Olivia Munn: “I was just that Asian girl who came from YouTube or something”

By Kevin HoMovies - 26 July 2013 1:23 PM | Updated 5:11 PM

Olivia Munn: “I was just that Asian girl who came from YouTube or something”

If you thought news programmes were all dull and lifeless, then you really need to tune in to HBO’s 'The Newsroom', which premieres its second season in August.

Created by Oscar winner Aaron Sorkin ('The Social Network', 'Moneyball', 'The West Wing'), this political drama surrounding the workings of a nightly cable news programme has been taking Hollywood by storm, with a Golden Globe nomination on hand.

Olivia Munn, who plays the intelligent yet awkward news reporter Sloan Sabbith, recently visited Singapore for the media premiere to share her experiences on set, her thoughts on journalism, and her Asian roots.

'The Newsroom' actress Olivia Munn posing at a press conference

What drew you most to 'The Newsroom'?

There were two things that really stuck out for me. One was Aaron Sorkin, and two, I felt that the script was unlike anything else I had been reading. It was completely different. Although I had offers to play in other shows, I turned them all down just for the hope of auditioning for Sorkin.

Originally, I felt I was the one the casting crew didn’t want, simply because I wasn’t some Broadway actress with Broadway credentials. I was just that Asian girl who came from YouTube or something. “Oh, she’s not of our pedigree,” I thought they would think.

In addition to its daring premise, 'The Newsroom' also features a superb cast that includes Jeff Daniels, Dev Patel and Sam Waterson. What is it like to work with them?

It’s everything you would’ve wanted it to be. The great thing about our show is, with people like Jeff and Dev, they have this really great comedic streak. We’re doing this really serious hard material, but in between each take, we’re laughing and joking around and you learn a lot from them.

Any particular highlights from your stint at 'The Newsroom' so far?

Sorkin writes every single episode which is rare for someone of his stature. So there was this episode in season one where we didn’t get the script till the night before, and the very first scene I had the next day was this big one where Sam Waterson and I were to have this big fight. There were so many levels I wanted to bring to it and I worked on it all night long. I stayed up till 5am, and I cried from 2am to 3am. My friend was, like, “You can do this!” and I was like, “I just have to cry for an hour, let me cry!”

The next day when I got to the set and after I did my scene, I heard some commotion. Sorkin jumped out of his chair, clapped his hands, and yelled excitedly with some happy vulgarities in between. And then he came up to me and praised me for nailing it. That was definitely my special moment.

You look so convincing when you’re presenting the news on air. Do you think you could pull it off as a real-life anchor?

Well, I majored in journalism. In college, I was writing for the school publication and I had several internships, even working at the NBC affiliate at one point. I really wanted to tell stories and that’s what I think a journalist does.

But nowadays, I think it’s so difficult to be a journalist. We, as a society, have made it difficult for a journalist, who has the obligation to sensationalise stories just for ratings. On one hand, a journalist can get a bad reputation, and on the other hand, some are admirably going off to war just to get these really hard stories. I think I prefer pretending to be a journalist. I’m also happy that I get to use my degree somewhat.

Munn sharing her thoughts on the difficulties of journalism

Sloan Sabbith is a pretty unique character. Was her character inspired by any real person?

The first thing to note is that the character doesn’t belong to me, it belongs to Aaron Sorkin. So any questions I had I went to him. He told me that she was not based on anyone, just lots of research he did to help create the role.

However I was very specific on how I wanted Sloan to look. Lately when you look at female journalists they wear a lot of jewelry and colourful outfits. I didn’t want there to be anything that would take away from the information she was giving. I wanted Sloan to wear a fitted suit, something sleek and professional without flaunting her sexuality.

Sloan also speaks fluent Japanese, which coincides with your Japanese background of growing up in Tokyo. Did you have fun bringing this aspect to the show?  

When I told the writers I grew up in Japan and that I could speak conversationally, though admittedly rusty because I haven’t been there in a while, Sorkin came up to me and asked if he could give me a couple of words in Japanese, like one small sentence.

When I got it, it wasn’t even conversational Japanese! It was Japanese for a news broadcast which was so professional that even the Japanese team on set had to be corrected. Nonetheless I was really glad I could use my Japanese again, especially for Sorkin.