Interview extra

RJ Mitte, Paralympics 2016August 25, 2016

He shot to fame as the breakfast-loving son of meth cook Walter White in Breaking Bad and, since then, he’s appeared in numerous music videos, modelled for Vivienne Westwood, and had several film roles. Now RJ Mitte is heading to Rio as part of Channel 4’s Paralympics presenting team. Born with cerebral palsy, the 24-year-old sports fan proved doubters wrong when they told him he’d never be able to play football…

Were you surprised when you were asked to be part of Channel 4’s team?
Yes and no. I was surprised that I would be doing this for British versus American television but I’m really happy to be able to be a part of this. Channel 4 has done wonders with the previous Paralympics so when I was able to join this team, I was ecstatic that I had this opportunity. Some of the wheelchair racers are killing it right now. They’re claiming their land and I’m excited to see how everything comes together.

Is presenting something you’ve done before?
I have done some live hosting work, but this will be my first time reporting. I’ve met with a coach who’s really good for seeing people for who they are, and finding their strengths and weaknesses. I’ve think I’ve got a good grasp of everything.  

Sport has played a large part of your life, but you were told you’d never be able to participate…
100 per cent. But yes I play American football and soccer! I play more and more soccer than anything. I played American football a bit but was always breaking or hurting something. Then I did quite a few seasons of soccer and some martial arts. But in the last couple of years I’ve been doing Olympic-style wrestling, and snowboarding. I love winter and summer sports. I like the outdoors, and I go camping and fishing. Sport is something we really need in this world to keep everyone sane. It makes us connect on such a ground level - no matter where you are, no matter who you are, no matter what language you speak, when you play a sport you can be on a team. It’s a universal language.

Martial arts feature in the Paralympics…
Yes, and you’ll have some people thinking that it might be hard to fight if, for example, you’re blind. But you don’t need eyes, you hear and you feel. It’s a physical sport and you can feel where that person is going to be, how they’re moving, how they’re pushing and pulling. I think that it’s a testament to the human condition of what our bodies can do when we remove one of our senses - how much you adapt and how much secret ability we have in ourselves that we can really transform into.

Will you be presenting every day, or will you get some time off to watch events and let your hair down?
All of the above! I will be letting my hair down but I’m fairly sure I’ll be at quite a few events. We’re still working out the schedule but I’m fluid – just put me where you need me. I haven’t been to Brazil yet and I’m really excited to experience the culture and the environment. I’ve been lucky enough to travel all over the world. There are different cultures but, at the same time, people are all the same. We all have the same goal and we all have the same type of drive and fight. I don’t care who you are or where you are, you still have that drive to live, and I want to explore. 

A lot of people seem to know more about the Olympics than the Paralympics. Do you have to strive that bit harder to get the message across?
You can make it patronising and you can make it contrived and play this sympathetic role but it’s not. Channel 4 does a good job at making it its own entity. It’s showing truth, raw and honest people. They may have these things that make them different from what people think is normal, but this is normal. This is how people are and the more we show that, the more people will get used to seeing truth in the human condition and what people are able to do. Athletes doing amazing things but you have Paralympic athletes cutting times in half. It is superhuman. These people may not have a limb, they may not have the mobility, but when it gets down to this craft, this art, they do it better than most.

You’ve also supported your family since you were quite young…
Yes, my mum and my sister still live with me. My mother was in an accident when I was young and she didn’t have a lot of mobility and couldn’t really lift my little sister when she was born, so I took a lot of the responsibility on. I still take care of them today, so it’s part of my life. They’re in my world and we are all given things that we have to learn. There’s always something new to worry about, not just about yourself but about your environment and there are things that you have to learn in your life and find what’s important to you. What’s important to me is my family.

You’ve also done a bit of modelling…
I’m actually going to see some of Vivienne’s [Westwood] people while I’m in London.

Is the modelling world an intimidating environment?
Yes, it is. I’m tall – 6ft 1in – but I’m not model tall. Models are like 6ft 4in, really skinny and lanky. My frame is perfect for sample size. I can walk in and take clothes right off the rack. But the modelling industry is very superficial because you’re dealing with a specific look and type. It’s a painting and models aren’t perfect. Being 6ft 5in and weighing 100 pounds is not my definition of perfect, and you can see the people who are corrosive. I’ve worked with a couple where I’m like, ‘Get away from me, I don’t want to be seen talking to you!’

You’re obviously a good judge of character then?
Well, you have a lot of good models in this industry that are good people. I’ve been lucky enough to work with a lot of amazing, amazing people who really enjoy what they do. The modelling world has definitely changed for the better. It’s evolved in the right direction. Models now are like athletes – they watch what they eat, they work out all morning, they go to their fittings, they work out after their fittings, they fast, they drink healthily, they eat healthily. They’re conditioned.

And the way you look has attracted a lot of attention. Is it true you’ve had marriage proposals on Twitter?
Yes, that happens but everyone gets proposed to in their life at one point or another! Dating is hard. My family and my business come first. When it comes down to dating and a social life, to a degree it’s separate and if you don’t fit in to wherever my category is, it’s kind of like you’re dating a 40-year-old married man with a kid.

And finally, because Walt Jr was always eating in Breaking Bad, what’s your favourite breakfast?
I’m a bacon guy. I love bacon.

Channel 4 & More4, starts Wednesday

Elaine Penn

Read more from your favourite stars