have always been the business decisions you have to make. And it’s not always up to you.
And I think when you have someone like Bryan Cranston or [00:13:00] Jamie Fox, or a Forest Gum-type character, and all these other entities, I think there’s a fine line of what is appropriate and what is not appropriate. But for me, I think The Upside is that it does get to the masses. Is there a better way of doing it? Yes. But if we can get more individuals to think like that and to be like, well, I don’t really want to see able-body actors playing disabled roles, it allows voices to come together in the mainstream platform [00:13:30] to say, Hey, no, we want this to stop. I think is a great opportunity to get those voices out there, to get those voices heard.
To me though, anyone can be disabled. I’m already technically disabled, but I can walk out of this room, trip and break my neck falling down, and I’ll spend the rest of my life in a chair or something. And anyone can join this club at any part of their life. And I think we need to have that realization, that this is more of [00:14:00] a human connection than most things that we deal with on a daily basis. And what we do, both either positive or negative, allows us to look at that and look at it objectively after the fact and go, okay, we know this is what we don’t want. We know this is what we do want.
So now how can we take this information into other projects, taking mainstream media and having them [00:14:30] look back and reflect and go, okay, we got backlash. We got negativity on this. All right, how do we narrow that down? How do we do this? And again, keep in mind, this is all about money. This really has nothing to do with the community. This has nothing to do with inspiring people. This has to do with net asset. And so getting them to think, how do we keep the net asset, but inspire people and bring honesty and truth, [00:15:00] and these individuals that need the job, deserve the job, and should have a job to these forefronts? We have to have that, we don’t like this, to know what we want to evolve it from.
Jay Ruderman: Right. I think there’s so many different aspects of what you’ve just said. The advocacy plays a role.
Jay Ruderman: So that when activists come out and say, Hey, this isn’t right, I think the industry does listen to that. But then there’s also the discussions within the industry. And [00:15:30] our Foundation has had success in working with the four major studios to get them to commit to auditioning actors with disabilities. I know that my friend, Danny Woodburn, who’s also an actor with a disability, did have a dinner with Bryan Cranston after this, and had a discussion with him and explained to him why it’s concerning. But I know we’re not at the point now where we’re going to have every role of disability played by an actor [00:16:00] with a disability. But I do think, as you’ve pointed out in the past, it’s an issue of representation, and it’s an issue of people seeing themselves on film. I’m wondering, what was your relationship with Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul? Do you still keep in touch with members of the cast or Breaking Bad?
RJ: Yeah, I do. I ironically keep in contact more with the bad guys. But when I was on the show, [00:16:30] we have a very open-door friendship and anything and everything that we could ever need, they could call me and I could call them. Again, keep in mind, I was 13, right? Everyone was late 20s minimum. And so my relationship really wasn’t as strong with everyone else’s on the yarn outside of the set because I was a minor, I was a child. [00:17:00] So I think that played into it. But for the most part, we were very, very family dynamic, very open. I could call any of them any time and they would either answer or return my call, which is nice. And so from the group, to acting, to the producing side of it, to the crew and everyone in between, it was a very big family dynamic.
Jay Ruderman: Maybe you can talk a little bit [00:17:30] about the business of acting because, like Breaking Bad, you were together for years, and you’re doing this show, but it’s a business. And then it ends, and people go on to their careers and they do another show, or they do a movie. What’s that like? Because most people are in a job, and they’re in a job for years and that’s what they do. But maybe you can talk a little bit what it’s like to be a working actor in the industry.
RJ: Yeah. It’s not easy to build these lives and relationships, and then it’s like, all right, well, [00:18:00] I might never see you again, but we had fun doing it while it lasted, right? I think it’s very special to be able to go into these characters, and go into these worlds and create and live inside of this imaginary world, and then it’s over. But I love it. That’s one of my favorite things, is I like to portray different people and different things, and get out there and be different things. It’s not an easy business. A lot has changed [00:18:30] over the last 10 years through social media and through different new media, and all these other aspects that we face now, where you don’t really lose your relationship as much as you did in the past. People are always on Face Times and interviews and podcasts.
We really didn’t have those, then. We live at a very different time from when I started to where we are now. And [00:19:00] I’m just very interested to see the evolution of television film and the impact it will leave behind for future generations. And that’s one of the things, is that when you have a show like Breaking Bad, or any show that’s continued on after the ending of it, that really still brings everyone together, is truly special, and truly something that can change people in lives. [00:19:30] And the business again is not easy. Lots of auditions, a lot of rejections still, it doesn’t change.
People think, oh, once you get the show, it gets easy, right? No, that’s where it actually starts getting harder. And that’s where it starts becoming, you’re more accountable for what you do and what you say, and you’re more accountable for the roles that you portray. It only evolves. It escalates from there. I think people sometimes forget that. It’s the extraordinary [00:20:00] business. I’m going to go work for one month and it’s over. As you grow, you learn who you’ll see again, who you won’t see, but building the relationships and having a positive impact with your peers, having a positive impact with your fans and your community, to me is one of the most important things about our job. And what we do is building those relationships and realizing, you still have to have fun with it, but at the end of the day, it’s still a profession.
Jay Ruderman: [00:20:30] So, RJ, you seem wise beyond your years and that you understand your place in the industry and the impact that you would have on your fans, on the public. How did you learn that? Did someone pull you aside and say, let me teach you how to be successful in this industry? Since you were 13 when you started on Breaking Bad, did someone like Bryan Cranston pull you aside and say, Hey, [00:21:00] let me give you some tips or, let me help you become a better actor?
RJ: Yes and no. Many people over the years were big influences in my decisions and where I moved in. For the most part, though, it was like, yeah, here you go, and then they dumped you in the pit of wolves. And either one, you get torn apart or two, you become a wolf. And that’s where a lot of my first day experience came through was, was just [00:21:30] being put in the meat grinder, and came out still whole apparently. But it’s one of those things where, people can tell you things, people can give you advice, and the advice could be the best advice in the world. But if you don’t understand it, or you don’t live by it, it’s really hard for it to work for you.
Everyone’s different, everyone’s lives are different. I grew [00:22:00] up with a lot of responsibility at a very young age. And so for me, my biggest thing was always my priorities and what I wanted to prioritize first, be it my career, or my family, or my medical, or whatever that may be. It wasn’t always looked upon positively when I made some decisions on choosing my work or my family. And that was always [00:22:30] a bummer to me, because I’m fairly family-oriented. So I always pick my family over my job, but I really think it came from just learned experience. A lot of my stuff is learning on the job-type stuff.
Many people, like you mentioned, Danny Woodburn and Allen Rucker, and many other people like that… So when you take into consideration my Breaking Bad family, they taught me a lot. It gave me a lot of tools and information on [00:23:00] acting in sets. And we had a casting crew of $500 million episode. It cost money. These were big, big money things. And it taught me those types of ways to be a part of a set like that, what it’s like to have the responsibility of a regular character, a recurring character on a TV show that had graphic content, and content that really [00:23:30] wasn’t positive content until later after the show was done.
When I first started Breaking Bad, the first two seasons, I wasn’t allowed to go to a lot of kids’ parties. I wasn’t allowed to do a lot of things because they were like, oh, you’re on that show about meth. And I was like, yeah, but it’s so much more than that. And it was a lot for me learning both sides of the coin, the negative coin and the positive coin of what I want to be. What I’m personally [00:24:00] trying to do, and this is the biggest thing for anyone that I recommend acting or not acting, it’s find what you want to truly do. And that doesn’t have to be tomorrow. But what it does is find that moral compass of, this is where I want to go, and this is my circumstance.
Jay Ruderman: Well, you’ve had so much experience now, and it sounds like you’ve really been able to get your priority straight.
Jay Ruderman: I’m wondering what your take is now on [00:24:30] disability representation in the industry. Is it different than when you started? And what advice would you give to someone with a disability that wants to get into acting and how do they go about it?
RJ: Yeah. It is very different. It’s pretty much as night and day. I’ll tell you right now, because I remember when YouTube and all the vines and social medias were coming out. And I actually was told one time that, [00:25:00] if you start doing that, we will drop you as a client. I remember when it was very negative to put yourself out there and to do what now is the market. A lot of the things that people have now used to be very frowned upon and now it’s the only way to get a job, and building that fan base and having those views and doing all these things. I do see a very big, positive growth [00:25:30] and diversification in media, opportunities for individuals. And not just for people with disabilities, but across the board when it comes to accessing the industry.
There’s many different ways now versus the two ways that you could do before is, drop everything and go to Los Angeles or New York and start being a starving actor. Because that’s where I started. There was really no phones, no media, none of those things that [00:26:00] someone, if you were in Raleigh, North Carolina, like I am now, there really wasn’t an industry here. Now there’s an industry here. Now I could go online and apply across the world. And I recommend for people that want to get into the industry and want to start learning about the industry, everyone has Facebook, everyone has Twitter, everyone has Instagram, all these forms of media, and start creating that individual you want to be.
Start creating [00:26:30] and showing your life in a way that is going to be sadly, appealing to masses, not sadly appealing, just sadly that you have to do that now. And so I think that’s a great way. I recommend extra work. That was my big backbone, was extra work and classes. I had a talent manager at the time named Madison White, who was my mentor and teacher and taught me many different forms of acting across the board and [00:27:00] learning that, and really was doing that again to only meet kids of my own age, because I didn’t have an avenue. My first two months in Los Angeles, I got robbed trying to make friends.
And so I always highly recommend extra work. Take classes, find your community, find those people that are going to raise you up versus put you down, and just enjoy it. Again though, this is a business. Always remember that this is trillion [00:27:30] dollar industry that doesn’t just make money, but alters minds, alter spirits, allows people to see things and feel things that they couldn’t do without it. And there is a responsibility and an obligation you have to your friends and to the people that see your works. And try to remember that when you’re out there doing your things, but at the same time, have fun, enjoy it. And don’t be afraid to put yourself out there, no matter who you are.
Jay Ruderman: Talking about the business of the industry, which it’s definitely [00:28:00] a business, one of the recent white paper that we put out, we commissioned a survey of the public, fairly extensive survey, that said that people will pay more to see authentic representation. And I think maybe that’s the time that we’re moving into, that people want to see reality, even in fiction, they want to see people who really are like those people. And so, [00:28:30] the bottom line of the white paper and the survey was that people would be willing to spend billions of dollars more to see that. And I think slowly the studios are internalizing that message. And that leads me to your latest film, Triumph, which is the story of Mike Coffey-
Jay Ruderman: … who is a teenager with cerebral palsy in the ’80s and wanted to join the high school wrestling team. Tell us about the movie.
RJ: You mentioned [00:29:00] Michael Coffey, the writer, creator, character initially, and he created this story as a dream of his, to be able to portray on the screen and to show kids that they can achieve what they want to achieve. This story is about a young man with cerebral palsy who lives in a different time, a time where disability is viewed more as a disability, as an illness, as something that, oh, we’re [00:29:30] going to stay away from. But really this is a kid that just needs an opportunity to show what he’s capable of, to show his life. A single dad, doesn’t really have a lot of friends, and it’s his last year at school, and he really wants to be able to do this.
He wrestled when he was younger and he got injured. He didn’t get seriously injured, but injured enough where everyone was like, no, he’s disabled. You can’t let him do that anymore. But it was a [00:30:00] dream of his, and he wanted to achieve it. And so through this journey, he starts trying to achieve his dream before he feels that he won’t be able to get the opportunity again. And because of that journey, he makes friends, he faces bullies. He handles the challenges that he’s been facing his whole life, head on, because he’s like, this is my dream. This is my goal. This is what I want to do. [00:30:30] And when you start doing that in real life, all the things that you’ve been avoiding, all the challenges and weights of other people’s voices start getting louder, because they’re like, no, we’ve been protecting you for so long.
But really it comes down to, this is his dream and his goal. And he won’t stand by that anymore. And I think it’s a very special story created by someone who really had the heart [00:31:00] to take his life and make it a reality make it a film. And that’s one of my favorite things about my industry. Every movie you see, every story you read, isn’t just an entertainment piece. It’s someone’s dream, it’s someone’s life. And what other business allows you to make a dream a reality, to mortalize your life and story. And really [00:31:30] it’s only our industry, the entertainment industry, that does that.
This individual really made a dream come true. And I was very lucky to be able to make it happen and pull it together. We’ve been working on it for seven years now. And I’m so happy it’s finally getting out, and that people are looking at it and people are interested in it. I was a little concerned that people were going to be like, what is this? But it turned out people actually really [00:32:00] like it. And people really found it enjoyable. It’s been very interesting that through all the hiccups that this film has faced over the years, it’s still alive and well.
Most films that have the issues that we faced when it came to defining actors, to getting budgets, to locations and everything else, we had our battles. But the movie is still alive and still growing. And the Academy has even looked [00:32:30] into it to be potentially nominated, for one. And I’m just very honored that this movie is still out there. This movie is still growing and despite other people trying to stop it or to devalue it or get their cut out of it, it has its own entity. It has its own life and it’s still growing.
Jay Ruderman: Well, it’d be nice to see an actor with a disability who’s authentic in having that [00:33:00] disability, be considered for an Oscar, since the last person with a visible disability to win an Oscar was Marlee Matlin, and that was decades ago. Let me talk about bullying, because it’s something you brought up and it’s a big part of the film. I watched the film.
RJ: Did you like it?
Jay Ruderman: I did like it. I did like it. I like all your stuff.
RJ: Thank you.
Jay Ruderman: I know you’ve been bullied in the past and I know that you’ve given some advice on how you’ve dealt with [00:33:30] bullies.
Jay Ruderman: So maybe you can just repeat the advice that you give and how you’ve dealt with that, because I think it’s a great approach.
RJ: Yeah. A hundred percent. You never not get bullied at some point of your life. There’s always a bully out there. It could be either at home, at work, on the street, whatever it may be. As an adult, we just don’t call it bullying, but it happens. And I find no matter [00:34:00] what you’re facing or the challenges you’re facing, find those people that you can confide in. Find those people that are going to raise you up. And don’t be afraid to ask questions and stand up for what you believe in, and who you are as an individual. Bullying is something that really can traumatize someone. How many times have you been like, I really love this. And then someone say, that’s stupid, you should stop.
And then you stop and you never do it again, but it was something that you loved. [00:34:30] And who would’ve known if that could have turned into something great? If someone is bullying you or someone’s trying to devalue you, find that person that you can confide in and figure out how you can either one, handle it, or remove yourself from the situation. And talk to your friends, talk to your peers, talk to the people that you care about. Even talk to the bully, like, why are you doing this? What’s going on with this? Because a lot of people that are being bullied are being bully.
You don’t [00:35:00] grow up with hate. You don’t grow up being these types of people. You learn it by repressions, by things that have happened to you. And you’re like, this is the only way I can cope with it. So I find when it comes to a bully, I always was like, what’s your problem? Why are you doing this? Why are you singling me out? And when it got past that point, I would get other people involved, my friends and even the teacher, my parents, [00:35:30] people that I believed could help me figure out this situation.
And having those conversations and exploring those, sometimes will help in a situation where it’s like, well, I actually don’t really hate you. I’m facing an issue with this, and I’m reflecting that on you. And you would never know that unless you talk to that person about it. And even one time, one of my bullies became one of my best friends. And I was like, what’s your problem? [00:36:00] Why do you keep pushing me? Every time I see you, you throw me into a wall. And he is like, oh, blah, blah, blah, gave me some nonsensical answer. And I was like, no, why is it every time you see me, you do this?
It turned out to be something stupid that really had no relevance on him actually hating me, other than they just wanted to be a friend. They just wanted the attention. And instead [00:36:30] of giving negative attention back, I gave positive attention back, positive reinforcement back. And by the end of that week, we were a friend and he stood up for me. And it just turned around in that situation. And I find every situation you’re going find yourself in, it’s not going to be the same.
Jay Ruderman: Yeah. That’s great, RJ. It’s so wise beyond your years, like I said, to identify why people are bullying.
RJ: [00:37:00] Well, that’s hard to do, though. That’s not easy.
Jay Ruderman: No, it takes courage.
RJ: And it takes you to be the better person, you to be the bigger person in that situation, when you are being hurt. People can’t always see through the hurt, and you have to sometimes place your feelings in a way where it’s like, all right, I’m going to do this, but this might end badly for me, but if I don’t do this, I’ll never know.
Jay Ruderman: [00:37:30] I was impressed with Terrence Howard, who’s a great actor and plays your coach in Triumph. What was it like for you working with him?
RJ: He only worked for a few days on set. We were able to shoot him out pretty quickly, but brought a lot to the set with a great character for the role. I do had some wild lines, I’ll tell you that. But we had a great time working with him, and just really helped bring the story together. That was one of [00:38:00] our big issues that we had to come back to, is seven years ago, we stopped production and came back to it with Terrance and a new group of people, and we were able to make it happen. And I think it only amplified the story more that we didn’t go with the original cast on that.
Jay Ruderman: Well, he puts a lot of emotion into the film. One of the things about advocacy, which I’ve been deeply involved in my whole life, and I know [00:38:30] that it’s an important part of your life, sometimes advocacy in 2022 can become very strident, and it can be all about the group that you’re part of. But I happen to think allyship is very important and not everyone is like us, and we need allies. If you look at the great civil rights leaders, someone like Martin Luther King really understood the importance of having [00:39:00] allies. So I just wanted you to talk a little bit about allyship and what do you think about it?
RJ: We can’t do this alone, at the end of the day. Yes, certain paths you do have to walk alone, but we always had those people there. We always have allies. The biggest thing that I believe when it comes to disability is that disability doesn’t discriminate. It’s the one thing that can unite us as a species, as human beings, is that [00:39:30] we all face these types of challenges in our future. Yes, some of us like me are born with it and grow up with it, and it’s a very normal thing in my life. Some people not so much. But as someone that’s grown up with it and born with it, it’s my responsibility to help guide people, to give that information, to understand that we all face these challenges, and we all have these hurdles, and it’s [00:40:00] very easy to be an ally.
It doesn’t take a lot of time and energy to make a stand and to be that person and to do what’s right. Anyone that’s in this world, at the end of the day, can be an ally and should be an ally. But just finding what you believe in, finding that key value of what you want to achieve, where you want to go, and the impact that you want to have by doing that, you’re going to find you are not alone in your mission. You’re not alone [00:40:30] to achieve what you’re trying to achieve, because there are many people that want the same thing. And when you start being vocal about it, you find more people are willing to be more vocal about it.
And it can happen in a very small instant. Whatever it may be, look for those impacts in your daily life, find where it’s like, all right, I’m just on the street and I’m just walking down and I just happen to see something happen, to see a person happen. You can be that person that steps [00:41:00] out and makes that impact. And by doing that, the ripple effect of that is so much greater than you may even realize. By just being that, are you okay? Seeing someone crying on the street, seeing someone that’s alone, just coming up to someone and being like, Hey, are you okay? Do you need something?
Nine times out of 10, you’re going to hear, I’m fine, I’m okay, I’m good. Leave me alone. Those people aren’t always ready to [00:41:30] have that helping hand. But it’s that one out of 10 that you’re going to talk to, and you’re going to change that person’s life. And you’re going to be that ally for them to evolve, to take it to that next level. And when it comes to something like what we’re trying to do, when it comes to diversification and media and providing opportunities for people, and economic impacts and all these things…
I’ve been very lucky that I’ve worked around the world, working with UEDGE in Russia and Germany [00:42:00] and Costa Rica and everywhere in between, making allies, that one day we can make this call and it can be a global front, that we can have this global push and be like, yes, this is what we need. This is what we want. But that takes time. That takes effort. And that takes willingness for you, the listener, to step out of a realm of comfort and be able to put yourself into a position that you may not want to be in, but may feel responsible for. [00:42:30] And that can change people’s lives, that can impact people in such a way that is unseen and unforetold, and that you can’t even realize.
Jay Ruderman: Right. That’s so wise. I know that within the disability community, the phrase, “nothing about us without us”, is very powerful. But at the same time, all of us, everyone in the world has a connection personally, to someone with a disability. And as you mentioned previously, [00:43:00] this is the one community that most of us, as we age, will probably join at some point. So it’s a powerful community. I truly believe in allyship. I don’t like turning other people away.
Jay Ruderman: I know you’re filming North Carolina right now. Are you able to say a little bit about what you’re doing?
RJ: At the moment, I can’t. I do have a few other projects I’m very happy for. I’ll start filming those in the next couple [00:43:30] of months, but really, I think for me, my big thing has been getting Triumph off the ground and now I’m doing that. That’s been a labor of love for six years now. Right now, I have a pretty big project in Texas that I’m working on at the moment, just been working, a lot, lot, lot of working.
Jay Ruderman: RJ, what’s your dream role? What’s a role that you would love to play?
RJ: I don’t necessarily have a dream role per [00:44:00] se. I was actually just thinking, talking to someone about this last night and they were talking about Better Call Saul. I wouldn’t mind going back to the Breaking Bad days because Better Call Saul’s on their last season. I might want to go back to do that. You know what I miss the most is having a set with a budget. I know that sounds weird, and not everyone’s going to get it. But you wouldn’t realize [00:44:30] how hard it is to make projects on a shoestring budget with minimal resources. So being able to just focus on the acting side of it and not have to worry about, all right, I got to come up with $150,000 by next week for this movie, or, we’re going to have to halt production, would be quite nice.
Jay Ruderman: I get it. I get it. It makes perfect sense. RJ, it’s been a pleasure to have you as my guest on All Inclusive.
RJ: Thank you.
Jay Ruderman: I can’t [00:45:00] end the interview without asking, I know that your Breaking Bad fans would really want to know, what did you have for breakfast?
RJ: What did I have for breakfast? I had a Starburst. It was a pink one. It was quite nice. I woke up, I had it, it was great.
Jay Ruderman: Nutritious.
RJ: Very nutritious. I bottle of water, great. I’m actually… See, one of my big things is, is I don’t like to do things before noon, and it’s almost noon now. [00:45:30] I usually have my breakfast later in the day. And so some bacon and eggs are on my way, but yeah, that was my truthful breakfast, a Starburst.
Jay Ruderman: Well, RJ, thank you. I wish you a lot of success in what you’re doing now-
RJ: Thank you.
Jay Ruderman: … with Triumph. You’ve been real ground-breaker in the industry and I know you’ll have a lot more success. So thank you so much. Wish you a lot of success.
RJ: Great to see you. Thank you again. [00:46:00] It’s really always a pleasure to be able to work with you all in the Ruderman Foundation and we’ve been friends over the years, and it’s great to see the impact that you’ve all had in the community. It is something that it takes a lot of time, a lot of energy and a lot of resources to face these types of challenges and to give people on that awareness. Thank you for the impact that you have in the community. And again, anytime, I’m always a friend and an ally to you all and anything you’ll need, [00:46:30] just let me know.
Jay Ruderman: Thanks so much, RJ.
Speaker 1: All Inclusive is a production of the Ruderman Family Foundation. Our key mission is the full inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of society. You can find All Inclusive on Apple Podcast, Google Play, Spotify and Stitcher. To view the show notes, transcripts, or to learn more, go to rudermanfoundation.org/allinclusive. To [00:47:00] have an idea for a podcast, be sure to tweet @JayRuderman.