Frankie Muniz says it was easy to trade Hollywood stardom for NASCAR: 'I want to live the most fulfilled life I can'
Frankie Muniz doesn't mind if you still think of him as Malcolm, the wisecracking main character of the popular sitcom "Malcolm in the Middle", which over its seven season run made him a worldwide star.
But since the program ended in 2006, Muniz's career has seen him spending less time in Hollywood and more time pursuing other interests: he played drums in a touring band for a few years starting in 2012, bought an olive oil business in 2019 and, most notably, has had an on and off career as a professional racecar driver.
The 37-year-old tells CNBC Make It that his wide-ranging interests come from a desire "to live the most fulfilled life I can."
"I've always felt like I was running out of time," he says. "Even when I was a kid, I just felt like I needed to take advantage of having the opportunity to do things."
I'm not doing this as a hobby. If I wanted to race cars, I could do it at a much lower level and have the same enjoyment. I want to make it to the top.Frankie Muniz
That's how "Agent Cody Banks" star has found himself back in the drivers seat following a 13-year hiatus, even after his last stint as a racer ended in a serious crash that broke his back and injured his hands and ribs.
The Emmy and Golden Globe-nominated actor announced earlier this month that he will compete full time in the NASCAR-owned ARCA Series. Muniz says his return to racing isn't just for fun: he's showing up to compete and, hopefully, win.
"I'm not doing this as a hobby," he says. "If I wanted to race cars, I could do it at a much lower level and have the same enjoyment. I want to make it to the top, and I'm going for that."
The lifelong racing fan currently spends more than two hours a day in the gym training his body for the physical rigors of driving a racecar, plus several more each day studying film. When his first race at Daytona International Speedway rolls around on Feb. 18, Muniz's days will be as long as 15 hours.
"I'm training as much as I can," he tells Make It. "My other competitors, it's their lives. It's what they do for a living to put food on the table. When you're competing against people that are dedicating their lives to it, you've got to do the same in order to compete."
Below, Muniz discusses his approach to racing, his wide-ranging passions, as well as why he doesn't mind when people still call him "Malcolm."
What it's like for the former child star to be the oldest racer in the room
In the height of my acting career, I wasn't the king. I was the funny awkward little kid. And I was growing up in an adult business and surrounded by people who are older than me.
And now I find it really interesting that some of the parents of my competitors, they're like "Oh my god, I grew up on your show, we're the same age!" And I'm like, how am I the age of the parents of the people who are racing? It's a weird thought.
When I hear someone say "I'm 23 or 24," I go "Oh, they're my age!" Then I realize, wait, no, I'm 14 years older than that. I forget. I still feel young. I still feel like I'm that age.
I look at other racers, and I go, are they looking at me like "Look at this older guy trying to get in the car." I hope not, but it's okay. As long as I've earned their respect on the racetrack I guess that's all that matters.
Why he left Hollywood behind in favor of other careers
You could always ask that question: "I wonder what it would have been like if I didn't go racing the first time and stayed in the entertainment business. Where would my career be?"
Maybe it would have been insane and gone to crazy levels, or maybe not. It's hard to know when you think that way. For me, I've always felt like I was running out of time. Even when I was a kid, I just felt like I needed to take advantage of having the opportunity to do things.
I love the challenge of going outside of my comfort zone and finding success — or not.Frankie Muniz
There's a lot of things in my life I've wanted to try. And I've wanted to see if I could find success in these businesses. And fortunately, because of what I got as a child actor, it gave me the opportunity to step back and try those other things. It gave me the freedom to do that. And I'm forever grateful for that.
But I think it's more the fact that I love the challenge. I love the challenge of going outside of my comfort zone and finding success — or not. There's been a lot of things that no one's ever reported that I've done that were failures. But that excites me, diving into something that you don't know very well and learning all about it. I want to do as much of that as possible.
A lot of it also has to do with the fact that I just want to live the most fulfilled life I can. I've always been willing to change my trajectory, if I could push for it 100%.
Why he doesn't mind being known as Malcolm
People in the past have asked me if it ever bothers me that people only remember me as Malcolm or they call me Malcolm or I'm typecast or whatever it may be. And I've always said the fact that I can go anywhere in the world and people come up to me and they go "Malcolm!" or "I love your show" or "I love your work," that's an amazing feeling.
I know some people don't want their past brought up, but I love it. It's my past, I'm proud of it.
I would love if people look at me and they go 'Oh, he was also an actor? I didn't know that. I only know him as a driver.'Frankie Muniz
But, that said, I would love if people look at me and they go "Oh, he's a really good racecar driver." "Oh, he was also an actor? I didn't know that. I only know him as a driver." But I don't mind either way.
If someone comes up to me and goes "I saw your race, you did so good," that makes me feel good. If they say "I love Malcolm, I watched it all the time and show it to my kids," that makes me feel good, too, because you had an impact on someone's life. And that's a pretty cool thing.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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Don't miss: 'Malcolm in the Middle' star Frankie Muniz announces he's now a full-time race car driver