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Interview: 'Breaking Bad' star RJ Mitte to champion Paralympic hopefuls in Rio

Breaking Bad star RJ Mitte speaks to Sports Mole about changing the perception of disabilities ahead of the Paralympic Games in Rio.

A backdrop of blanket bans, budget cuts and poor ticket sales has dominated the headlines in the run-up to the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Following allegations of a state-sponsored doping programme, all Russian athletes were barred from competing at the Games by the International Paralympic Committee, while the economic turmoil in Brazil has led to financial challenges for those involved.

Amid all the negativity, American actor RJ Mitte - best known for his role as Walt Jr in award-winning TV series Breaking Bad - has provided a reminder that the Paralympics is about championing the "superhumans" among us.

The 24-year-old Louisiana native, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at the age of three, dedicates much of his time to trying to remove the stigma attached to disabilities, and he will be delivering that message as part of Channel 4's presenting team during the Games in Rio.

Channel 4 Paralympics presenter RJ Mitte© Channel 4

In an exclusive interview with Sports Mole, Mitte explained: "I did some work in the UK a couple of years ago and it kept evolving into this relationship with Channel 4. I'm excited, not many people get this opportunity and I was presented with the idea when I was trying to come up with something different to do, and when this came up I said, 'of course I'd love to do it. I would love to be part of a group like this with this type of project'."

In his own words, the Hollywood actor will be "everywhere and nowhere" as he gives viewers a behind-the-scenes insight into the sporting event, alongside host Clare Balding and the largest ever team of disabled presenters on UK television.

"It's amazing," said Mitte. "I'm lucky to be given this opportunity. I think everything happens for a reason and this is an extraordinary team of people who really care about the importance of changing the perspective of television and film in the media. We need to show more truth, more real people and I'm excited to be able to do that.

"You have a lot of people that are closed minded. We do have an obligation to show people on television and that's why I'm really excited about being part of this. This is going to give me an opportunity to highlight that and show real people doing extraordinary things.

"There's not much when it comes to showing Paralympic sports in the mainstream media. I think that Channel 4 has definitely pioneered the way of Paralympic sports when it comes down to [showing] the general public. They're definitely highlighting that, which is important, but [with regards] to the US, I haven't really seen too much coverage of Paralympic sports. I've seen a few, but it's not really on the same level."

Mitte rose to fame while playing the son of cancer-suffering drug lord Walter White for five seasons in an American TV series watched by millions around the globe.

The actor's status in Hollywood provides him with a platform to educate and encourage people to alter the perception of disabilities, and he believes that the men and women fighting for gold medals in the coming days prove why the stereotypes need to be quashed.

"I was very lucky being in Breaking Bad," said Mitte. "It gave me a career and I wouldn't be able to do what I'm doing today without it. It feels like it was forever ago and then sometimes it feels like it was yesterday, but for most of the time it definitely feels like it's been a while - time goes very quickly!

"I think it would be great if my image can help bring more of an awareness to the Paralympic Games, but I'm just hoping to be able to show people how amazing these athletes are and to highlight some of these challenges that will be along the way. We do need to show [the challenges], but they need to be shown in a positive manner.

"I don't think [that the Paralympics] raises [sport] in terms of admiration or inspiration, I think it raises [the awareness of] what we can do as human beings and shows the truth that is in all of us - if you want something, if you truly want to be that person and that is who you are, then you go for it and take it because nothing is stopping you. Nothing in the world can stop you if you truly want something."

Channel 4 has adopted the term 'superhuman' to describe the stars of the Paralympic stage, with Great Britain having plenty of gold-medal hopefuls, including swimmer Ellie Simmonds, cyclist Dame Sarah Storey, wheelchair racer David Weir and sprinter Jonnie Peacock.

"I think a number of things come into your mind when you think of 'superhuman', and that's exactly what these people are," said Mitte. "A lot of these Paralympians are breaking records. I think it's incredible to see these people really change the perception of what we hold ourselves to. There is a perception when you have a disability that you are lesser, that you are weaker, but that's a lie, it's not true. It actually makes you stronger and gives you more of an ability to do things that you wouldn't normally believe that you could do.

"There is a lot of turmoil in the world and the Olympics and Paralympics have the ability to bring the world together. We don't have many of these moments in this day and age that really unite the world and unite the people, but the Olympics and the Paralympics do that. I can only hope that [the Games] will continue to bring positivity and light to what this world is going through at the moment."

As well as getting to watch the action in Brazil, Mitte will join his fellow presenters in the studio and make appearances with Adam Hills on comedy talk show The Last Leg, which will be broadcast live from Rio every evening during the Games.

"I love The Last Leg guys, I think they do a great job at highlighting important issues. I'm so happy that I was able to meet these guys and share some amazing times and some amazing stories, and I can't wait to go on that [show]. They definitely burn the humour out. I think that's important when you have something that people don't want to talk about.

"A lot of people don't want to talk about disabilities. People are afraid to talk about disabilities, so to get people to talk about it, you do need humour, you do need joy, you do need laughter to break down that wall of stereotyping. People are fearful when it comes to disabilities, people think 'that could happen to me' and it can, but there's nothing to be afraid of, it's just a new way of life and a new adventure and I think we need to highlight that in a positive message."

Mitte was a sports enthusiast growing up as he played football, basketball, and American football among others, but his career took a very different path when he delved into the film and TV industry at the age of 12.

He has experienced first hand the cut-throat ruthlessness of Hollywood, and despite living in a digital age where we can connect with one another by the swipe of a screen, Mitte believes that people are experiencing more loneliness than ever before.

"People aren't always welcoming in this business, but as any new job you have to make the best of it," he said. "You have to work and if you want it, you have to take it and that's what I did. I just kept going and hoped for the best, and that's what I still do every day.

"There's definitely prejudiced people in this industry, there's definitely people that do stereotype and do isolate people, but that's not just in my industry, [it's in] all industries. We have more prejudice, we have more isolation, we have more segregation than ever before and I feel like most people feel more alone.

"We are connected on such a global scale on social media, but I feel like more people feel like they are alone and have no-one. You have a couple of thousand followers, but what does that mean? Does that really mean anything? We definitely have a lot more isolation, so we have to evolve from that and we have to use these Games to get people out and get people together and to show love to each other."

As an ambassador for United Cerebral Palsy and Shriners Children's Hospitals, Mitte is fully engaged with the everyday struggles faced by those with handicaps, and he has passionately called for more fairness in Hollywood.

"It really goes down to equality in this industry," he said. "It's sad but we don't really have equality in the industry - we do and we don't - we have a false sense of equality. When you have an uproar in the media, everyone ends up paying their publicists to make it all go away - that's how that works. It's sad, but that's a fact.

"It's like a bad kid - you can tell him no and then figure out a way to make it all better, but you still have to do that to get them to realise that that's what they need to do. That's not really what we need. We need them to come to the realisation on their own that this is a good idea and that there are stories that we need to highlight and there are people - men, women and children - that are superhuman, that are creating and making real stories and we have to change the perception and perspective of how we view each other. We have a long way to go."

The Paralympics will run from September 7 to 18 in Rio.

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Jonnie Peacock of Great Britain celebrates after winning mens 100m T44 final during day one of the IPC Athletics European Championships at Swansea University Sports Village on August 19, 2014
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