TV's Newest Wunderkind on Girls, Golf and Being a Boy Genius by Bridget Byrne | January 18, 2000
When the unconventional family sitcom Malcolm in the Middle bowed on January 9, more than 22 million tuned in, making it Fox's most successful debut since The Simpsons 10 years ago. Indeed, the show is hot, and Frankie Muniz, the 14-year-old who plays the genius-who-just-wants-to-be-a-kid title character, is even hotter.
The Wood Ridge, New Jersey, native (he'll take an L.A. apartment with Mom during taping) was inspired to act after seeing his older sister, Cristina, in a regional production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Without any formal training, he's worked extensively in commercials, movies and stage. He's a straight-A student with a natural knack for just about anything that interests him, be it acting, golf or playing drums. (Kinda makes you hate him already.) And with a starring role in the just opened big-budget film My Dog Skip, it's a safe bet Muniz won't be in the middle for long.
Word has it that when you came out of the audition for Malcolm in the Middle, you gave a thumbs-down to your mother. Why was that?
The character was supposed to be 9, so I just thought I was way too old--13 playing a 9-year-old. But they've changed it to 12--or not really made it a set age.
Is it easier playing a younger kid than playing your own age?
Well, I guess so. You know, because I have gone through that time instead of having to play going through it. So, yeah, I guess so. It's easier now that I'm older, and I guess I am smarter. Malcolm's a child genius.
Are you at all like him in real life?
In first grade, I was doing fourth-grade work. But I'm not a genius, just a little ahead.
You said when you heard how great the ratings were, you were jumping up and down on the bed at a Hilton hotel. I hope they're not going to charge you for damage to the springs! Had you been worried about how the show would do?
You know, I guess I really wasn't worried. Everyone I showed it to--like our neighbors--they all liked it. I would think they would just go, "Oh, okay, I liked it." But they REALLY, REALLY liked it--I think because it's more real. It's not like a perfect TV family, it's something they can--what's the word?--identify...yeah, people can identify with it.
Yet it's very different from your own family. Your parents are separated; you, your mother and your sister share a house with your grandparents. You don't even have any brothers, but you play one of four boys. Is that difficult to relate to?
Not really. You know, I've always been around a lot of other kids, and me and my sister fight at times.
Speaking of your sister, I hear you had seen her in a play and that was what inspired you to act.
That was pretty much it, I guess. I saw her, and it looked really, really enjoyable. But, actually, I don't think I said anything until the next thing came up, which was A Christmas Carol. My sister wanted to audition, and I asked if I could, too. I played Tiny Tim.
How old were you?
I was nine.
So, then what happened?
Well, during the rehearsals, an agent was watching and asked my mom if I wanted to start doing commercials and stuff, and I signed. I did about 20 commercials in North Carolina and some in New York, and I did TV movies, like What the Deaf Man Heard [with Matthew Modine, James Earl Jones and Bernadette Peters] and To Dance with Olivia. I get shot in the beginning of that one.
What the Deaf Man Heard
To Dance with Olivia
You've just made the movie My Dog Skip. What was it like to work with a dog?
He was awesome, and he was really well trained. Working with him was really cute. Really cool.
My Dog Skip
Do you have any pets?
I have one cat. His name is Pumpkin. He's a traveling cat. He comes out here with us.
Sounds like you've got a pretty busy schedule. What do you do when you're not working or in school?
I've been golfing since I was five. I love it. It's fun to play, relaxing. My grandfather taught me to play, but now I can out-drive him because he's getting older--but he doesn't mind.
Frankie on the golf course
Golf's very revealing of people's character.
I guess so. When I do do bad, sometimes I get angry. But then I say, "Oh well, hit the next shot." Because if I do stay angry, then I won't hit the ball well again all day. So, I'm learning not to stay angry.
I gather you're good at math. Is that your favorite subject?
No, geography is.
I just like learning about different countries and people and governments. I'm planning to travel. I love looking at maps. I'd like to be a geographer one day, maybe.
Malcolm and his brothers don't behave terribly well. You seem very well behaved. What's the worst thing you've ever done?
[Long pause.] In kindergarten, there was this kid who sat next to me on the schoolbus, and he was really old. He used to make me say all these bad words, and I would get into trouble. I was, like five, so I didn't know what they meant.
What's your favorite TV show? Shasta McNasty, though I think it may have been canceled.
Actually, I think they renamed it Shasta and put it back on the schedule. What kind of music do you like?
Anything except rap. I play the drums.
What was your favorite movie this year? Anna and the King.
Well, the way things are going with your career, you'll have plenty of burgers for a long time to come. Did you think about fame when you first started?
I think I just thought about the acting in the beginning.
And is this what you thought acting would be like?
I guess so. It's really awesome, you know. I really love it.
Are you worried about all the attention you're going to get, especially from girls? Do you have a girlfriend?
No. Maybe if I stay in one place. I think it's unfair to the girl, because I'm always moving all over the place.
Have you received fan mail yet?
I've gotten a couple of letters, and my grandma says there are letters waiting at home. [Laughs.] People have asked me for my hair!
Before the show started, they had billboards up and commercials on TV. I was on the subway in New York and I asked my mom, ''Why is everyone staring at me? Is there something on my face?'' Finally, someone said, ''You're going to be on that show, Malcolm in the Middle. '' It was the first time I got recognized and it was the coolest feeling in the world. Once the series began, I was 13 and so excited just to be on a set. Child labor laws allow you to work only five hours a day, and I was so mad when they'd make me be done for the day. I never really felt nervous, other than when they made me walk around in my tighty-whities the first season. After that, I didn't allow it. I was like, boxers or nothing. Boxers, or I'm going in my trailer.
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16: Who are some of your favorite actors?
I've always liked Val Kilmer, I don't know why. But ever since I saw him in "Batman" he's been one of my favorites. And I've tried to see everything he's done since then. I also like Leonardo DiCaprio, because it seems like all of a sudden he just popped into the world. He's been acting for a while, but all of a sudden he became this big cool superstar.
16: Have you watched him on the reruns of the sitcom "Growing Pains" when he was just an actor about your age?
Oh yeah, and I think he was even so cool way back then.
16: What advice do you have for kids who want to be a performer like you?
If you want to get into show business you have to be ready to work hard and never give up. You might not get every job you try out for, but there's something out there for you. I went through over 30 auditions before I got my first job.
16: How old were you, and what was your first job?
I was eight, and I played "Tiny Tim" in "A Christmas Carol".
16: Are school plays a good place for kids who want to act to start?
Oh, yes! I did that, and I'd encourage all the kids who want to see if acting is for them to participate in school plays. I didn't even know I wanted to act until I did a few school plays. And I guess you could say that eventually lead to this, "Malcolm in the Middle".
16: You've got your own TV show, you've done movies and appeared on the Broadway stage, which do you enjoy the most?
I think I like television a lot better than the others. I mean, sure I love theater and performing in front of an audience like that and stuff. But it's really fun doing TV performing in front of the camera because you can try different things to make stuff funnier.
16: When you're not performing, what do you like to do to relax?
I play basketball. With baseball, I used to be the catcher, but now I play centerfield. I'm an okay hitter. I used to play football, but I'm too small for my team now. I skateboard, play tennis. And I'm pretty good at golf. I have a special set of golf clubs made for my size.
16: What kind of music do you put on when you kick back?
I like rock-ish alternative mostly. I like a lot of non-known groups like one called "Simon Says". I get their singles and I listen to them and I really like them, but I don't think they're too popular anywhere but with me.
16: What did you do last summer before you started work on "Malcolm in the Middle"?
Well, I did the play from May until the end of June. And then I had a month off before we started filming, so we didn't go anywhere, I just hung out with my friends because I knew it would be a long time until I would see them again. We played all kinds of sports and stuff, just about everything.
16: Do you have a favorite vacation spot?
I haven't really been too many places. So I guess I'd have to say I enjoy it here in L.A.
16: What do you like to do in L.A.?
When it's basketball season I like to go to Clipper games, because the Clippers are my team.
Frankie in an LA Clippers jersey
16: What is the one thing in your closet that you can't live without?
There's this one hat that I got when my dad took me to a hockey game, right before I got my first job. And I got it and I wear it almost everyday. It says "Raleigh Ice Caps", it was a minor league hockey team in North Carolina. I wear it all the time, even though it looks awful. It's terrible, the brim is broken and cracked. But it is my favorite! I love it and I'll never give it up.
Last edited by Richiepiep; Nov 9, 2014 at 07:04 PM.
Tonight we are chatting with Frankie Muniz from the new hit series "Malcolm in the Middle" and the upcoming film "My Dog Skip." Welcome, Frankie! Thanks for coming tonight!
Thanks for having me. Hi, everyone.
I read the recent article in Entertainment Weekly and thought it was interesting that you didn't think you got the role. Any thoughts on that?
Well, the reason I didn't think I got it was I was the oldest one there. The other kids were 9 and 13, and I didn't think I got it. We were back at the hotel, and two minutes later I got the call. It was so cool. We were jumping on the bed.
Hi, Frankie -- I think you have a real gift for comic timing. Where did you develop such a talent at such a young age?
I'm not really sure. This is going to sound braggy, but I guess it's just natural. I've never taken an acting class and no one in my family has acted. I guess it's just good writing, I guess.
Question: Hi there. I saw the premiere episode and I thought it was great! What town is the show set in?
There is no set town yet, but Linwood Boomer, the creator, doesn't want to give a set town. If we put it in the South, there is no snow; in the North can't be 110 degrees. It isn't set yet, but will be soon.
Frankie -- hey there! How are you similar to the character of Malcolm?
This is going to sound really weird again. Before I auditioned, I hadn't read the script. I didn't know he was a genius or that the family was weird. I was just myself. I think me and Malcolm are pretty close, but I'm not a genius.
Frankie, what is it like working with the other cast members on "Malcolm in the Middle"?
Everyone is great. Bryan and Jane are the nicest people I've ever worked with. They're funny. And the boys are always hanging out and everyone is cool.
Have you ever had to put up with a bully?
I guess so. I'm very small for my age. When I was little, I'd always get picked on. I never let it bother me. If I did try to get back, it would just keep them going. I just ignored them and eventually they just stopped. I haven't been beat up yet.
"They picked on me because I'm really short (4'11") for my age and stuff."
Hi, Frankie, has life changed for you since you've been on the show?
I really don't believe me reaching the "fame" yet. It's so hard to believe. People have come up to me and are saying they love the show. I can tell who my real friends are because they are just coming up to me now and saying let's hang out. I know who my true friends are because they don't care about me acting.
Are you in the middle in real life?
No. I'm the end child. I have one sister. She's older.
Were your parents supportive in your decision to become an actor?
My mom and dad were really supportive. I saw my sister in a play in North Carolina. She auditioned for a part in Raleigh for "A Christmas Carol." I tried out too, and got the part of Tiny Tim. They left it up to me, if I want to stop or keep going. They're really supportive of me. I'm going to keep going as long as I want to.
I know you have been in a couple movies and shows, but what was your favorite and what will be your next show?
I guess it's a tie between "Spin City," "Malcolm in the Middle" and "My Dog Skip." On "Spin City," I got to meet one of my favorite actors, Michael J. Fox. On "My Dog Skip," I got to meet Kevin Bacon; and "Malcolm," because it's different. Coming up next is "The Miracle in Lane 2" for Disney Channel. I'm going to play a kid with spina bifida. It's going to be really fun. I get to race soapbox derby.
Frankie in the Spin City episode "The Kidney's All Right", November 17, 1998.
Frankie posing at the "Miracle in Lane 2" premiere with the real Justin Yoder.
Frankie, what do you like to do in your spare time?
Well, I'm a big golfer. I just love to be a normal kid. I do everything a normal kid would do. I play sports, hang out with my friends, and go to the movies.
Frankie, I love the show! Can you tell me what upcoming episodes will be about?
There is one episode, one of my favorites, called "Francis Escapes." He escapes out of military school to see his girlfriend. It's really hilarious. Most of the stories are true to the writers. Linwood Boomer is actually Malcolm. There is one episode called "Shame". It's about a bully that keeps ridiculing Malcolm, and he beats him up.
Frankie, can you tell us if you have an e-mail address so that fans can write you, or a way we can receive a signed picture? Thanks!
Hi, do you hang out with the other cast members off the set?
Yeah, actually, me and Chris go play paintball. And the little boy who plays Dewey, we live next door to each other, he would sleep over and we would watch movies. It was a lot of fun.
Which actors and actresses do you like?
Kevin Bacon and Michael J. Fox. Bryan Cranston and Jane Kaczmarek.
Hey, Frankie! Say, do you have a girlfriend by any chance?
I don't right now. The reason is because I don't think it would be fair for the girl because I'm traveling so much. Maybe eventually, when I get moved into my place in California.
How has the cast reacted to the amazing ratings the pilot episode received?
We were all really happy. I guess it's like a dream come true. You never know what to expect. Me and my mom were jumping on the bed. We had a party the night before. Everyone was cracking up. It's really awesome.
Is it really hard to deal with the pressures of the media and all of the attention?
In the middle. It's a lot of fun. It's cool.
Question: What was your favorite part of the first show?
I guess the way it ends when I'm sitting on the trash can and wrapping the episode, and when Dewey goes, "A bug went up my nose," and I say, "What do you want me to do about it?" I wanted them to do a sum-it-up in each episode, but we won't.
How much time do you spend on the set?
I'm only allowed to be on the set for 9 1/2 hours due to California labor laws. I love being on set. I hate having a day off when I'm filming a movie. I only had one day off then. I loved it. It's just so much fun working on the set. I know some people don't really like that. Actually, it's only 6 1/2 hours and 3 hours of school.
Hey, Frankie, which do you prefer doing, making TV shows or motion pictures?
I really like both. I don't really see a difference. I do see that the process of filming is faster. We film like ten scenes in a day in TV, while we do two scenes in a day for a movie. With TV, we do it a few times and we got it. They are both really fun. I love acting. They are both really cool.
What do you like most about acting?
I guess just meeting new people on the set and playing different characters. It's really cool to play the different parts. It's just really fun.
Thanks, Frankie, for talking with us! We had a great time and hope you can do this again soon!
I'd love to. Goodbye, everyone. Hope you keep watching the show, and go see the movie when it comes out in your area. Keep watching.
Last edited by Richiepiep; Nov 9, 2014 at 06:04 PM.
All the people are so happy now, their heads are caving in.
I'm glad they are a snowman with protective rubber skin.
WHERE YOU'VE SEEN HIM:
On TV in "Malcolm in the Middle" and at the movies in "My Dog Skip".
DRIVING THROUGH THE WEB:
"Sometimes I'll go on the Isuzu truck site (www.isuzu.com). I look up trucks and cars cause I'm going to be driving in two years. My favorite is the Isuzu Hombre - I love that truck."
CHAT - NOT ALL THAT:
"I always used to go on chat rooms, but I got bored. If you want to get in a conversation, you can't tell who's talking about what. Sometimes I go into a basketball chat room and I make up a subject and we talk about that."
THAT'S ME ONSCREEN?:
"It's like I'm just watching any other kid - I'm just watching the show. I'm very hard on myself, like, 'Gosh, I could have done that better' or 'Why did I do that?'"
COMING IN 20 YEARS:
"People will have these little turbo boosters so they won't have to walk. Everybody will be very lazy."
All the people are so happy now, their heads are caving in.
I'm glad they are a snowman with protective rubber skin.