The show was one of RJ’s his first real acting jobs and from the pilot to his work now, you can how he’s evolved into a really smart actor. He has teenage-smartass syndrome down to a science.
RJ’s also the national spokesman for I AM PWD, SAG, AFTRA and Equity’s joint program to bring awareness to actors with disabilities.
And, he’s probably always the coolest guy in the room. Read how he got the part on Breaking Bad. I guarantee you would not do the same thing if you found out you booked a series-regular role!
How does it feel to work on one of the best shows on TV?
It’s an amazing feeling. Any actor is lucky to work on any show. I’m just one of the very few to work on one of the greats. We have an amazing cast; I couldn’t have gotten any luckier to work with the amazing actors I do. It’s one of the best feelings in the world where you have any role, but especially one of these.
How much of you is in Walt, Jr? Because your character is pretty much a smart ass in the show. Did the writers take anything from you in your life?
Yeah … Well [LAUGHTER]. I would say I’m a smart ass but not too often. We mix it up a little bit. We’ve added some of my life into the character. Like, we changed the room around to be more like my room. Here and there, we’re slowly but surely morphing into a new character.
First of all it’s a fantastic cast you guys have got. You work really well with Bryan; what has he taught you from an acting standpoint?
Not just Bryan, but from everybody, you learn here and there, you learn different things. But this show—I’ve never really worked before on a set—so I’ve learned all different kinds of things. I can’t really say, because you learn so much and you pick up from your surroundings. It’s like subliminal messaging.
I read where Vince Gilligan said your acting gets better with every episode. Is it easier for you now or do you think you’re just more comfortable in front of the camera?
I can’t really tell you. I don’t watch myself on the show. I walk out of the room every time I’m on camera [LAUGHING]. I definitely have gotten more comfortable in front of the camera. It’s never an easy thing when you first start, because when I first started Breaking Bad, I had never been in front of the camera except for little here and there things, nothing major.
Do you watch the show? You just walk out when your character is on screen?
Yeah, pretty much. [LAUGHTER]
How did you go about getting the role?
I auditioned five times. I auditioned four times in LA, and then one time in Albuquerque. And the one time in Albuquerque, I started going against someone in Albuquerque.
So it was between you and somebody else?
It was. I think I met them in the lobby, or in the hotel that I auditioned in, in the conference room. But I literally walked in, did the audition, went up to my hotel room; I passed out and I got a call a couple hours later saying “You have the part. When do you think you can start working?”
Wow, what was that feeling like?
I said “This is amazing but I’ll be more surprised in an hour. Let me get some sleep!” [LAUGHTER]
Like, “you woke me up!”
Yeah, I was tired. I literally got on the plane at 6 in the morning and got there at 8. Went straight to the hotel, did the audition and went to my hotel room.
Most people would be up and pacing, and waiting for the phone call.
You can’t really do that because there’s always that one chance that it may not happen. So, I’ve always lived by “If I get it, I get it. If I don’t, I don’t.” And I was in the running, and that’s what matters.
You have cerebral palsy and so does your character. But your character’s symptoms are supposed to be worse than yours. You don’t even have to use crutches in real life, right?
And I read that you had to fight to get the part because of that, because your symptoms were much milder than your characters.
I kind of did. Since I don’t really use crutches and my character has more of a stutter, they really wanted someone that had a severe case of cerebral palsy. I did my best on trying to go back and remember what I had to overcome and bring that to the character.
When you get the script for the newest episode, what do you do, how do you go about and figure out what you’re going to do for each scene?
When I get a script, I found the best way for me—everybody has their own rituals—but I found the best way is I read it really fast, and then I have somebody else read it to me so I can hear it vocally in my head. I go through that and then I come out and dissect every scene. I go from there and just try to figure out how and what’s the right way to try to portray that role, that day.
On your hiatus from Breaking Bad do you look for more work or are you just hanging out and taking it easy?
I do a little bit of both. You’re always looking for more work, but I’m mostly relaxing. Tomorrow I’m flying to Philadelphia to go to Prom.
Oh wow, yeah?
Yeah, so it’s gonna be fun. And when I get back I go to DC for a conference. So, it’s work, but it’s more meetings and interviews, and that kind of work than on camera.
You’re also the spokesman for I AM PWD. Can you tell me about that?
It’s a training organization with all of the Guilds to bring awareness to people with Disabilities. That’s actually why I’m going to DC. I’m doing a little seminar with them, and interviews. It’s to bring awareness to people with disabilities in the acting industry. If you’re in a wheelchair and you can’t go up flights of stairs, how are you going to get to your audition? A lot of auditioning places have stairs and some people can’t access them. So, we’re trying to bring awareness to help make it easier on everybody, to see that everyone can do a part and not just one person. And just to bring awareness to people with disabilities.
How does it feel to be a role model, not only to young actors but to people with disabilities?
It’s fun. It’s definitely a great honor. Not a lot of people get to do what I do. I do my best at bringing awareness to any aspect of the industry and to help when I can.
What are your plans for the future? I heard that you want to direct.
I do. I want to try to get into directing. I want to direct, produce and do a couple other things. Directing is my main goal right now. I want to get into that.
Do you think you’ll get a chance to direct an episode of Breaking Bad?
I would hope so. That would be pretty amazing. You never know, anything could happen in Breaking Bad.
That is true, you have such a great show. The thing I like about it is you absolutely don’t know what’s going to happen.
That’s what I love so much about it. It’s so crazy. It’s a surprise every time you read the script.
What advice would you give to upcoming actors, especially performers with disabilities?
The best advice I can give is don’t give up on what you want. I think no one’s going to hand you your part. You have to take it and make it yours. Just keep going and don’t dwell on the audition. Once you leave that auditioning room you move onto the next.
Can you tell us what’s going to happen to your character in the final episodes?
It’s going to get pretty rough for the whole family. As you can see the stress between Walt, Jr and Hank is already getting pretty bad, like you saw in last weeks’ episode. So, like I said a minute ago, anything can happen. Just tune in and watch, and it’s going to get crazy.