From cult status as co-host of G4’s Attack of the Show, to prime-time star on NBC’s Perfect Couples and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, modern day Wonder Woman Olivia Munn has transformed from geek goddess to the new thinking man’s woman.
ISSUE: Spring 2011
DEPT: Cover Feature
Photographer Emily Shur
Wardrobe Monica Schweiger, monicaschweiger.com
Styling assistant Victoria Collins
Hair Jonathan Hanousek for Exclusive Artists/Kerastase
Makeup Amy Oresman
Location Pete’s Studio, Los Angeles, CA
Story Janice Jann
It must be really hard to date Olivia Munn. Not because she’s gorgeous in the girl-next-door way, with freckles lightly scattered across her button nose and her goofy, toothy grin. Not because she’s got the wicked sense of humor of a teenage boy, spouting racy jokes one minute, shocking hairstylists and photographers the next. And not because she has the curves — and we’re talking curves — of a real woman, unlike other half-starved actresses.
No, it must be really hard to date Olivia Munn because she is probably one of the busiest women in Hollywood right now. After rescheduling six times the first day, only to push the interview back to the next day, only to have her finally call me on the phone while driving between errands, I almost felt like a suitor who just wasn’t getting the hint. “Sorry, I know you had to move stuff around for me all the time,” apologizes Munn. “It’s [just] an amazing time right now.”
An amazing time, indeed. Besides television gigs on both sides of the coast, Munn is also a best-selling author who just landed her biggest movie role to date. I understand, but Munn still extends an offer to meet in person. The next morning, I arrive at her newly purchased home tucked away in the Hollywood Hills, bearing a gift. “Oh, nice!” she exclaims, unwrapping a Japanese jelly energy drink. “I actually needed this.” She shows me around the house, sharing intimate details, from photos of loved ones (there’s shots of her mother with all her siblings) to the contents of her fridge (I spot kimchi). It’s clear that the Chinese-German-Irish Munn is as Asian as she is American.
Growing up, Munn spent a large portion of her youth in Japan and Oklahoma, and it wasn’t easy moving around a lot. “When you’re always the new girl, it forces you to come up with new ways to make friends,” says Munn, “because every time you go somewhere, it’s literally the same battle. Eventually with me, once I built up so much scar tissue, I didn’t have to worry so much about becoming popular or being welcomed or being accepted.” That doesn’t mean Munn doesn’t care what people think now that she’s in the spotlight. “Nobody wants to be un-liked. You want people to respect you,” she says. “It’s really annoying, those people who go, ‘I just want to do art.’ Really? ’Cause why aren’t you doing community theatre in Missouri? You’re out here busting your ass for a Taco Bell commercial. … I think once everybody is honest with themselves on what they’re searching for, you can break down what truly matters at the end of the day.”
Munn realized early on that what she wanted at the end of the day is to act. In second grade, Munn informed her mother of her dreams and was met with rejection. “She was like, ‘no, no, you be a lawyer,’” Munn recalls. “They took a big risk coming to America with no money and so they think, don’t take risks. And from that moment, I thought I wasn’t allowed to dream that dream.” But the dream refused to die and a couple of years later, Munn begged her mom to move to Hollywood. “Financially, I could have made it [on my own], but because I’m Chinese, I needed my mom’s approval,” Munn says. “It’s ingrained into my DNA.” Munn’s mother, in turn, made her graduate from the University of Oklahoma with a journalism degree and work for a year at a local television station before granting her permission to move west.
But getting to Hollywood was only half the battle. Though the actress is embraced for her unique look now, that wasn’t always the case when she was a struggling artist. “Early on, I knew I didn’t look like everyone else. I used to look in the mirror and cry and literally hit myself [because] my eyes looked so Asian,” says Munn. She did some catalogue modeling that “sucked because I was the shortest and the biggest out of all the girls.” And she set her sights on the future, one goal at a time. “I told myself, my bar will always be higher than what I was doing at the time. Then if I reached that one, I would make another higher one, and another one,” she says. “I’ve worked hard for a long time [so I could] tell myself, I’ll never be the reason I hear no.”
It was a resounding yes for Munn when she got the offer to host G4’s Attack of the Show (AOTS), a tech-gaming live variety show. Munn joined AOTS in 2006 and over the next four years, a geek goddess bloomed. “I didn’t know what [the show] could do or what it could bring; I just knew that I wanted to be myself and I only wanted to do things that I found funny and not conform,” she says. “That was a place that allowed me to do it.” Together with co-host Kevin Pereira, Munn raised AOTS to cult status, with the tech-geek, Internet- savvy, heavily male audience embracing Munn’s quirky blend of humor, tomboy attitude and sex appeal. (Case in point: a video of Munn chugging a hot dog has more than 11 million hits on YouTube.)
Munn’s reign on G4 ended late last year, but her profile is rising higher than ever with the new NBC prime-time series Perfect Couples and as a correspondent on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Despite all her slightly naughty behavior in front of the camera (Munn’s Maxim and Playboy bikini shoots top her Google images search), the rising star’s managed to stay out of the tabloids, until recently when she was linked to Justin Timberlake. “Over the last year, I’ve dated guys that, if people knew, would be on the cover of magazines. But they don’t find out because I say, ‘hey, would you like to go to Valencia?’” says Munn. “Some people go to restaurants that are so popular. They say it’s really good food. You’re like, ‘what food is worth that?’ The lobster ceviche will be just as good in a to-go box.” Already a pro at handling fame, Munn knows how much to give and what to keep private. “I feel like I’ve been given a lot and I try to say thank you. The only thing I ask of myself is to try to keep my personal life personal,” she says. “I will take as many pictures as you want, I will try to answer every single question under the sun, and the reason I’m doing that is so you’ll realize that I just have to keep something for myself.”
True to her word, Munn’s relationship with her fans is legendary. The celeb is known for her generosity at impromptu fan meet-and-greets and for fulfilling fanboy desires with sexy cos-plays. Her fan club, cheekily called the OMFGs (Olivia Munn Fan Group), totally reciprocate the love. “They’re amazing. I’m very lucky. It’s a really good feeling to know they have my back,” gushes Munn. And though she’s left G4, she won’t be leaving the OMFGs behind any time soon. “They put me on this ride,” she adds. “They’re coming along for the ride.”
So where does Munn hope this ride will take her? “I’m in a place where I’m very grateful and I’m living my dreams right now,” she says. “I’m doing a million things at once, but the next step is just being on the same plane and being able to hold onto that.” Munn pauses and gazes at the plush white rug we’re lounging on. “I believe in the energy you put out there,” she continues. “If you just keep putting it out there and then if it all goes away, well, as long as I’ve been working hard and I’ve been respectful to myself, my friends, my family, then I’ve won and I’ll feel good about that. I just hope it doesn’t.”
Purchase Munn’s Spring issue here.