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


When you were first taking meetings for film work and talking with execs and casting agents around town, did people recognize you by the crazy stuff you did on camera for Attack of the Show?

Back then, I remember going into a big meeting with a big exec at CBS and they were like, 'Hey, I saw you deep throat some hot dogs that were hanging on a string.' And I was like, 'Oh. Yeah. That was nine months ago, but yeah, I did that.' And that's when I realized that one clip will live forever on the internet with no context. [Laughs] It's OK. It was what it was. But I jumped into massive pie, and Donna Gigliotti, the head of the Weinstein Co., which did this movie, she said, 'I watched you jump in that pie, and if you can make jumping into a pie in a French maid costume funny, as a woman, I like you.' You know how people go on and do something and they want to be somewhere else? I didn't want to be somewhere else. I wanted to be at G4, doing what I was doing, and also be able to pursue acting and other creative outlets. I just wanted to make some other dreams come true. But I treated the audience like they were my friends, and I pushed the limit with my jokes, but I trusted the audience to be smart enough to know that I was joking and to pick up on what I was saying and what my intention was in telling that kind of joke in that particular moment. So whenever I did those things, it was with 100 percent dedication where the intention was to get a laugh. The only thing I look for when I'm doing something is, if I can make the camera guy laugh, or make the stage manager or the people who have been there all day long and they've heard it all and they're super tired -- if I can make that person laugh during a scene, that's when I know I'm doing a good job.

How did you come to join The Daily Show?

I never auditioned for The Daily Show. I was on an NBC show at the time, but Jon [Stewart] had just seen something of mine from G4 on TV and thought I had a sense of humor and delivery and whatever it was he thought would fit in with The Daily Show. I brought my same enthusiasm and dedication and follow-through that I did on G4 and then to other projects. But it's not a traditional package, which is why I think it was hard for people in the beginning.

What was your reaction to the backlash when you were hired?

They said, 'Oh, she's the Maxim cover girl,' which I get. But I'm just like, I'm sorry -- you can put yourself in a box, I just refuse to let you put me in one, too. My thing is, forget what my background is. They're trying to reduce it to, 'You can't be on the cover of Maxim and you can't be pretty and also be smart and funny. You're only getting by on your looks.' Tina Fey, who had her book come out recently and they did a 30 Rock episode about my hiring at The Daily Show, and she defends me on her book tour and says if I was overweight and had a mustache on the cover of Maxim, everybody [would be] saying, you go girl! But when I do it... I am who I am and I'm embracing everything that I am, and I'm not going to put on a turtleneck and hide away if I want to be smart and funny. You can be all of those things.

The criticisms seemed to die down shortly thereafter...

When that happened, [the critics] had pretty much no comment after The Daily Show put out a statement and rallied together behind Jon and behind me. My real question is, are you telling me that you're smart, funny, and ugly? Because clearly you can't be pretty, right? I'm guessing that whoever's criticizing me, you're saying that you're smart and funny but you can't be all of them. And then they're like, 'Well, you're using that.' No, I'm just being who I am and I'm actually comfortable with my sexuality, and if you put on a push-up bra or put on lip gloss, do not criticize me at all. Because who are you wearing those things for? Unless you're at home by yourself with your significant other. Who are you out in the world doing that for, who are you trying to impress? So people can not like me, that's fine. People can not think I'm funny, that's fine. But when you're trying to make a statement for women in general -- I'm like, you know what? You don't speak for a lot of women I know, and you don't speak for me. It's just you and your narrow minded friends that can all have this opinion. At least preface it with that. Like, 'Hi -- me and my friends are really narrow-minded and we don't like Olivia.' Great. But don't speak on behalf of all women.

I just try to work as hard as I can work, come to set, be prepared, keep my head down, and say 'thank you' as much as possible. And I'm really lucky that people like Scott Rudin, Aaron Sorkin, Jon Stewart, Steven Soderbergh -- that they are the ones who are casting these projects and making the things that I'm in. I'm thankful they believe that women can be funny and also pretty.

Speaking of that, how did you come to be cast in Magic Mike? It seems to be much less comedic a project than the other films you've done.

Yeah, it is. I had heard about it before but I was in the middle of shooting Daily Show stuff and also working on this book. I was in New York at the time and didn't really have a lot of time, but I had heard about it. I know that they were really specific in who they wanted and other people had campaigned for it or wanted it, but it's Soderbergh's vision and he has a very specific thing... I'm super excited to be a part of this movie, however I didn't want to go in if I wasn't mentally in the right place to even have a meeting, because I was so tired. But I got a call, and my time was getting short, their time was getting short, and they brought me in. I didn't have time to do a meeting, other people might have met with Steven but he didn't ask anyone to come in and actually read the part for him. I got the script the night before and went in the next day and auditioned. I earned it like any other actress going in for a part. I was just lucky that Soderbergh and the producers thought of me for this, and that they were very specific in who they wanted to come in and read. I knew that it was mine to lose, but I never knew until that moment. Thankfully, whatever it was I did was what they wanted.

How would you describe your character and how she interacts with the rest of the cast?

I don't know how much I'm allowed to say, since it's Soderbergh, but what I will say is it's a movie about Chippendale dancers and it's based on Channing Tatum's actual life experience with the Chippendale dancers. It's a movie about strippers, and the best part is all the strippers are played by the guys. My character is a grad student and I'm a love interest to Channing Tatum-slash-late night adult friend.

Ah, an enviable position.

[Laughs] I hate it. I have to make out with a really good looking, charming, sweet man. I'm actually good friends with his wife Jenna [Dewan], and she's a doll. They're such a comfortable, great couple that you'd be like, 'Is it weird because it's your friend's husband?' But they're so solid, and there's such a respect that they have for the work we're doing and the art of it -- we're all like, let's make a kick ass movie that people are going to go in and spend their money and go into the theater for how many hours and have a great experience.

Have you had to work with anyone now as an actor that you interviewed for Attack of the Show?

I didn't do that many interviews on Attack of the Show because I couldn't really stay focused. [Laughs]

When have those two worlds collided in the most random way?

They collided with Jon Favreau. When I interviewed him for Iron Man, he said it to me, and he said it publicly, that coming onto Attack of the Show really helped launch and begin the excitement for the first Iron Man. You know our show was the geek headquarters at Comic-Con. So I interviewed him then and later on he offered, 'Do you want to do a couple of cameos for Iron Man 2, and we'll make sure one of them stays in the movie?' I got to go there and actually be improv-ing and having fun with Robert Downey, Jr. and Don Cheadle. That was such a really... that's a moment.

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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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