December 5, 1985 • Wood-Ridge, New Jersey
Frankie Muniz initially became famous in 2000 as Malcolm, the boy genius in the Fox comedy Malcolm in the Middle. Prior to that role, he had performed in plays, television commercials, and even a few movies. Since the start of Malcolm in the Middle, Muniz has spent as much time as possible working, squeezing feature film roles into the months when the television series takes a break. This hectic pace satisfies the teenager, who has energy to burn and claims to hate inactivity. He told Barry Koltnow in a 2002 article for the Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service that he had had only three days off in the year prior, "and I was never so bored in my entire life. I had no idea what to do with myself for those three days." In addition to his role as Malcolm, Muniz has garnered attention for his role as a junior James Bond in two kid-oriented spy movies, Agent Cody Banks (2003) and Agent Cody Banks 2: Destination London (2004).
Francisco James Muniz IV was born in 1985 in Wood-Ridge, New Jersey. His family—which includes dad Frank, mom Denise, and big sister Christina—moved to North Carolina when Frankie was four years old. A few years later, when he was eight, he watched his sister perform in a local play. He knew immediately that he wanted to perform, and soon after that, he earned his first role, that of Tiny Tim in a regional production of English author Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol. Additional theater work followed, and Muniz began acting in television commercials as well. He started winning parts in films, including the television movies To Dance with Olivia and What the Deaf Man Heard, both broadcast in 1997. At the age of eleven, Muniz moved back to New Jersey with his mother and sister, after his parents had decided to separate. At the same time, he stopped attending school and began to be home-schooled by his mother, an arrangement that gave him the flexibility to accept acting jobs without having to worry about a school schedule.
"I don't consider myself a good actor at all. I just do what I want to do, and I'm just having fun doing it."
The acting jobs arrived one right after another, with Muniz appearing as a guest on several sitcoms, including Spin City. He began earning more film roles, and appeared in his breakthrough film in 2000. Cast as the young Willie Morris—the author of the autobiographical book the movie was based on—Muniz appeared in My Dog Skip alongside Kevin Bacon, Diane Lane, and Luke Wilson. The film, set in the 1940s-era South, depicts the pleasures, fears, and sorrows of Morris's childhood, focusing on the lessons he learned from his beloved dog Skip. While some critics felt the film was a bit sappy and melodramatic, many acknowledged the touching relationship between the boy and his dog. Peter Stack of the San Francisco Chronicle praised Muniz's performance: "Frankie Muniz, with vulnerability and wide-eyed innocence, charms as young Willie."
My Dog Skip was released during the same year that Muniz began his stint on Malcolm in the Middle. When he auditioned for the role, he felt certain he would not get it. Thirteen years old at the time, he thought he was too old to play the much younger Malcolm. The show's producers, on the other hand, knew instinctively that he was the right person for the job. They had prepared themselves for a difficult search to find an actor who could project Malcolm's unusual intelligence and wisdom and yet still be believable as a regular kid with regular kid problems. The show's creator and executive producer, Linwood Boomer, told Brian Raftery of Entertainment Weekly that he had asked himself, "Where are we going to find a kid who can do all this?"After seeing Muniz, Boomer knew the search was over: "It was so obvious [it would be Muniz] right from the get-go."
Audiences and critics agreed with Boomer, quickly warming to the young star and appreciating the show's offbeat sense of humor and fresh take on family life. The members of the fictional Wilkersons family included the eldest brother, Francis, who had been sent to military school when the series began; Reese, whose violent tendencies cause many of Malcolm's problems; Malcolm, whose IQ test places him in the genius range and sets him uncomfortably apart from his friends and the rest of his family; and Dewey, who often plays the role of unaffected observer when the family circus reaches catastrophic levels. The constantly squabbling children are led by their father, Hal, who behaves as much like a child as do his children, and their mother, Lois, who rules the household with an iron fist and a raised voice. As Malcolm, Muniz is the voice of reason in an otherwise unhinged family. He often speaks directly to the camera, describing his frustration when things go wrong and his amazement when he gets away with something. Muniz inhabited his character very comfortably right from the start, impressing audiences with his intelligent, wisecracking ways.
After wetting his feet with Malcolm and earning a nomination for an Emmy Award in 2001, Muniz returned to the big screen, starring in Big Fat Liar with fellow teen star Amanda Bynes. Muniz plays Jason, a boy from Michigan who enjoys stretching the truth and occasionally
In his next film, Deuces Wild (2002), Muniz plays a young wannabe tough guy caught up in gang conflicts in 1950s-era Brooklyn. The film was not a critical or box office success, but Muniz made up for the disappointment with his next film, Agent Cody Banks, released in 2003. Playing the teenaged spy of the film's title, Muniz added to his acting skills with the action-filled role. He spent weeks physically preparing for the role, lifting weights and learning martial arts moves. Muniz plays a character who secretly becomes a CIA agent at the age of thirteen. He has at his disposal a number of nifty gadgets and cool vehicles, but his assignment nonetheless proves difficult, requiring him to excel in his one area of weakness: talking to girls. Banks must befriend an attractive girl, played by teen queen Hilary Duff, to get his hands on her father's invention—which has the power to cause serious global damage if it falls into the hands of the bad guys.
Muniz and the film itself were so successful that the studio, MGM, called for a sequel, with Muniz once again playing Banks. Agent Cody Banks 2: Destination London sent the youthful spy across the Atlantic Ocean to once again attempt to save the world from power-hungry villains. Young Agent Banks is paired, to comic effect, with comedian/actor Anthony Anderson, and he once again must navigate conversations with a beautiful girl in the form of British secret agent Emily, played by Hannah Spearritt. The two films combined earned nearly $75 million at the box office, prompting many to speculate on the possibility of a third Cody Banks picture.
Receiving $5 million for the second Agent Cody Banks, Muniz is enjoying his wealth and his active lifestyle. He is an avid basketball player and golfer, and has been playing the drums for many years. He has also attracted attention with his passion for cars. Even before he had gotten his driver's license, Muniz had purchased several cars. Among his stable of vehicles is the Volkswagen Jetta driven in the movie The Fast and the Furious (2001), which the actor purchased for $100,000, and a rare Porsche that cost the actor $250,000.
Once he turned eighteen, Muniz began thinking more and more about what people had been telling him for years: that he would soon have to make the transition to more adult-oriented fare in order to have a long-term acting career. In a 2004 interview with Cinema Confidential 's Shawn Adler, Muniz confessed that he wasn't sure how to proceed or which project to pursue next. "It's tough choosing the right one. It really needs to be something different, but I can't go totally away from my core audience of twelve to eighteen. So it's got to be the right movie that people will look at and not just say, 'Oh, that's him trying to be dramatic. That's him trying to make the transition.' I need to be very believable."
Bark, Ed. "No Stature of Limitations for Malcolm Star Frankie Muniz." Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service (August 13, 2001): p. K4035.
"Brainiacs and Maniacs." Time (January 17, 2000): p. 89.
Koltnow, Barry. " Malcolm in the Middle 's Star Tries His Hand at Big-Screen Comedy." Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service (February 7, 2002): p. K3059.
LaSalle, Mick. " Big Fat Liar. " San Francisco Chronicle (February 8, 2002).
Peters, Jennifer L. "Muniz Plays Malcolm." Know Your World Extra (February 22, 2002): p. 4.
Raftery, Brian M. "Frankie Goes to Hollywood." Entertainment Weekly (January 14, 2000): p. 38.
Stack, Peter. "Uplifting Skip Takes a Boy and His Dog into Fresh Territory." San Francisco Chronicle (March 3, 2000): p. C1.
Adler, Shawn. "Interview." Cinema Confidential. http://www.cinecon.com/news.php?id=0403092 (accessed on July 27, 2004).
Gallagher, Todd. "10 Burning Questions for Frankie Muniz." ESPN.com. http://espn.go.com/page2/s/questions/muniz.html (accessed on July 27, 2004).