Interview: Olivia Munn talks equal pay, #MeToo, the roles she wants to play and more while receiving the inaugural Voice for Justice Award at her Oklahoma alma mater

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Olivia Munn appears in Season 2 of "Six." History photo

Olivia Munn appears in Season 2 of “Six.” History photo

NORMAN, Oklahoma – To Olivia Munn, sexual harassment and misconduct in the workplace isn’t just a women’s issue.

So, the #MeToo movement and Time’s Up initiative aren’t just about making the world better for women.

“It’s the people that spoke out that really started creating this change and inspiring a lot of people to create a movement that would be able to not only help other people that want to come forward but to kind of structure it in a way that there’s, like, a very strong, bold line of what’s inappropriate, what’s not OK,” Munn told me in a recent one-on-one interview at her alma mater, the University of Oklahoma, in Norman.

“It supports women and men, because it’s not just a woman’s issue. It’s an abuse of power issue … and we know that with Anthony Rapp and Terry Crews. And so, there are organizations, and really it’s just the people that have come together to create a structure that allows people to have a defense fund that will help them if they need to come forward and also be there to support each other and really create just a great support system.”

The Oklahoma City native known for her onscreen work in HBO’s “The Newsroom,” in the “X-Men” film franchise and on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” swept back into her home state earlier this spring to be recognized for her leading lady role in Hollywood’s #MeToo moment.

Munn, 37, received the inaugural Voice for Justice Award for her leadership and activism against sexual harassment in the workplace at the University of Oklahoma’s Women’s and Gender Studies Board of Advocates fourth annual Voices for Change gala.

“Obviously, so much development has happened in the last seven months, and the floodgates have opened,” Munn said as she accepted the award. “Not only did I go forward to talk about it publicly, but it’s something that we deal with on a daily basis. And when you go up against very powerful, very rich people, there are consequences that follow you. And it’s so important to not be afraid and it’s also important to understand why it happened and how we can lead with positivity and grow from this.”

Olivia Munn and Jacob Tremblay appear in "The Predator." Twentieth Century Fox photo

Olivia Munn and Jacob Tremblay appear in “The Predator.” Twentieth Century Fox photo

Going on record

In November, Munn and five other women, including fellow actress Natasha Henstridge, went on record in a Los Angeles Times article with allegations of sexual misconduct against producer and director Brett Ratner (“Rush Hour,” “X-Men: The Last Stand”).

In Munn’s case, though, the allegations weren’t new. She wrote in vivid detail about an unwanted and inappropriate sexually explicit encounter with an A-list director in her best-selling 2010 memoir “Suck It, Wonder Woman! The Misadventures of a Hollywood Geek.”

“I remember first noticing him wearing an Oxford shirt and holding a fistful of cocktail sauce-smothered shrimp,” she wrote. “He popped one down his throat and then another. … He was masturbating. Right there. With shrimp in one hand. And me standing in front of him. Masturbating. Mastur-bating. I’m not even kidding.”

Munn didn’t identify Ratner by name in the book “because legally I couldn’t get away with that,” but in 2011, Ratner revealed that he was the filmmaker in question on “Attack of the Show,” the cable TV series where Munn got her Hollywood breakout as co-host. He crudely claimed on the show that he and Munn once had a sexual relationship and when he “forgot her, she got pissed off, and so she made up all these stories about me.”

But Ratner admitted a week later to Howard Stern that he had lied about Munn, that they’d never had a sexual relationship, and apologized.

“So, it was all very public,” Munn told me before the gala. “He to apologize for lying about me publicly, and then two years later gets a huge $450 million deal with Warner Bros. So, that’s proof that people didn’t care … enough to have the outrage that we have today.

“I don’t know why. My best guess is that, you know, we’ve got the Z Generation and the millennials, and they are using their voices for change,” she added. “And social media can be used for a lot of bad things, but it can be used for a lot of great things. And this public outrage, you know, that’s the thing that has been moving the dial for all of us. I think we’re very lucky for the next generation that’s coming up, they care, and they care what’s happening to other people and they want it to stop and they use their voices to try to affect change. I mean, I’ve been thinking about it for a long time, why now? I mean, nobody cared in 2011. But now they do … and that’s my best guess.”

In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, the Los Angeles Times report detailing the allegations against Ratner led to serious career repercussions: Warner Bros. opted not to renew Ratner’s expired first-look deal, and he lost his storied office space on the Warners lot in Burbank, California. He was moved off the movie “The Goldfinch,” an adaption of Donna Tartt’s best-selling novel, that he was set to produce.

Just days before traveling to OU to receive the Voice for Justice Award, Munn celebrated on Twitter the news that Warner Bros. had severed its final ties with Ratner by opting not to renew its $450 million co-financing deal with the disgraced filmmaker.

Ratner joins the ranks of actor Kevin Spacey, comedian Louis C.K., TV anchor Matt Lauer and other prominent men in the entertainment industry who have faced consequences for sexual misconduct allegations since The New York Times published last fall its investigation into decades worth of producer Harvey Weinstein’s alleged misdeeds.

“When it happened, it was just very surprising when people were believing it and there were repercussions to Weinstein. You know, I’ve heard people speak out in the past about different things, but for there to be real repercussions for people who are in power — and in big power positions — that was surprising,” Munn said.

“It’s like you just wake up one day, and the world is different. I don’t know how else to describe it, you know? … All of a sudden it’s like we woke up and we didn’t have to put up with it anymore. And all of a sudden, ‘you mean what happened to me matters to you? You mean our worth is the same as this man in this power position?’ It’s just an interesting feeling … and so I’m still very hopeful. We’ve made a lot of progress, and we’re going to keep going forward. But I think the biggest thing is the public outrage and that people that are bothered by it – and then the bravery of the women. You know, have to name names. … It’s extremely hard.”

Munn majored in journalism at OU, and she said the average person may not realize the vetting involved when a newspaper or other media outlet reports allegations against a power person.

“People, any time that you’ve heard a name, just know that if it’s out there, if it’s gone through the press, it’s gone through like a blogger, any establishment, there is a huge vetting process because the establishment that’s putting out the story doesn’t want to get sued and can’t get sued,” she said. “I mean, these are very wealthy, very powerful people, so they have a lot of money. And so, if anyone goes forward, you have to come with multiple witnesses or people that you’ve told at the time. And you have to have evidence sometimes of ‘Here’s a receipt from the restaurant I was in when it happened’ or ‘Here was a gas station receipt that proves that I was in this area that I said this happened.’ It’s not a simple as saying, ‘Oh, this happened to me.’ It’s never a he said/she said. A newspaper can’t publish that, and people don’t always understand how hard that is to do that.”

Oklahoma native Olivia Munn appears in the HBO series "The Newsroom." Munn will be honored by her alma mater, the University of Oklahoma, April 13 at OU’s Women’s and Gender Studies Board of Advocates Voices for Change gala. HBO photo

Oklahoma native Olivia Munn appears in the HBO series “The Newsroom.” HBO photo

Advocating for equal pay

In December, the Oklahoma native wrote an essay for Entertainment Weekly explaining why she spoke out against Ratner and advocating for a “zero-tolerance policy with actionable consequences for sexual assault and any other forms of abuse.” In January, Munn was among 300 prominent female actors, writers, directors, producers and executives involved in the launch of the Times Up Initiative, an entertainment industry effort to provide legal defense funds to help less privileged women protect themselves from sexual misconduct.

She said she believes that equal pay is an important piece of ensuring that women receive fair treatment in the workplace.

“Heads of studios, bosses, CEOs should enforce equal pay, because continuing to pay us less just perpetuates this bias that we are worth less,” she said, as the gala crowd applauded. “By doing that, it trains boys at a young age to see that girls are inferior – and it grooms young girls to believe it. So, you wonder why we grow up and we take less money, we don’t know how to speak up, we don’t want to be assertive, we don’t want to be aggressive — because we don’t think that we deserve it.

So, we all have to push forward. And if you are in a position of power, I encourage you to make that change and to start to lift women up.”

As a woman and a minority woman, Munn, who is Asian-American, said she has spent a lot of time the past several months thinking about how allegations like hers were able to stand for so long with no real consequences for the likes of Ratner and Weinstein.

“That is the one question people continue to ask, from the very beginning and as more names come up. You hear like really, really famous actresses come forward with allegations, and you think, ‘Gosh, you’re so famous or you came from a famous family, and how did this happen? How did this happen for so long and no one said anything about it?’ That’s something that’s been on my mind a lot,” Munn said in her acceptance speech.

“Aside from the fact that we do exist in a world where men are believed more than women, women have to live with the stigma that we use our sexuality to advance our careers. Aside from that, what’s been going through my mind is that there be this more intangible reason why this has happened for so long.

“What’s been on my mind lately has been the collective unconscious in the world that I believe a lot of women operate under: We ignore our own intuition … because we don’t want to disrupt the status quo. We don’t want to cause a problem. Even when our intuition is screaming at us that this is not right, that we shouldn’t be here, that something is unsafe, we stay. We just don’t want to speak up and disturb the peace. So, we stay in situations that are dangerous and we don’t walk away because we just don’t want to be difficult – a word that I think a lot of women are a little tired of.

“So, to change the consciousness, we all have to be more aware of the microaggressions that we put out in the world that contribute to women feeling that way … and we have to be more responsible for that.”

She said this sense of responsibility has affected the way she chooses her film and television roles. She is playing a CIA operative in the History channel’s Navy SEAL drama series “Six,” which debuts its second season May 28, and a scientist in director Shane Black’s reboot of “The Predator,” due in theaters Sept. 14.

She also will make a cameo in the femme-centric heist sequel “Ocean’s Eight,” opening June 8, and as previously reported, Munn will play the title role Justine Bateman’s feature film directorial debut “Violet,” play an up-and-coming film executive who lives according to the Voice (Justin Theroux) in her head, until unexpectedly realizing the truth — it’s been lying about everything. Anthony LaPaglia is set to play her boss, who diminishes her confidence much like the Voice.

“Whenever I take on any role, I have one prerequisite: Does she exist if he doesn’t exist? Am I here to only tell this man’s story or lift him up? Because I have a niece who’s here with me, and as she grows up in the world, I want her to see more films and TV shows that represent women and their own stories and women of color and their own stories – and not just where we’re helping a man look awesome. So that’s where I have to be more aware and people in my business have to be more aware,” Munn said.

To read more of my interview with Munn, click here.

-BAM

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