Since she signed off as host of G4’s Attack of the Show in 2010, Olivia Munn has been named Senior Asian Correspondent for The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, cast as the woman who gets to have her way with Channing Tatum in Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike, and hired to play a hot economist in Aaron Sorkin’s polarizing drama The Newsroom. Last week, she sat down with Vulture to stick up for Sorkin and talk up her as-yet little-seen character Sloan Sabbith. She also explained the strategy behind her recent winning streak. It involves ignoring her Asian mother.
Let’s talk about The Newsroom first. I want to ask about —
[Interrupts.] The support? From the critics? From the journalists? [Laughs.] I thought we’d wake up to harsher criticism, but I was so surprised. It was like everyone opening up their arms and wrapping us up in them. I was like, “You guys! You guys are all invited to Aaron’s barbeque.”
Were you surprised at the less-than-glowing reception to the show?
I had the Magic Mike premiere and my family was in town, so I didn’t know about the reviews until later. My castmates told me, and I know about them now of course. Someone told me they read something like, “If Emily Mortimer’s character had gone to war and sustained injuries, how could she get so flustered by accidentally sending out an e-mail?”
Some people are really stuck on that as an example of how Aaron writes women.
I think it’s not that she made a mistake, but that she got so flustered. My character doesn’t get flustered. I don’t get flustered, either. But if you get bothered by the freak-outs, I can tell you that if you know these women, they come from a place of truth. Alison [Pill] is one of the most genuine, excited, genuinely excited people you will ever meet. In the middle of a live set, she’ll be screaming about hockey. She’s Canadian and she’s like, “Go Canada!” And then you have Emily [Mortimer], who’s got two small children and has this crazy great energy. She never seems tired, she lifts you up.
I know the critics are also saying the show’s smug, that it’s like Monday morning quarterback. I understand that. If you’re looking at it as Sorkin trying to tell us how to do the news, and this is how we should have done it better, I get it. There’s an element of that. And there’s some naïveté, but that’s why it’s a drama. I’m an ex-journalist. I majored in journalism and I worked in local news stations. My first job was on the assignment desk of an NBC station in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I truly believe nobody goes into journalism to report on the latest celebrity pregnancy or sensationalize the murder of a child. They want to provide the people with vital information. Sorkin loves journalists, loves the media, loves the news. I don’t believe the show is his soapbox for him to lecture the media on how to be better. On the contrary, I believe his show is an opportunity to help the audience fall in love with the news again. I felt bad for Aaron.
What was it like working with him?
Every day I was like, “Was that good? Am I okay?” I mean, there was no question I was burying myself in the material, but one day while we were filming he said to me, “I just want you to know, you deserve to be here. I think there’s a big part of you that’s intimidated by how many Broadway people are on the show. Jeff Daniels, Sam Waterston … Emily’s British. The British are very intimidating. That’s why you work so hard, and that’s why you’re getting more to do on the show.”
We haven’t seen too much of Sloan yet on The Newsroom, but in next week’s episode, we’ll find out she doesn’t have much of a social life.
She’s the girl who is smart and intelligent and competent and a little socially inept — that is me. Here’s what else I want to tell you about her: I wanted her to be wearing very fitted clothes because I didn’t want her to shy away from the fact that she’s a woman and she’s feminine and she’s not embarrassed by her body. She doesn’t feel like she needs to cover up for you to take her seriously. Just wait for the stuff that comes out of her mouth. It’s like how I’m also aware of how people see me. I know I’ve done Maxim. I give candid interviews. I know there are women who don’t like me, but that’s their problem. You can be smart and beautiful and embrace your sexuality and still have that not be all you are. And you know what? You should root for me, because I’m not the girl who will fuck your boyfriend.
You went topless for Magic Mike. How’d you feel about having to do that?
I forgot that I did that until I saw it at the premiere. The way it was shot didn’t feel gratuitous — I think that’s what every actress says, right? There are very few directors I would ever do it for. Also, my character was getting out of the shower and to keep it as realistic as possible I didn’t wear a shirt in the shower. The day of the shoot, I locked it down. I only wanted the people who absolutely had to be there. I even cleared out video village, which you’d normally forget about.
Were your male co-stars as concerned about showing skin?
Ha! When they’d yell “Cut!” I’d get my robe. The guys? They’d still be all asses shaking, walking around. They didn’t put their robes on ever.
Your character, Joanna, didn’t want to be tied down. Even to Channing Tatum. What is that?
I based her on an ex-boyfriend. It’s that guy you’re dating who’s fun, cute, you have great sex, and then three weeks into it you go, “So, my friends are doing this little party — ” and he’s like “Whoa! What? I thought we were just having fun.” When women do that? They’re a bitch or a slut. I wanted her to be neither. She’s a sexual person. She’s doing what she wants.
Are you still working with The Daily Show? It’s been a while since you’ve been featured.
Yeah, I get calls asking if I’m available to do certain segments and pieces if I’m in town. But Jon’s been really supportive. He told me not long ago how proud he was of me. I was sitting there crying, going, “I wish I could come back and do more. I’m sorry I’m so busy,” and it was completely unwarranted because he was just coming by to say hi. He’s always telling me to look up more and realize how much I’ve done.
Stewart, Sorkin, Soderbergh — it’s not a bad résumé.
I only work with Ss, it’s true. I’ve made a career of taking less money to work with greater people. On Attack of the Show, I was so thankful to be paid very well. The Daily Show was like an 80 percent decrease. I was given several opportunities to do more network television after Perfect Couples, and that’s 22 episodes, and I passed on them for the hope of auditioning for Sorkin. And HBO is only ten episodes. My Asian mother is like, “How you turn down so much money? You crazy.”