On Aaron Sorkin's The Newsroom, Olivia Munn – previously The Daily Show's "Senior Asian Correspondent" – plays the brilliant economist and financial reporter Sloan Sabbith. Armed with two Ph.D.s and a vocal frustration for underreported international news, she's the smartest journalist in the room. (No easy feat on a Sorkin show.) In time for this season's second episode Sunday, Munn spoke with Rolling Stone about the show's new direction, its alleged "woman problem," and Sloan's taste in men.
What's the pressure like on a Sorkin show?
I love college football. The sound of a bass drum on college game day is my favorite sound ever. So that's what I can relate it to – there's so much riding on it. When you're doing it, there's a lot of pressure, there's a lot of people that are watching. It's really intense, and it can be really exciting and fun at the same time. And the number one thing you have to do when you're in those situations, when the pressure cooker is hot, is just to stay focused. For me, the pressure is something that I only think about after the fact. It's the kind of intensity that you have to push aside.
It seems like Sorkin has taken a different direction in season two, and Jeff Daniels actually said at the L.A. premiere, "We know what we're doing now." Do you agree?
I thought we knew what we were doing in the first season. But immediately in the second season, Aaron changes the structure of the show and it's still the same show. We've now got this one story that goes around the whole show. If anything, what he's done focuses more on what we were doing. And now, instead of saying this is what happened in the news and this is how we would have done it differently, this time, our network, we're the ones that are messing up.
He brought in consultants like Ashleigh Banfield and Chris Matthews. Did the actors talk to them?
I go up and say hi to the writers room, but when it comes to creating the show, I think it's unanimously understood that's Aaron's world, and we don't really get involved in that. Any questions that we have, they're there to find Aaron and to help with whatever he is he's asking their help with. I think the most important thing when it comes to any kind of show, especially something that's written by somebody like Aaron Sorkin, who's so brilliant and so genius, is that these characters don't belong to us they belong to him. So any questions that I have, I go to Aaron on, and he's so thorough and he's so detailed that he can answer all those questions. And it's questions that he thought of maybe the first week. We talk it out and end up getting some sort of answer.
Does The Newsroom have a woman problem?
I don't think so, but I had such a great response from people. I was actually nervous, because women are harder on women. And for me, when I took on the role, I thought to myself, "I'm going to play it really strong and unapologetic, and also be feminine. And I will probably get a lot of women saying, "Who the fuck does she think she is? She should just wear a turtleneck and sit in a corner somewhere and be ashamed." And I was ready for that. So it was really such a great feeling to have so many older and younger women across the board, who are high in politics and heads of companies, come up and say, "Oh my god. I love Sloan and I relate to Sloan." I feel like that's actually a step forward that as women you can be a really strong woman, and still feminine, and be embraced by so many people.
But I feel like she spends half of season one trying to prove that she can be hot and smart.
That only came up once. That only came up one time in the very beginning when she thought when she was telling MacKenzie that she didn't want to do the morning show. And my thing was, "I get it," it was like, alright, so people want to look at something that's easier on the eyes than some frumpy 75-year-old man. I get it. There's nothing wrong with that, and I think that it's interesting that you say that, because it never came up the rest of the season. The only thing that was consistent with what you're saying is that Sloan never apologized for it. And I think that gets translated maybe in your head that she was trying to prove it, whereas she was just existing, and she was like, "Well, if you have a problem with this than that's really your problem. I'm not going to start wearing baggy sweatshirts to work because you think that I should apologize for being a woman and embracing my femininity and sexuality. But at the same time I can be smart."
But Will refers to her as "Victoria's Secret" when he's talking to MacKenzie and then in season two Charlie makes a comment that she should keep reciting stock quotes and wearing a skirt.
When he called her "Victoria's Secret," it wasn't her proving that she's hot, it was him saying, "This is how I see her." But he was like, "I'm deducing her to the first image that I have of her in my head." And MacKenzie quickly was like, "She's smarter than everybody else here." And that shut it down right away. And this year, I think when Charlie was saying that about reciting stock quotes and wearing a skirt, because of the banter, you could tell how the two of them were joking around. He was more just like playing that character. He wasn't being serious. It was their dry humor, their own dry banter of like, "I'm going to be the cranky old guy who says these inappropriate things" and that's why I was like, "Oh, how much time do I have to form a comeback," when clearly she's the smart one.
Why does Sloan like Don? I'm not getting the Don appeal yet.
You're not the first woman that's asked me that. Like I said, these characters don't belong to me, they belong to Aaron Sorkin. I'll keep reading and then I'll get the information from Sorkin and then maybe we'll both find out together.