Olivia Munn on I Don't Know How She Does It, Her Feminist Critics, and Trying to Do it All

oliviamunn_idkhsdi.jpgOlivia Munn first became known for keeping geeks everywhere enthralled on a daily basis as the co-host of G4's Attack of the Show, but since leaving the program to pursue acting she's hit the ground running by joining The Daily Show, starring in the short-lived sitcom Perfect Couples, and snagging roles in upcoming projects from the likes of Aaron Sorkin and Steven Soderbergh. Speaking with Munn over the weekend about her latest film, I Don't Know How She Does It, Movieline was determined not to ask the pun-tastic question of how, in fact, she does it. What we discovered instead was the story of how, in the course of following her Hollywood dreams, she tried to do it all.

"I wanted to be at G4, doing what I was doing, and also be able to pursue acting and other creative outlets," said Munn, wistfully explaining how she came to part ways with the network that launched her career. "I just wanted to make some other dreams come true."

Munn adds a strong credit to her resume as Momo Hahn, a Type A career-oriented analyst with a severe outlook on life and a bone-dry delivery in the Sarah Jessica Parker vehicle I Don't Know How She Does It. She spoke with Movieline about her character, battling female stereotypes on and off-screen, being both sexy and smart despite what her critics say (and the infamous backlash to her Daily Show hiring), the frustrations that led to her split from G4, her work on Steven Soderbergh's Magic Mike, and more.

I wanted to make a point not to start by asking you how you do it, because I'm sure you've gotten that question a lot already.

[Laughs] Yeah, I have! 'How do you do it all?' It's always like, 'This movie's called I Don't Know How She Does It and we watch Sarah Jessica doing that, but you with the movies and the show, how do you do it all?!' I'm like, well, I don't have children right now. So how are you going to start it off instead?

By asking you how you found you related to the women in this film. I'm 30, I don't have kids, and so I don't necessarily relate to Sarah Jessica's character as much as I do to your character, Momo. So when you first read the script, who did you find yourself relating to most?

You know, the only similarity I find between my character and myself is that we're both hardworking. I actually relate more to Sarah Jessica's world -- not that I'm in it, but it's something that I would want one day, to be able to have children and a family and also have my work and my career. So my biggest thing was, Momo has a filter, she just chooses not to use it. She has a very structured, very specific outlook on life. That's why I wanted to cut my hair, too. I wanted there to be nothing that was going to get in her way, even something as trivial as her hair. But she has one goal in life. I think what I loved about the role so much was that I could see how she is perceived, and you want to break down the character in a way that is harder to break down. She's robotic, and phobic of children. 'Oh, you want kids one day?' I get asked that a lot. And it's more of a rhetorical question. 'Do you want kids one day? Do you realize that your eggs are literally falling out of you, one by one?' And I'm like, okay, I've picked up on your tone. Thank you for that.

Momo starts out as a career woman who doesn't see the appeal in motherhood but then reveals a surprising maternal instinct. In that, she's probably the most interesting character in the film.

What I love about this is that some people want to put these people in a box; Momo has a very specific view in life. My mother and my aunt, they all went to university and worked really hard and got their degrees and they got married and had children and thought they had to make a choice, one or the other. And our generation, I think that's what we see when we look at our parents. We're not going to let family and all that stuff get in the way of our dreams. My mom growing up said to me all the time, one, 'Don't get pregnant.' And 'don't do drugs.' Then the last one was, 'Never just marry a man and become his wife. Make a name for yourself.' That's something that she said to me all the time, and it stuck with me. But here's the thing; my whole life is work right now. And like you're saying, you don't have children and you're career-oriented, but it doesn't mean that you don't want to have kids. Also, if you don't have kids it doesn't mean that you picked your career over it. Some people don't want to have kids. So what I wanted to do with Momo was show someone from that point of view, but also she's an extreme version of a lot of people that I've seen or I've heard about.

How do you see the women in this film?

There are two people: The women who stay at home, or the women who work and have a plan in life and that's it. But the most important thing for me was to show that if you're a real human being you're not just a caricature. A real human being has to be more than just that. The main storyline is, how can a woman be a great mother and a great wife and great at her job at the same time; how do you juggle that? But the B storyline to me is showing that women in different forms can be really horrible to each other, like Busy Phillips' character, or we can be really supportive of each other if we understand each others' world like Christina Hendricks, but what I play is that we can be women with two completely different outlooks on life and different agendas, yet be supportive and be friends and love each other and need each other. My choices with Momo, it was always coming from a place of, 'I'm rooting for you. I'm on your team.' Sometimes people, and even women, perpetuate this stereotype themselves, not realizing it, wanting to hold each other down.

Did that come up during scenes?

Sometimes we would be doing a scene and as with any great project, everyone's really collaborative and talking about it. But one time there was a note for me to be more catty, or to say something that I just said, 'It doesn't matter what my delivery is on this, it doesn't sound supportive. I won't do it.' The women that I know in my life, the reality, is that we are really supportive. My two best girlfriends, one's an architect and one's a nurse. We couldn't be more different.

Many chick flicks and romantic comedies these days do that as well, it seems. Like Something Borrowed, which actually is about two female friends competing for the same man.

It's a plane movie -- you watch it on the plane. [Laughs] But that movie is like a lot of movies, not to just single that one out, where one woman is so oblivious to her best friend's feelings about somebody else, and on the same token where one woman is so closed off to her best friend about her feelings about somebody else. Then later on when you can go and sleep with your best friend's fiancé... I'm literally like, push her off a bridge! To me, that is real in some women's worlds. Those are the women who want to, I think, hold back other women who actually want to be more progressive. I think it's dangerous, and people make the joke, 'Women dress for other women.' I'm like, no I don't! Because one, it's not 1995, because that joke's old. And two, I don't want that girl to want to have sex with me. I want that guy to want to have sex with me, and let's just call it like it is. And sometimes, I just want to feel good for me. I don't walk through life dressing up for other women, and I never have. It's just obnoxious. And we have to be accountable for what we put out there, and I know how lucky we are. In the beginning when you start to do different jobs you're just thankful to get any kind of work and do it, and people are guiding you, but you have to have a sense of self.

How does that translate into your career and how it's evolved in the last few years? From G4 to now, at what point did you try to start transitioning into acting?

From the very beginning. I moved down here in 2003 and was going out for every commercial audition, doing everything I could. I got a small Nickelodeon show right before I went to G4, and they offered me a job and I actually turned it down three or four times. I thought it was a great opportunity but they were like, 'It's 9 to 5, Monday through Friday' -- oh no, I have to be able to continue auditioning and all that crap. They were like, what's good for you is good for us, we want you here and we'll work it out. I said, great! And for the first six months I dedicated everything, and after that I started auditioning for stuff. I was actually offered a TV pilot but at this point the ratings for Attack of the Show had gone up a lot. They were like, 'Oh no, you can't do it.' I was like, 'What? You promised me I could!' 'Well, we just can't really afford to have you off our show right now...' And I wasn't going to be off, I was going to do them both. But I think the fear there was that I wouldn't be able to do both. I said OK, I cried, the next one came around a few weeks later and they said, 'The next one that comes around, we'll let you do.' They wouldn't let me do it. Alright -- hold on. You guys promised me this! They said, 'Well, in good faith...'

Good faith! Good faith, as in their faith. I'm big on loyalty and sticking by my word. So long story short, they worked it out with the lawyers to try and figure it out, but I wanted to be able to live my dream. I wanted to be able to do this, it was a dream of mine, but I also wanted to be able to be creative in other ways. And that's when I said, I really want to start doing comedic skits. Doing things like comedic acting pieces, and I could put on different characters and make sure the audience was always seeing me in a different character with a different name and being different people, so that when the transition did happen, if I was lucky enough for it to happen, they wouldn't be like, 'That's Olivia!' The first one we did was 'It's hard to be a female superhero' with Wonder Woman... 'There's no pockets for your mirrors and your brush!' 'The invisible jet is really hard to find!' I think that became the calling card for the network, and for myself.

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  • The Pope says:

    Surely I'm not the first to observe that "She Does It" because she has a nanny.

  • The Pope says:

    Sorry, did I spoil the ending?

  • Sean Jungian says:

    Yeah, I don't think you're the first, but for sure the answer is "She has money and help in the form of nannies, housekeepers, etc."

  • Jen Yamato says:

    Close, but not quite fellas -- SJP's character does have a nanny straight from the set of Gossip Girl, but she's still frazzled. Next guess?

  • Andrew says:

    She's white?
    Has money?
    Has a white husband?
    Who also has money?
    That being said, I like Munn. She's got a very limited range as an actress, but she does well in that range and I think the crap she got from Jezebel was motivated purely by jealousy and h8. If she'd been buck naked on Suicide Girls all tatted up and whore-y proclaiming "rah rah feminism" while talking about her labia instead appearing on Maxim partially dressed (omg so sexist) and talking about video games and comic books then she'd be Jezebel's hero(ine).

  • badideajeans says:

    Munn isn't disliked because she's pretty. She's disliked because she is neither funny nor smart... and she's really painfully awful whenever she's on the Daily Show.

  • Chasmosaur says:

    Yeah. I just don't think she's all that funny. She's definitely very pretty and willing to try anything, but the best bit she had on The Daily Show was when she was interacting with her mother over the whole "Tiger Mother" thing. Her mother was what made the bit funny.

  • John says:

    Love Olivia, she's great and down to earth.

  • awalker says:

    Poor Olivia! Poor beautiful baby! Everybody just wants to tear her down because everybody hates pretty funny women!! GRRRRR!! I agree with Andrew! All women are dumb jealous whores! EXCEPT Olivia! I bet Angelina Jolie hates her and is jealous of her because Olivia is the most perfect most funniest most awesome GODDESS that ever was! She is most hilarious when her mouth is stuffed full of dripping sausage meat and giving me weird feelings in my pee-pee area. When my pee-pee feels weird and stiff that's how I know a woman is being funny! Everybody who isn't a hater knows that all great comedians take lots of pictures on their knees in their underwear and lick and suck things shaped like a pee-pee because that's HILARIOUS! LEAVE MY GODDESS OLIVIA ALONE U HATERS!!!

  • J. J. says:

    I actually think the Jezebel piece was critical about a lot of things in the media and it wasn't just about going after Munn because she is "pretty." Obviously she's gotten some kind of criticism for being "pretty" (or doing whatever with hotdogs) in the past, and sadly this can be a problem sometimes, but I still think that's a bit of a shallow analysis about what was going on in that piece.

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