By Ned Oliver (Richmond Times-Dispatch)
Growing up with cerebral palsy, RJ Mitte spent a lot of time in the hospital as a kid.
So when the “Breaking Bad” actor passed through Richmond this weekend, he said it felt natural for him to schedule a visit with patients at Hunter Holmes McGuire Veterans Administration Medical Center.
“It gets lonely and people want to talk, people want to share,” Mitte said. “Even though they see their same people every day — they see their friends, but it’s not like a new face.
“And in the world, we have new faces. We meet new people, and this is a way for people to kind of say hello to a new face and share a story and talk.”
And talk he did. He spent the better part of Sunday afternoon visiting with patients, prompting one nurse to remark how unusual it is for an actor or dignitary to come by the hospital without rushing through on a tight schedule.
Mitte played Walter White Jr. on the critically acclaimed “Breaking Bad,” which ran five seasons on AMC from 2009 through 2013 and was created and produced by Chesterfield County native Vince Gilligan.
That Richmond-area connection didn’t figure into Mitte’s visit. Instead, he said he was on his way to Washington, D.C., for charity and foundation work and decided to stop in Richmond to make an appearance at Kabana Rooftop downtown to raise money for Shriners Hospitals for Children.
At the veterans hospital, Mitte primarily was met by an older crowd that may not have been dedicated “Breaking Bad” fans, but clearly enjoyed the chance to talk to a friendly visitor.
Dipping in and out of hospital rooms, topics ranged from books to bills to vacations and medical problems.
Vashaun Perry, a National Guardsman from Yale, a small community in Sussex County, promised to check out the show as Mitte began making his way toward the door.
“It’s kind of my claim to fame,” Mitte said.
“I think I’ve seen some previews,” Perry said.
Johnnie Genske, who serves in the Air Force, said he watched the first episode of the series in preparation for the visit.
“It hooked me,” he said.
Mitte left him with three autographed pictures, happy to introduce the show to a new fan.
“For me, I’m here to connect with patients,” he said. “I want to hear from them. I’m not here just to talk about myself.”