Since landing a dream gig as Walter White Jr. in arguably the best series to hit television, RJ Mitte‘s professional career has catapulted to stratospheric heights. He’s been able to take advantage of his recognition from “Breaking Bad” to hone various talents, ranging from modeling to motivational speaking to live performing. Overcoming arduous odds against him, RJ is a living testament to the world that no matter what obstacle you may face, you can take control of your own destiny with the proper determination. Last Friday night, I caught RJ’s debut DJ show at NYC’s BB King Blues Club and was enamored by the massive energy and skill-set he displayed, especially given his lack of experience playing music for crowds. His DJ career is just getting started, and I have no doubt that he can accomplish mass acclaim in the years to come. Before RJ took to the stage, I had the good fortune to speak with him about his ambitions in the music industry as well as his unprecedented public influence.
So tonight is your first live DJ performance, what kind of software and equipment are you using?
I’m gonna be using a Traktor. I have a smaller one that I personally travel with, but one of my good friends DJ Mia who is opening up for me, she’ll be bringing an S4 controller so I’ll be using hers.
Do you have any nerves before getting on stage tomorrow, or have you learned to shake off nerves?
Definitely, I feel nerves. I’m really excited, you know I speak and work in front of a camera, and I’ve spoken to crowds of thousands and crowds of 30. But you always get a little nervous when you’re trying something new. I’m not a professional DJ and I’m not trying to be one. This is just an opportunity for me to change my routine and have some fun, and at the end of the day it’s an outlet to express myself. But beginning this is actually pretty scary to me.
That’s understandable, it’s a setting you’re just getting into now.
And this is a nice gig, it isn’t like a small show. So I know I have to bring it, and hope that people enjoy what I’m playing. Luckily it goes on late at night, and I go on around 1:20, so everyone should be nice and inebriated by that point. So that will work in my favor. *laughs*
When acting for TV, you never perform live in front of your audience. What’s the dynamic like when performing in front of a camera versus performing in front of a large crowd?
It’s really different, there’s no retakes and I can’t yell “cut” in front of a crowd. I find it a lot better to perform in front of a crowd because you know immediately on peoples faces what their reactions are and how they’re enjoying you, and you have the ability to do something about it. And that’s what I love, being in front of a crowd and having opportunities like this. The thing about film and television is that you perform and then six months later you find out how people liked it, but even then you can’t completely gauge peoples reactions.
Have you dabbled into music production?
Yeah I work on it, and I keep growing in skill, mainly thanks to a lot of my friends who are artists and musicians. I’m always looking to broaden the horizon as well as make sure I’m giving people a good product.
Do you know how to play any instruments?
I can play a few songs on piano. I would love to learn so many instruments, but due to my cerebral palsy my left hand is partially paralyzed, so I’ve been working on learning instruments, but it hasn’t really gone to my benefit. I’d have to use up a lot of my time to devote myself to do this, and I don’t really have the time to do it, but I’m working towards learning live instruments. I’m hoping that if my DJ shows go well and it becomes another aspect of what I’m capable of, I can eventually incorporate live instrumentation not just into my set, but into others as well.
So what music and artists have influenced you most into starting a DJ career?
Well I listen to a variety of music, from rock, old school hip-hop, reggae, dubstep, trance, tech, house. I listen to everything and anything. In fact, right now in my setlist I have eight hours of music and I’m just staring at it trying to figure out which I play first. I’ve seen artists such as Motley Crue, Hollywood Undead, Jay Z and 5 Seconds To Summer. The things that inspire me about music is how it puts emotion into people. You’ll feel an emotional response to music almost instantly, it takes two seconds of a song to know what that song is and what emotion you’ll be getting.
Have you been to any music festivals recently?
Yeah I’ve been to a bunch of festivals. I’m originally from Louisiana, so I’ve been to Jazz Fest quite a few times. I went to SXSW a few years ago. I went to Coachella, mainly to go to a giant party happening there. I went to the event and saw my friend DJ there then headed back home at 3 in the morning. I love going to events and seeing what music does to groups of people.
What I love about music is how it builds communities.
It really does, it builds a community. But the sad thing is you have a lot of artists that are just lacking. I listen to a lot of older music, which to me had a lot more realism and a lot more soul, and those artists had a lot more hardships than many artists have today. I kinda stick back to older music because of that. There’s so many interesting routes now and artists are constantly creating new beats. We have so much access now and all these different technologies you can utilize to create new sounds, and I’m so fascinated by all of it.
Definitely. If you think about it, acoustic instruments have defined sets of sound, and there’s only a specific set of sounds that can come from a specific instrument. With electronic production, the sounds you can make are literally infinite.
It really is infinite. And the thing is, with guitar and drums and all that, there’s so many different modifications that we now have. You can put these instruments through a filter, and you can create sounds no one’s ever heard before. I have so much respect for all of that, and I’m learning more and more how to do stuff like that as I go.
If you could give yourself advice ten years ago before the “Breaking Bad” casting, what would you tell yourself?
Don’t do it, run! I’m kidding in my own way when I say that. I would warn myself about getting into the industry that I’m in, cause once you get in this business you’re never able to really leave this business. Once you’re in it and you have the media, you become a product. You can loose a piece of yourself, and you have to constantly keep yourself in check.
It must challenge you to how you view yourself.
Yeah well I love what I do, there’s just upsides and downsides to this business and the business is addicting. Once you’re in it and you work on the set and you work with a crew, you see people making amazing pieces of art and work. This goes for anything, from acting, modeling, producing, all aspects of the industry. Once you’re behind it and working it, you’re apart of amazing things and you just want more.
I find that there’s two aspects in the industry. There’s the creative spectrum, where people are making amazing works of art for people to enjoy, and then there’s the business side, where things are more cut-throat and it’s about making profit. It’s interesting to see how this is a similarity within these industries.
Yeah it really is. There’s so many interconnected lines it’s all really the same industry, people are just using a different tool of your body as to what you can do.
It all boils down to one type of business, and that is performing and being an entertainer.
At the end of the day that’s what it gets down to.
I read in one of your interviews that you only watched the first episode of every Breaking Bad season. What do you think was the reason you didn’t watch each episode?
I’ve only seen the first episode of every season, and the series finale. It’s just not my thing, I’ve read it and I know it, but I don’t like to see myself speak or act, that’s not how I do my work.
I get that. I don’t ever want to see how I dance, because if I saw how I dance I might never dance like myself again.
I’m somewhat self-conscious in everything I do, so I just don’t care to see it.
Suppose you never got the role in "Breaking Bad," do you think you would’ve continued to pursue acting? Or do you believe you would’ve moved onto another outlet?
If it weren’t for “Breaking Bad,” I probably wouldn’t be in this industry. “Breaking Bad” gave me a career and an opportunity to do things in this industry. I wouldn’t be playing a massive DJ show if it weren’t for what “Breaking Bad”’s opened me up to. I’ve always been doing a lot of philanthropic work, so I think I would’ve worked more heavily in the philanthropic industry. But I wouldn’t be able to have the opportunities I have today and reach people I’m able to reach without “Breaking Bad.” My favorite episode of the show is the Pilot and the reason why is because it really made me want to be an actor and become part of something much bigger than myself.
With the massive success and notoriety you’ve gained in the past decade, how do you keep yourself grounded from letting it all get to your head and going overboard?
I have a lot of responsibilities, I take care of my mom and my sister and at the end of the day if I mess up, it doesn’t just affect me, it affects my family. I go out and have a great time but I’m smart about it and don’t let myself get carried away. I remind myself that I am a public figure, and people hold me to a higher regard, so I have to hold myself to a higher caliber. If I do mess up and people video tape it that messes up what I stand for and what I’m capable of. I think a lot of people in this industry get blinded by something they think is real and it’s not. Fame is fickle and weak and it doesn’t exist. It’s gone before you even knew you had it. People get so caught up in themselves and don’t think about the effects they have on others. I have a tendency to think too much on the effect I have on others, and I think it’s something people should just forget about and push to the side and don’t hold it to a standard.
It seems like that whole world is extremely glorified and is made out to be something better than it really is.
On the outside of the industry you see the glitz and the glam and the shine on top, but what you don’t see is the rust. It may look pretty on the surface level but there’s a lot of rust when you delve into it.
Thanks so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to chat about your career and musical endeavors. I know you’re gonna kill it at the show, and I can’t wait to see more of your work!
Thanks man, cheers!
Words and interview by Julian Rodriguez
Performance photo by Good Looks New York