Go 'Inside Breaking Bad' at the Las Cruces International Film Festival
LAS CRUCES - There was chemistry on the stage Saturday afternoon at the Rio Grande Theatre as the Las Cruces International Film Festival broke bad.
The theater was nearly full of film lovers and fans of “Breaking Bad,” AMC’s Emmy Award-winning television series. The wildly popular show, which ended in 2013, was filmed and took place in and around Albuquerque.
That is why Ross Marks, the festival’s executive director, felt it was important to organize an “Inside Breaking Bad” panel for this year’s event, now in its third year.
“‘Breaking Bad’ was such a watershed, seminal show,” Marks told the Sun-News. “It really exploded the film industry in New Mexico. One of the goals of the festival is to try to grow film and television in Las Cruces and southern New Mexico,” adding that he wanted to show Las Cruces what a successful film or television series could do for a community.
Saturday’s panel featured five cast and crew members, including RJ Mitte, who played Walter “Flynn” White Jr. — the disabled teenage son of a high-school-chemistry-teacher-turned-drug-dealer, played by Bryan Cranston. Ursula Coyote, the production’s still photographer, participated, as did crew members from the show’s makeup, costume and arts departments.
An outspoken advocate
Mitte’s character on “Breaking Bad” suffers from cerebral palsy — as does the actor, though less severely than his character. He now serves as the spokesman for actors with disabilities, and is the Screen Actors Guild’s representative of “Inclusion in the Arts and Media of Performers with Disabilities,” which advocates for employing artists with disabilities.
Before Saturday’s panel, Mitte explained why the cause is so important to him.
“I think people with disabilities are under-credited, when it comes to who we are as human beings,” Mitte told the Sun-News. “I think of disabilities as something that will challenge us and push us as an individual. It’s a personal challenge, and I look at it as a strength, not a weakness.”
Between acting jobs, he currently travels the country six to eight months a year, speaking on the topic and advocating for people with disabilities.
Slow to catch on
The show, which was narrowly escaped being cancelled several times during its five-season run, was slow to catch on with fans, Mitte said. And he didn’t realize how popular it had become until after the series ended.
“The show had ended, it was the last year, and we were at Comic-Con,” he said. “We walked out to a room of, like, 7,000 people. It was just insane. That really solidified it. That’s when I realized the show has reach — but the show was already over.”
The show’s fan base has earned a reputation for being obsessive. When the show went off the air, fans placed an obituary for one of the show’s main characters in the Albuquerque Journal and staged a mock funeral featuring cast members. Last year — four years after the show had ended — the real-life owners of White family home, now a tourist magnet, had to build a fence around the property. Fans kept throwing pizzas on their roof, recreating a scene in the series.
It’s a level of fanaticism rarely seen outside of science fiction. “Breaking Bad” fans are smart and observant, Mitte said.
“We’re very lucky with the fans that we have, because they’re smart,” he said. “We have fans who care about the work, who care about the content. They’re still re-watching it. And we’re getting new fans every day. We’ve been off the air for four years, and the show’s still evolving.”
Fans, new and old
Many of those fans were in attendance Saturday, though others had never seen the show.
“I haven’t seen it, but I’m interested now,” said Pat Minjarez of La Union. “I came with a friend. I think it’s a really good thing for New Mexico, and I’m excited to see it.”
Others, like Las Cruces artist Erin Scott, were longtime fans of the show.
“It was nice to hear from the behind-the-scenes people,” she said after the panel. “Everyone has a different take on things. It caused me to think about different things, like the color palates across the story arcs, and things like that. I tend to notice stuff like that, so it’s nice to hear that those things are planned, even though people don’t notice it a lot.”
Advice to teens
Mitte also offered advice to teens with disabilities who are interested in pursuing an acting career.
“Sign up for acting classes, extra work, do it all,” he said. “Don’t let people limit you. Too many people let others tell them what they can or can’t do. You can. At the end of the day, you can do whatever you want. You just have to choose to.”
— Originally Published in the Las Cruces Sun-News, 03/12/18