At first glance, Olivia Munn doesn’t exactly give the impression of a classic down-home Midwestern girl. Arguably one of the industry’s hottest actresses, the stunningly beautiful, effortlessly stylish 37-year-old movie star exudes the prototypical coastal glamor associated with Hollywood’s It Girl elite. She appears, simply put, a little intimidating, like the kind of mysteriously alluring girl you’d dream about being friends with in high school but would be way too scared to strike up a conversation with in the cafeteria. It’s a little ironic, considering just how far from Munn’s actual upbringing the scenario is.
“I grew up mostly in Japan because I was part of a military family,” Munn reveals over the phone from her kitchen at home in sunny Los Angeles, not sounding a pinch jetlagged after a whirlwind work trip to London just 24 hours earlier. “I was there from age eight to about 16. The hardest thing for me was going from Japan to Oklahoma. I was so used to my life. In Japan, we lived on a military base, but I spent my youth running around the streets of Tokyo with my brothers and sisters and friends, from Roppongi to Harajuku.”
The intercontinental exodus resulted in Munn, who has four siblings, developing the insecurities most teens subjected to jarring cultural shocks are prone to, particularly those who look or act a little different than their peers at school. “Moving to Oklahoma was a huge culture shift for me,” Munn, who is of both European and Chinese descent, shares. “I just didn’t know anybody! At that age, everyone already has their friends. I had such a hard time in high school, not having any friends.”
“My sister had just left for her first year of college, which was about forty-five minutes to an hour away. She used to drive home at least three times a week to have lunch with me. All of a sudden, I was in high school by myself. It was a really tough time. I begged my mom to homeschool me, just so I wouldn’t feel so alone. I didn’t have anyone to talk to and those feelings were very real. I was depressed. That was really difficult for me,” she admits. “Having to push through that really helped me get ready for life and experience rejection.”
The emotional turbulence of Munn’s teen years was, in a way, a blessing, shaping her into the strong, self-actualized woman she is today. “A lot of people don’t realize that they’re on a lower level because they’re allowing people to be in their lives; they don’t put up the proper boundaries to protect themselves because they’re too busy thinking about other people. That’s a great quality, to be compassionate, but you have to be self-protective and create opportunities in your own life, too. I think there are a lot of choices in life. The two that are always there are: rise or fall. You can learn from your situation, or you can let it take you down.” And rise the actress has.
After graduating from the University of Oklahoma, where she majored in journalism and studied Japanese, Munn moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in acting. Like so many Hollywood hopefuls before her, she bounced around low-budget horror and comedy sets for a few years, simultaneously charging forth on TV, where she found success in 2006 on G4’s Attack of the Show!, a live gaming and pop culture talk show where her “Geek Goddess” moniker was solidified. As she continued booking films, she was, naturally, typecast as the “hot girl” for a while, but her natural comedic chops led her to small, yet notable roles in films like 2010’s Date Night and Iron Man 2 (where she reportedly impressed the hell out of Robert Downey Jr.) and surprise 2012 hit, Magic Mike.
With her IMDb credits exploding, Munn’s charismatic star power began to ascend up the ranks of the industry, landing her a spot on The Daily Show in 2010, where she became one of the satirical talk show’s first female correspondents in years. She further cemented her career portraying the lead role of Sloan Sabbith, on Aaron Sorkin’s beloved HBO drama series, The Newsroom—followed by a string of roles in films like Mordecai, Office Christmas Party and Zoolander 2. Her biggest break, however, came in 2015, when she was cast to play villainous Marvel femme fatale Psylocke in 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse, a role she will reprise for 2019’s highly anticipated sequel, Dark Phoenix.
On-screen fame, and the financial security that implies, however, has taken a backseat to Munn’s higher purpose in life: social justice. A torch-bearer in the ongoing #MeToo movement, in November 2017 Munn, alongside five other women, came forth with allegations of sexual harassment against director Brett Ratner. Munn told The Los Angeles Times that while visiting the set of After the Sunset in 2004, the director masturbated in front of her in his trailer. After Munn wrote about the incident in her 2010 memoir, Suck it, Wonder Woman!: The Misadventures of a Hollywood Geek, the director outed himself on television in 2011, claiming that he had “banged Munn” and that she “was bitter” he didn’t remember who she was. (He later retracted the claim they were intimate, but maintains his assertion that Munn’s allegations are untrue.)
Sharing her harrowing story was a brave and powerful gesture, but for Munn, opening up was just the beginning. “One thing that’s important is that we continue to use social media to support people who speak out and show their outrage at abusers. There’s this societal stigma when it comes to [reporting] sexual harassment. Women are seen as liars, men as victims. The truth is that it just doesn't work that way. To come forward is difficult,” she explains.
“Initially, I didn’t publicly call [Brett] out. I wrote a book where I discussed him anonymously. A year later, he named himself and went on to lie about me. A few days after that, he was on the Howard Stern show publicly apologizing for lying, saying he was sorry. Yet, two years after that moment, he gets a $450 million dollar licensing deal with Warner Brothers,” the actress continues. “Where is the line? If you don’t draw a line in the sand and say, ‘I’m not gonna work with these people,’ then it’s going to continue. Those who are in power, the movie heads, the executives—why are you working with these people? I’m not saying that people can’t come back from their mistakes, but why is it that when certain people mess up, there’s a formula for redemption? They say they’re sorry, hide away for a little bit, come back, work with the very people they hurt, then resume their position in power, when the rest of us have to fall to the back of the line and work our way back up.”
This is the most critical thing, Munn urges. To dismantle the insidious power structures that have allowed widespread misogyny to feed and flourish on the fear of the victimized, we must first acknowledge them. “People don’t speak out because they’re afraid of the people who will blindly defend others. Like the people who spoke out for Tom Brokaw because of their experiences with him. I’m like, ‘Really?’ The Harvey Weinsteins, Charlie Roses, Tom Brokaws, Matt Lauers—all these people wanna sign letters on behalf of their character,” she says. “I’m not saying that I immediately, automatically believe that someone did something, but when you speak out, there's going to be be backlash from supporters. You’re going to look like a liar or like you’re looking for fame or publicity. You speak up and you could get blackballed or exiled and lose your resources and your reputation because, unfortunately, there are so many negative repercussions for women.”
The actress adds that talent, especially, should not negate the actions of those who abuse their power. Art, it seems, can not be separated from the artist after all. “Quentin Tarantino is ridiculously talented. But he’s proven, by the people afraid to speak out, that he’s not somebody who should be in a position of power, no matter how talented he is. If he wants to get that back, he’s got to earn it.”
While Munn is relieved that the era of #MeToo has ushered in a changing tide for women, she’s still frustrated. “What’s hard is that a lot of them will go on to make more movies. If you get just the right person to turn a blind eye, the rest will follow,” she says, asserting that actionable systemic change will ultimately depend on whether or not abusers meet real consequences for their actions. “Woody [Allen] was one of the last to fall when in reality, he was one of the first to be exposed as an abuser years ago. It took Dylan [Farrow] to call out people individually who were still working with him but aligning themselves with the #MeToo movement. It’s super easy to walk through the hero door once it’s been opened.”
“It’s also easy to defend people like Harvey or Woody,” she continues. “But it’s really, really hard to be the hero when no one’s looking. When women come forward, we can’t do it alone. We need to come out in groups, because as women, our voices aren’t heard individually. It’s because of all the other women that I was able to come forward. It’s important for people to know how the women who don’t have fame and don’t have money and don’t have the resources to fight, how brave they are.”
In a full circle moment, further acknowledging her leading efforts in the #MeToo movement, Munn’s alma mater recently awarded her the inaugural Voice for Justice Award for her leadership and activism against sexual harassment in the workplace. While attending the University of Oklahoma, Munn never imagined she would one day go on to win an award from her home state, where her family still resides—it was a surreal moment and momentous achievement.
Much like 2017, this year, which Munn kicked off by hosting the 23rd Annual Critics’ Choice Awards, will be another major year for the star. She has three highly anticipated, big-budget films on the horizon: The Predator, Ocean’s 8, and X-Men: Dark Phoenix. “I can’t talk about X-Men yet since I’ll probably get myself into trouble, but Predator I’m really excited about,” she says, laughing. “We had a trailer premiere at a convention that got so many great reviews, so many people have said nice things about it so far.”
In the latest reboot of the action franchise, helmed by writer-director Shane Black, Munn plays the role of Dr. Casey Brackett. “It's really interesting because the film basically reveals what an upgraded Predator would look like if it were hybridized with other species, and how you would combat them and go up against them,” she adds. “I play a science teacher who joins the team who are fighting them.”
Munn’s also currently starring in History Channel’s Navy SEAL drama, SIX, on which she leads as a high level CIA operative. “I’m so inspired by these women in the CIA. They’re out there in the field on these dangerous missions. This character is the strongest character I’ve ever played—emotionally and physically.”
But according to the actress, success is not measured in money or predicated by seeing her name on the marquee. Her philosophy on life is much simpler than her expanding Hollywood prestige might suggest. “Money doesn’t motivate me. A true value system is what really matters,” Munn explains. “The one thing you can never buy is true happiness. I don’t have the biggest home or the most money, the most fame, or the most power. But the relationships I have—my friendships, my dogs, my family— there’s no price tag for that. Money is nothing without anyone to love or to share it with.”
It’s a disarmingly refreshing notion, and for a brief, jaded moment you might think the actress is just reciting smart talking points from some publicist’s press kit. But then you hear the unvetted way she lights up when she talks about her precious rescue dogs, Chance and Frankie—“They don’t care if I’m number one at the box office or haven’t booked a single role”—or the reverence in her voice when she speaks about the values her Vietnamese refugee mother instilled her with. You realize that the glitz and glamour of Hollywood really, truly don’t mean a damn thing to down-to-earth Munn.
“Years ago, my ex-boyfriend and I went to visit George Clooney in Lake Cuomo—who’s literally one of the nicest, most gracious people. George was single at the time, which seemed really fabulous. One day, we had come back from a boat ride and I said something like, ‘Don’t you love being single?’ And he said, ‘Well, why have all of this and no one to share it with?’ That stuck with me.”
“It’s the best example of what really matters in life,” she continues. “You see this person who seems to have it all, but he sees the value in finding a human being to be in love with and share their life with. That, to me, is more valuable than the rest of it. The rest of it’s just stuff.”
FOR MORE ON MUNN, PICK UP A COPY OF HER COVER STORY IN ROGUE’S ISSUE #9!
Photographer: Ben Cope
Stylist: Jessica Paster
Creative Direction: Heather Seidler
Makeup: Patrick Ta @Greyscale Mgmt
using La Mer & Lorac
Hair: John D @Forward Artists for Tresemmé
Manicurist: Emi Kudo @Opus Beauty using Nailhur
Set Assistants: Corey Weston & Malorie McCall
Writer: Erica Russell
Location: Concrete Studios