As the second season of “The Newsroom” opens in India, Olivia Munn tells us what to expect from the popular HBO series
On reaching the Four Seasons Hotel in Singapore when one was told that only Olivia Munn is coming to talk about the second season of “The Newsroom”, one felt a little letdown. For if not Aaron Sorkin himself one was expecting somebody from the production side to put this relentless pursuit of idealism in a newsroom on HBO in perspective for the Asian audience. Because for all her feisty persona as the no nonsense financial journalist Sloan Sabbith, Olivia is known to keep the lads busy with her bit roles in “Iron Man 2” and “Date Night” and her ravishing poses in “Maxim” and “Playboy”. But then, appearances are deceptive as one figured out the real Olivia in a Monique Lhuillier graphic print dress. By the way before one was ushered into her suite, sources had told me that she has a degree in journalism. One took it as nothing more than a footnote but it turned out to be her asset.
“I have been able to bring ‘comfort-ability’ as a journalist to Sloan,” she starts at a pace which should give Aaron the satisfaction that every word of his can make it to the prime time audience within the stipulated time. She takes pride in the fact that she has been able to keep pace with Aaron, known for his wordy dialogues that at times go on and on their sanctimonious trip. “Often people who play journalists only mimic what journalists say on television. To me, being a journalist means being a storyteller. And I was very comfortable in that role. Also, I see journalism as the pursuit of information and truth that the public needs to know and asking questions that deserve to be answered.”
As one tried to corner her on the idealistic visage of the series, Olivia quietly counters, “We showed how messed up the situation is. How deluded the news can be when corporate money plays with the information that we get. It is the way we handle the news that is idealistic. What’s wrong with seeing the bright side,” she asks.
However, in a television series, the writer has the advantage to cherry pick the top news while in real life television newsrooms, producers keep looking for ‘interesting’ stuff on dry days to keep the audience as well as the advertisers involved in the business. “I am someone because of my journalism background who very much believes that we as a society have brought down our journalists by propagating this ADD (attention deficit disorder) culture. I mean, how many cable news programmes, how many blogs, how many Twitter feeds we subscribe to. We force our journalists to try to keep our attention. It leads them to do something salacious, to keep the advertisers interested and influence the ratings. I don’t think journalists enter the profession to do all this. But I agree we do have the unfair advantage of not fulfilling the daily rigours of filling space.”
This year, she continues, the series will see that people with this idealistic view of life can also go wrong. “Those who feel that this needs to be told and we are going to tell it what happens to them when they follow a bad tip. It puts all our news team in jeopardy and puts our jobs on line. Aaron has weaved in a real situation that happened in CNN in the ’90s,” says Olivia referring to Operation Tailwind where a whole story about the U.S. using sarin gas in Laos during the Vietnam War was retracted by the channel after an internal inquiry. “What you see is that you can be idealistic but still you can go wrong. Anybody can go down if he is not thinking. Everybody has the ability to fall.”
On the portrayal of female journalists in the series, where Sloan is alluded to as an eye candy, Olivia says gender bias is a reality everywhere. “I think it will behove everyone especially women if instead of trying to succeed in a man’s world we try to fulfil our fullest potential. If you just focus on just that and the fight is still going on, then you are better equipped to win that fight.” Recalling the casting process, Olivia quips, “The casting people didn’t want to see me because I’m not the Broadway-type actress.” But then they wanted to show the ethnic diversity in the newsroom and Olivia’s fluency with Japanese came in handy. In fact, Aaron has made good use of her proficiency in the language in the narrative. Olivia says it started with two lines and went on to two pages of dialogues in Japanese.
As for dressing up for the character, Olivia says she doesn’t like journalists who turn up on the show with heavy jewellery matching with the outfit. “I feel it takes the focus away from the news. I have tried to keep Sloan simple and straight. But we all live in a world where people dress up and try to look nice. And if it’s going to make it easier to get people to listen to you then it’s not a problem for me. That’s how our society is. The way you look has nothing to do with how intelligent you are.” In fact, she finds it heartening that the definition of beauty is expanding and that a half-Chinese girl like her is also being labelled as sexy.
She says the response she has got from female audience is positive. “They relate to Sloan’s inner strength and that she doesn’t lead by her strength and simply exists and is just trying to do the best in her job.” When it comes to dealing the emotional confrontations of the character, Olivia, refusing to divulge the details of Sloan’s personal life, says her Asian heritage comes into play and how she has been culturally brought up. “When Charlie, my boss, gets angry my reaction is not to scream, fight and be emotional. My choice is still to be respectful and not to cry and hold myself back. Anybody can give in to emotions but in real life we often have to curb our emotions and our feelings and have to be professional. Especially for women, it is important to hold on to your inner strength and not to become an emotional mess.”
Acting, says Olivia, was not a dream her mother was allowed to have for her daughter. “My mother has lived in Vietnam and has Chinese blood. She never thought or wanted her daughter to be an actress. When acting opportunities were coming up and I decided to leave journalism she gave me a couple of years to see if it works and the day I took her out to shop for furniture she felt I had made it. My mother is a little dramatic,” she said in her accented voice. “Mama wants to watch her daughter on big TV to make me buy an LCD for her,” Olivia signs off with the hope that one day one can see her in a Bollywood movie.
(The writer was in Singapore at the invitation of HBO.)
My youngest brother loves Bollywood films and every Christmas he makes the entire family watch a Bollywood film. I find the stunts amazing. They defy science, maths and gravity. Last year, he showed us a movie where a horse slides underneath a train. We have seen cars drifting underneath a train but here a horse drifted and survived. I will love to be part of a Bollywood film because it seems anything is possible in a Bollywood movie!
I am someone because of my journalism background who very much believes that we as a society have brought down our journalists by propagating this ADD culture.