Published in the summer 2011 issue of MyLIFE magazine
PHOTOGRAPHY BY CHAD KOERBER
Some of us dream of making it big in Hollywood. Others fantasize about playing on stage in a rock band. Still others daydream about becoming a professional racecar driver. And then there’s Frankie Muniz, who, at the age of 25, has already done it all.
In most circles, Muniz is best known as Malcolm in the long-running hit TV series Malcolm in the Middle. He also has starred in numerous films, including My Dog Skip and Agent Cody Banks and has lent his voice to characters in animated films such as Racing Stripes and The Legend of Secret Pass. And, in a departure from his typical good-guy role, he portrayed a serial killer in a 2007 episode of the TV show Criminal Minds.
“I had such a great time doing that,” he told MyLIFE about his role on Criminal Minds.
Yes, Hollywood has been good to Frankie Muniz, but after more than a decade in showbiz, he decided to take a break from acting and try his hand at another of his passions: open-wheel racing.
Many actors might be hesitant to walk away from acting while they’re on top, but Muniz said he didn’t really make the decision based on what impact it would have on his career. Instead, he thought of it this way: “I’ve done [acting] for the last 12 years, and I have the opportunity to pursue another one of my dreams, my passions, which is driving racecars professionally, and I’m gonna go do it.”
He said he had to choose between the two because they’re both full-time jobs and because “nobody will insure you [as an actor] … when you’re racing cars.”
“I wanted to pursue racing and see where I could get. To do that, I had to put acting on the side,” he said, adding that he was ready to do something new at that point.
Muniz said he has “always been obsessed with cars.” He can remember waking up early on Sunday mornings when he was much younger and turning on Formula 1 and IndyCar racing. He said he didn’t really know what it was all about at the time, but he liked watching.
In 2004, he was able to participate for the first time in the annual Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race in Long Beach, Calif. The next year, among the celebrities who competed in the 10-lap race, Muniz took first place. He said when he crossed the finish line and knew he’d won, he’d never felt that much joy in his life.
“It was the greatest feeling I’d ever felt,” he said with a huge grin, “and I’ve experienced some really cool things.”
“I was like, I love this! I want to do it!”
Jensen Motorsport approached him after that and asked him to race professionally for them. He signed a two-year deal with Jensen, and during that time, he raced in the Formula BMW USA championship and in the Champ Car Atlantic series. More recently, he drove for the Pacific Coast Motorsports/US RaceTronics team.
He was in fourth place in the championship points in 2009 when he shattered his hand in a crash while racing. The ligaments connecting to his thumb were all torn, and a bone in his thumb was chipped as well. He underwent surgery knowing that the recovery process would take an extremely long time.
“I still want to continue racing. It’s just, uh, I gotta get healthy,” he told MyLIFE.
“There’s still more unfinished business I want to get back and do, but the days aren’t long enough,” he said. “I need more time.”
Not satisfied with “just” his accomplishments on camera and on the racetrack, Muniz also plays the drums in an Arizona-based band called You Hang Up. When asked about the name of the band, he confessed with a laugh that it came from the playful banter that callers sometimes engage in: “You hang up.” “No, you hang up.” “No, YOU hang up.”
Muniz described You Hang Up as a pop rock/Top 40 rock band that plays the kind of music that “everyone can enjoy. It’s pop-y enough that it could be played on the radio, but rock-y enough to where people who like rock music would like it.”
The band has been touring this year and has done several shows with the Plain White T’s and 2010 American Idol winner Lee DeWyze. The four members of You Hang Up just finished recording their first full-length album earlier this year.
We asked Muniz about learning to play the drums from Zac Hanson, of the ’90s pop group Hanson. He confessed that he was a “huge Hanson fan” back before his stint on Malcolm began, and he thought it was cool that these kids who were his age were making hit music. He wanted to play music like that too, so he watched Hanson music videos and taught himself to play the drums.
Later, he had the chance to meet the Hanson brothers and became good friends with Zac Hanson. He even went on the road with the Hansons for a while and continued to hone his skills under Zac’s tutelage.
“I learned a lot of what I know behind the drums from [Zac], for sure,” Muniz said.
PHOTO BY MCKAY JAFFE
While talking about the band, Muniz plugged the company that made his drums, SJC Custom Drums, with obvious enthusiasm. “You … tell them what you want, and they can do anything.”
Fans who want to see more of Muniz on the screen will be happy to know that he hasn’t put his acting days entirely behind him. He played the title role in Pizza Man, a small, independent movie filmed last year about a pizza delivery guy who becomes an unlikely superhero.
Muniz said he had “an amazing time” making the movie. “I came home from the set one day and I went, ‘Wow. I think I’m supposed to be acting!’” He said he believes Pizza Man is close to getting distribution worldwide.
He also has two other movies lined up, which are to begin filming later this year.
When asked if he had ever thought about getting into directing or producing, he said he never did while he was on Malcolm, that he always enjoyed just being in front of the camera. While filming Pizza Man, though, he discovered that he would like to take a shot at directing because it would give him the chance to implement some of his own ideas—to see his vision, as he put it.
Muniz talked about the differences between performing for the camera and performing his music. He explained that with acting, you can spend 15 or 16 hours a day filming and then it’s months, or even a year, before the finished product is aired. “You don’t really get any of that gratification from the fans like you do when you’re playing live music,” he commented. “When we go and play shows, you see people enjoying it right then, and you get the energy from them.”
We asked him if he ever feels locked in by being so well-known as Malcolm. He told us he was fortunate in that he was always working on movies during his hiatuses from the TV show, which gave people a chance to identify him with other characters. Nonetheless, he said if he is remembered as Malcolm for the rest of his life, “that’s still pretty cool. … The fact that people can remember me as something, that’s a good thing.”
Technology touches everyone’s life these days, and Muniz is certainly no exception. He shared with MyLIFE how technology is integrated into all areas of his professional life.
In terms of his acting career, he noted that everything is now digital. “I watch movies from 10 years ago, and the CGI looks so fake in comparison to now,” he remarked. “We turned on Ratatouille the other day, and we’re like, ‘How is this a cartoon? How is this not real? The hair looks so real on the rat!’”
Technological advances in filmmaking are good and bad, Muniz believes. They’re good in the sense that it makes the movie more enjoyable to watch, he said, but bad in the sense that you can’t watch older productions because they now look so fake.
With regard to racing, he remarked that “racing is technology.” Manufacturers are developing all sorts of components to make the cars go faster, he explained. As an example, he said hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent to develop a front wing that will create more downforce.
“The cars I was driving had 430 different sensors, so as I was driving my engineer could be looking at the live data on his computer to see everything—my steering input, how hard I’m hitting the brakes, fuel, oil temp,” he told us. He also noted that efforts have been made to ban some of the technology, in an attempt to slow down the cars.
As far as playing music goes, Muniz said You Hang Up plays to live backing tracks, and he’s in charge of that. He described for us how he runs the tracks from his MacBook into a small mixer and then into a wireless in-ear system. “There’s a lot of electronic components that go into making the live show happen,” he noted.
Having recently completed his first full-length recording with fellow You Hang Up band members, Muniz was noticeably impressed with what recording engineers can do these days. “They can cut anything they want, you know, just on the computer, two clicks, and make it sound like something completely different.”
He commented about the enormous amount of progress that’s been made in technology in the last 10 years compared with the 2,000 years before that and said he’s eager to know what it’s going to be like 10 years from now.
Just for kicks, we asked him to choose the one gadget he couldn’t live without. Despite all of the highly technical gadgetry he’s been exposed to in his many endeavors to date, he laughed and gave us a surprisingly simple response.
“This is going to be really cheesy, but … a microwave … ‘cause everything I eat is microwaved!”
With all of the changes Muniz has made in the last decade, we wondered what might lie ahead for him.
“Right now my focus, it kind of changes every six months,” he admitted, “‘cause there’s so many things I want to do.”
“I want to pursue the band, I want to pursue racing, I’m getting back into acting and … I want to be on the PGA Tour, so I’m trying to play golf at least three times a week.”
“I like keeping busy. I don’t like having any time off. I don’t like sitting at home. I don’t want to waste any time. I want to experience as much as I can in my life.”
Clearly, he’s doing everything he can to make that happen. Muniz considers himself extremely lucky because he’s had the opportunity to follow his dreams, to do everything he’s wanted to do.
“There’s no point in living your one life just floating … you know, doing [only] what you need to do. I’m so happy, and that’s one thing I want to get across.”
He said people might think he has switched from one career to another because he couldn’t make it at whatever he was doing at the time, but that’s simply not true. He made it clear that he’s doing exactly what he wants to be doing.
“I love it. I’m having fun. I hope people maybe look at me and go, ‘You know what? I want to do that! I want to set goals and go and get them.’ … That’s what I’m doing, and I’m having the time of my life doing it.”
As the interview drew to a close, he offered a few simple words of advice to anyone who cares to heed them:
“Enjoy your life,” he said. “Be happy. Have fun.”
And there you have it. Pearls of wisdom from the one who once was in the middle but now blazes ahead, going after whatever it is he wants.
To see the complete interview between MyLIFE TV’s Cathy Rankin and Frankie Muniz, go to mylifemagazine.com/frankiemuniz-interview.