'Chill' out over the chair, says 'Brothers' star Mitchell
He uses a wheelchair to get around the set of his new Fox comedy "Brothers." As far as Mitchell is concerned, that's the only thing that's different about his life. He doesn't want to be defined by the chair — especially when it comes to acting.
"I was an actor first before I was a disabled actor. Just because you are standing up doesn't mean you can act. If they didn't give a person a chance in a wheelchair to come in there and to prove that they can produce, then I would have an issue with that," Mitchell says after an early morning script read for an upcoming episode at the Sony Pictures Studios stage.
The brothers in the show's title are played by Mitchell and former NFL standout Michael Strahan. Mitchell's character owns a restaurant that capitalizes on his brother's pro football days. Circumstances have forced both brothers to move in with their parents (CCH Pounder and Carl Weathers).
Mitchell doesn't want to be given special treatment or to get passed over because he is in a wheelchair. All he asks is to be given the opportunity to audition like any other actor.
"I think a lot of people gave me a shot just out of respect. And when I got in the room, they saw that I was ready to go. I was ready to go to war. So a lot of times roles weren't even written for me. They changed a whole character just so I could be in the show."
There's no mercy when it comes to wheelchair jokes in "Brothers." Mitchell figures if you don't laugh you'll cry, and he chooses humor. He finds when he makes jokes about the wheelchair others are more comfortable.
"People associate the wheelchair with being a liability instead of an asset. So when you come in and let everybody know I am just as human as the next person — I drink, I have sex — then the wheelchair starts disappearing," Mitchell says.
Mitchell found inspiration in actor Christopher Reeve, who was paralyzed from the neck down in a horse-riding accident. Reeve told Mitchell the worst thing he could do was try to deal with his paralysis by himself.
That's why Mitchell chases an acting career with the same fervor as before the accident, when he appeared in "House Party," "Boomerang," "Sgt. Bilko," "The John Larroquette Show," "Veronica's Closet" and "Galaxy Quest.
The accident occurred while Mitchell was on the NBC series "Ed." When he was able to return to work, the producers changed the character. Since the accident he has continued to work appearing on the TV series "Eve," "The Suite Life of Zack and Cody" and "The Game" plus the feature film "Inside Man."
As for his current role, Mitchell thinks he and Strahan make a great pair.
"He's a retired football player. I'm a guy with disability. It was like he made me whole, and I made him human. I made him accessible. ... I got a brother that's either going to defend me or get that can of soda that I can't reach," Mitchell says. "But at the same time, if you see him pushing me through the mall, it's like a dude in the park with a puppy. So that's what made it cool."