RJ Mitte: My Mother Never Let Me Use My Cerebral Palsy as an Excuse

(Image credit: Unknown)

Who do you most admire?

My mother. I’m grateful for the toughness she showed when I was growing up. She never let me use my cerebral palsy as an excuse, and she came up with lots of routines, like folding towels over and over again, to build up my co-ordination. If I said to her, “I want to try something new,” even if it was kind of dangerous or stupid, she would always say, “Fine, then do it.” If I failed, she would advise me how to struggle through, how to adapt, how to overcome the challenge.

I’m so grateful for that spirit she taught me, because in showbusiness there’s obviously a lot more “no” than “yes” to deal with.

Which teachers inspired you?

My best teacher was Tina Northway, but I don’t think anyone “inspired” me. I certainly didn’t look up to any actors and dream of being like them. At school, I got beaten up a few times, which included a few broken bones, but then my grandfather taught me how to fight. He was a marine, and he never allowed me to give me up.

His attitude was basically: “If you don’t win, I don’t want to hear you crying about losing. You lost because you chose not to try hard enough to win.” After that, I still lost plenty, but I never gave up. Being able to accept that you were defeated is a lesson, and to know that one fight is just part of a longer war. You can be knocked out and have a broken nose, but if you did your best, you know who you are and you can be proud. Integrity is about getting back up.

What do you think is great about the Paralympics?

I’m really happy about the “Superhumans” advert that Channel 4 made for the games, because it shows you can learn to do anything. Too many people in this world moan, “Oh, why is my life so hard?” without seeing that it’s actually the same for everybody in the world. If you’re not prepared to fight, then someone else will, and they will deserve success and happiness more than those who don’t.

And who is your favourite athlete?

Hannah Cockcroft, the wheelchair sprinter, is amazing. But I think a lot of new names are going to be breaking through into the mainstream this summer. Watch out!

Which actors do you like working with most?

On Breaking Bad, I enjoyed hanging out with Dean Norris, who played Hank, my character’s uncle. He was a crack-up, especially off the set. There was a great family feel to that show, with all the cast and crew. Away from work, I’m really good friends with Alfie Allen. We hang out occasionally, and get up to all sorts of fun. He is a hit with the ladies, but my game is simple. I’ll make an effort when I see a beautiful girl, but I figure they’ll either like me or not. I don’t try to be a big persuader.

Who is your best critic?

My mom and my sister. Everything I do in my career is so I am able to provide for them, and they can criticise me as much they like. So long as my laundry is done! On set, I actively encourage criticism. I like to have someone who can walk up to me and go, “That was horrible! What the hell were you doing?” You can only benefit from honesty.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learnt?

Be present. Pay attention to the here and the now. Everyone in this world who you come in contact with can teach you something. And vice versa, so be careful how you treat people and what side of yourself you show, because even if it’s only for a moment, they will get affected by you and carry it away.

Who is your favourite sportscaster?

I like to see people who are seasoned veterans of the sport they are talking about, and you can tell that they still have the passion for it, the love of the hunt, even though their knees have gone and they’re old and bald. I like watching Mexican soccer, where everyone goes crazy, and I go with my mom to watch UFC fights. Everyone is very proper in the ringside seats, but she’s screaming, “Kill him! Rip his head clean off!” We need more of that from sports.

Channel 4 will broadcast over 600 hours of the 2016 Paralympics across all platforms, building on the multi award-winning coverage of 2012 and continuing to transform perceptions of disability


Grub Smith contributed interviews and features to the print edition of Coach, which ran from 2015 to 2016.