When you have a disability, a lot of people think ‘liability’,” says RJ Mitte.
“They see a disability as a weakness, an illness — something that needs to be fixed or cured.” The 23-year-old actor speaks from experience, having been diagnosed with the neurological condition cerebral palsy when he was three years old.
Doctors eventually discovered that RJ had not been breathing when he was born and needed to be resuscitated, leaving him with some permanent brain damage.
He wore a succession of leg braces throughout his childhood to stretch the ligaments and tendons, and was given intensive speech and occupational therapy; at home, his mother made him fold and unfold 40 towels at a time to improve his hand-eye coordination.
“A lot of people don’t want to hire disabled actors,” he believes.
“They think you’re going to take twice as long over a shot, or they don’t want have to put up a ramp for disabled access.
“With moderate physical training you can control anything in your body,” Mitte insists.
Fans, he tells me, are frequently surprised to find that, unlike his on-screen character, who also had cerebral palsy, which affects movement and co-ordination, Mitte walks without the aid of crutches.
“I was never allowed; my parents were very against it,” he explains. And disabled or not, when you rely on something, that is what will cripple you,” he asserts, breaking off to order a grapefruit juice.
“If it’s a pretty sketchy hotel, or motel, there’s probably some drugs in the carpet,” he insists, information which he has on authority from a friend in the District Attorney’s office, apparently.
As he strolls across the hotel lobby, his wavy dark hair still wet from the shower, tall and handsome in jeans and shiny black hi-tops, it’s not tricky to see why Mitte — full name Roy Frank Mitte III (the J comes from Jr) — has been recruited to model for the likes of Vivienne Westwood.