RJ Mitte points out that with “Who’s Driving Doug” he’s technically another imposter. There’s been a move away from casting actors for ethnicities or sexualities or disabilities that they are not; when “The Danish Girl” was coming out, there was furor that the cisgender Eddie Redmayne was playing one of the first trans people. Meanwhile Mitte, now 23, thinks everyone assumes that, since he has a mild case of cerebral palsy, he’s right to play the lead in “Doug”: a young man with muscular dystrophy.
“I’m in the exact same boat. I don’t know anything about muscular dystrophy,” Mitte tells us. “I play a character with a disability; it just happens to not be my disability. No one ever thinks about it like that. They assume all disabilities are the same. They think they all go through the same things. They don’t. [Each disability] is unique in their own way. That’s something we have to evolve from.”
Mitte is most famous for playing Walt Jr., the son of Bryan Cranston’s chemistry teacher-turned-meth lord on “Breaking Bad.” For that show Mitte had to remember what it was like when his cerebral palsy was more intense. Even before filming he had learned to walk without crutches, and today he only sees doctors for check-ups.
“These days CP doesn’t hinder or affect my life, other than I just have to exercise,” the actor explains. “But that’s just part of getting older. I feel like I have the body of a 50-year-old man, pretty much. I’m just falling apart slowly but surely.”
For “Who’s Driving Doug” he had to play someone whose condition confines him to a wheelchair and makes speaking, even eating cumbersome. “With CP I know what that’s like. I live with it every day. Muscular dystrophy, that’s nothing like having cerebral palsy. It’s a completely different disorder,” Mitte says. “I’m all for actors without disabilities playing disabled characters. But if you’re going to do it, do it where it’s accurate and honest and truthful, not just to the [disability] but to the character. You have a lot of actors who only play to the [disability]; they don’t play to the character.”