It's been a rough few years for Kenneth Mitchell. The Star Trek: Discovery star opens up about being diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as ALS, in the summer of 2018.
According to the Mayo Clinic, ALS is "a progressive nervous system disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, causing loss of muscle control."
Mitchell, whose mother has multiple sclerosis, says he first noticed the symptoms in August 2018 when he felt a constant twitching in his muscles that he assumed was a pinched nerve or possibly MS.
"The moment that they told us it was [ALS], it was like I was in my own movie,” Mitchell recalls during an emotional interview for People. "That’s what it felt like, like I was watching that scene where someone is being told that they have a terminal illness. It was just a complete disbelief, a shock."
Mitchell says the diagnosis forced him and his wife, Susan, along with their two children, 12-year-old Lilah and 7-year-old son Kallum, to greatly change their lifestyle and focus.
"I think it, over time, became the theme of us accepting this with grace," Mitchell says. “Trying to see the beauty in it, in a way."
The actor says he even leaned on one of his Star Trek: Discovery co-stars. "They had dealt with some trying times with illnesses and stuff, and I remember them communicating to me, saying, ‘You have a choice. You can look at this in many different ways, but maybe try to look at this like a gift where you get to experience life in a way that most people don’t.'"
Mitchell and his wife made it a goal to have as much family time as possible while he also dealt with how ALS would affect his career. The actor says he turned down a lead part on a TV show because it would mean he'd have to move his family to Newfoundland.
"We realized it wasn’t right for me health-wise and emotionally to move away from my family just to go work on this project," he shares. "That being said, I wanted to see it through. I cared about the people and I cared about the show and the character that I created. Being lead of the show, I really wanted that responsibility. But in the end, it just wasn’t the right thing to continue on."
In addition to Star Trek: Discovery, Mitchell currently stars on The CW's Nancy Drew and says the production team has been very accommodating of his condition.
"We use the double, the stunt double, the body double, punching and on closeups, and medium shots with me. Or my shots will be me, the scenes will be me seated or leaning up against something. They just make it work," he says. "They do it in a way that they don’t ever make me feel like I’m dragging things out or a hindrance or anything. It always makes me feel like I’m still an asset. That’s really empowering."
As for other roles, Mitchell -- who's been using a wheelchair since October 2019 -- says The Old Man show, with Jeff Bridges and John Lithgow, made a part just for him. He's playing "an FBI agent and I got to be in this chair."
"It was just really liberating and freeing to not have to hide what was happening to me," he says of the role. "It was at that point forward, I was like, 'Yeah, I’m ready for this. I think this is the direction I should continue to take.'"
"I’m just getting more comfortable with what’s happening with me," Mitchell adds. "...I can’t hide it anymore. ...I just feel like it’s time that I get out there and be a voice."