Things could have turned out very different for RJ Mitte. The 22-year-old may be something of a household name for his portrayal of the wide-eyed, at times heartbreakingly naïve Walter White Jr in ABC’s critical and commercial smash hit Breaking Bad, but the Louisiana-born actor is a curious case. Where many actors endure years of unsuccessful auditions while waiting tables and going to night classes, Mitte’s entrance into show business was more the product of serendipity than a childhood dream.

“I never really thought of becoming an actor,” he tells me. It’s a strange statement to hear, because, if we’re honest, we’ve all at some point let our minds wander to thoughts of red carpets, bustling studios, endorsement deals and sprawling mansions in Malibu, if only for a spell. At least, I know I have.

For Mitte, though, the reality is more complicated: he, like his Breaking Bad counterpart, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy as a child. The symptoms aren’t as pronounced in him as in Walt Jr – he walks freely without crutches partially thanks to his passion for sport and fitness – but it’s a genuine disability, and something that’s often in conflict with the Hollywood mindset.

Mitte moved to Los Angeles aged 12, when his family relocated to support his sister, who was attracting industry interest for fashion campaigns. A chance encounter with a casting agent followed, at which Mitte was approached to see if he was interested in pursuing a future in the business.

“My mother was a little reluctant about it,” he recalls. “She said ‘He has cerebral palsy – he gets said ‘no’ to enough.’ It’s a very negative business, this industry – it’s not as glamorous as a lot of people think. It looks that way from the outside because you only get to see the final product of everyone’s work.

“But I thought, ‘why not?’, because if you move to Los Angeles and you don’t go to school, you don’t join a gang and you don’t act – which are all essentially the same thing – you’re not going to meet anyone, you’re not going to make friends and you’re not going to know anything. That’s what everyone does.”

Mitte’s honesty is refreshing, but it’s not surprising when you stop to think about it. Here is a young man who has spent his life becoming accustomed to the reality he faces daily, after all. But after turns in, among others, Weeds, Vegas and Everybody Hates Chris, there was an opening in a certain TV show; one that set wheels in motion the size of which couldn’t possibly have been predicted.

If you move to LA and don’t go to school, join a gang or act, you’re not going to meet anyone

Enter Breaking Bad. It was a passion project about a chemistry teacher-turned-meth dealer, created by a former X-Files writer, and whose lead actor was previously best known for playing the father on madcap (but nonetheless utterly brilliant) sitcom Malcolm in the Middle. It wasn’t pumped full of money, bloated with stars or based around a tired, overblown concept. Despite its premise, it was something altogether more real.

“I was working on about 13 different shows and movies, as well as doing extra work,” he says. “Then about six months later I auditioned for Breaking Bad. I auditioned five times – four in Los Angeles and once in New Mexico. Then the rest is history – it turned into a career, and it continues to grow and push forward.”

Crucially, the role was one that was incredibly personal to him. Breaking Bad is, at its heart, a drama about a dysfunctional family – a group Mitte refers to as “a modern-day family with a meth chef kingpin father” – and Mitte played the role of the son coping with a disorder he suffers with in real life. But above all, it was the chance to show America (and, as it turned out, the rest of the world, too) that we’re entering an age where disability need not and should not be hidden in plain sight.

Walt Jr isn’t disabled because the show’s writers felt the need to satisfy a tokenistic urge on the part of its producers; he’s not there to make the show seem more politically correct. Walt Jr’s illness makes the family more touchingly real. It makes his unwavering faith in his father, even at the latter’s lowest points, somehow more heart wrenching.

“I think for a long time people have looked on the side of ‘everyone’s perfect’,” Mitte says. “Everyone has to have good hair and good teeth. This is what they aim for, but it’s not the real world. Real-world people have issues; they have lumps and different types of things that affect them – not just physically, but mentally, too. I think Breaking Bad has paved the way, because it showed real characters with real problems that weren’t contrived. People could see themselves in them, whether it was Heisenberg or Walter or Skyler.

“I think it’s important that more and more filmmakers take that risk and allow real characters to grow, because people want real characters; people want to see themselves on television and in film. The majority of the world does have afflictions – if it’s not physical or mental, it’s family and friends, and all different things that prevent most people from being who they really want to be.”

All this isn’t to say that Mitte’s career is a constant and unerring stream of being thrust into martyrdom, of having everything he does tinged with the stark reality of his disability. Rather, much of his work couldn’t be further from it. You might recognise his smiling handsome face from a colossal poster at one of the Gap stores – modelling is another part of his career, as is almost anything with enough creativity and energy to satisfy him.

“I film and I audition like crazy,” he says. “I audition for all different types of movies and shows. I model and I do music – anything I can possibly do to constantly stretch that muscle and continually create something that’s fun and interesting and entertaining.”

I model and I do music – anything I can possibly do to constantly stretch that creative muscle

This includes stepping back from the juggernaut that was Breaking Bad and taking time to reassess. He works with friends on fashion startups in LA, as well as taking on roles in independent films, including the recent Dixieland and Who’s Driving Doug?. He works himself into the ground, which he puts down to nothing more than passion.

“I like to work; I like to film; I like to be busy. You saw my schedule earlier today – it’s 90 to nothing. I landed an hour or two ago and I hit the ground running; I slept all the way on the plane and slept in the car and I came straight here and we’re doing this today. I like to be busy. I like to work and to have fun and meet people and create things. Dixieland was a great opportunity because my character is not disabled. He’s this pimp drug dealer and he manages a strip club – it’s nowhere near any of the other characters I’ve played.

“I like being other people. I don’t like being me. I like to be these characters and I like to play and have fun and be a part of a crew and a cast and everything that’s going on. Like now,” he says, pointing around the Mondrian hotel suite in which we’ve set up a portable photo studio. “Running around and the crew setting up lights and moving furniture – it’s fun. If we didn’t do this, life would be very dull. I have a hard time staying in one place for too long and not doing anything fun or creative.”

Talking to Mitte, you get the impression that a huge factor in the boundless energy he has for his projects is his close-knit family. It’s what brought him to LA and gave him a career, and it’s also what seems to keep him grounded. In fact, even a casual question about watches (he likes Rolexes, especially those left to the family by his grandfather) is enough to make him orate on his parents’ influence. He tells me an anecdote from his childhood with a wry smile, recalling when burglars stole a Rolex from his parents’ hotel room.

“As they were robbing the room, my parents got back and saw they’d stolen this watch. My mom turned around and chased them for blocks – they all jumped in their cars and she was storming, cutting up streets chasing after these guys that robbed us. The cops ended up telling her it was a good thing she didn’t catch up with them because they do this a lot and they were armed. She had chased them for miles!”

Passion and impulsiveness are clearly characteristics that have been passed down. And perhaps the strong familial bond Mitte grew up with is part of the reason he felt so close to his castmates in the seven years he was on Breaking Bad, or why he feels so strongly about its story: “The main message in Breaking Bad,” he says, “is how far are you willing to go to provide for your family? Are you willing to sacrifice everything to provide for them? That’s what Walt ended up doing.

“He sacrificed everything to make sure his family had a better life. But at the same time, he destroyed his family – destroyed what they stood for, their beliefs, their faith in him – and that’s something that people can relate to. People can sympathise because people know this feeling, know this desperation and this doubt and this need to provide.”

With five seasons on one of the biggest TV hits ever, you’d expect Mitte has more than provided for his own family, and with a little less bloodshed than his on-screen father.

Whether he takes on another TV show, stays on the independent scene, or makes one of his many passion projects a full-time job, he’s already done his fair share of good, both for the legions of Breaking Bad fans and, more importantly, fellow sufferers of disabilities in the entertainment world and beyond. All by the age of 22, and all considering he didn’t even plan to be an actor. Let’s just say it was one of Hollywood’s happy accidents.

The full interview can be found in the May issue of Square Mile. To see if you qualify for a free subscription, click here