Olivia Munn: Queen of the Uncool

Aug 14th, 2010 | By businessnews | Category: Business


The Web and cable star has achieved fame by targeting nerdy guys, who she says “control popularity”

By
Felix Gillette

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Courtesy G4

Six years ago, Olivia Munn arrived in Hollywood with fading ambitions of making it as a sports reporter and set about deploying her good looks in promotional campaigns for sodas, sneakers, and rock bands. None of it got her anywhere. Things started to change only when she found a niche market to target: nerdy guys. “The people who control popularity,” says Munn, “are the people who are not popular.”

In 2006, Munn joined the cast of Attack of the Show!, a live variety program that runs weeknights on G4, a peripheral cable network with 70 million U.S. cable and satellite subscribers geared to the passions (video games, viral videos, gadgets) of young men uninterested in sports. On the show, Munn and her cohorts regularly perform sketch comedy routines satirizing the staples of science fiction—vampire flight attendants, undead bureaucrats, bickering superheroes. Within this world, Munn typically plays suggestively clad, domineering female characters. The sexuality is undercut with a goofiness that aims to stoke young men’s fantasies and get them forwarding video clips to one another. It doesn’t take much. A clip of Munn wearing a sexy maid’s outfit and jumping into a pie racked up more than 800,000 views.

If this sounds rather piddling by the standards of, say. Lady Gaga, it is. But in lieu of a hit movie, hit song, or any of the traditional vehicles of stardom, Munn effectively has conjured popularity out of thin air. Last year she was a blip on the screen of Maxim magazine, which ranked her the 96th hottest woman in the world. This year she shot to No. 8. In May, Munn played the small role of reporter Chess Roberts in Iron Man 2. In June she joined Comedy Central as a Daily Show with Jon Stewart correspondent. In July she published her first book, Suck It, Wonder Woman!: The Misadventures of a Hollywood Geek, which made its debut at No. 26 on the New York Times best-seller list. This fall she plays a recurring role on the action comedy series Chuck, while also starring in a new NBC sitcom, Perfect Couples, co-created by former 30 Rock writer Jon Pollack.

Munn provides the ultimate case study in the current mechanics of human popularity. She plays in the field’s top venue (Hollywood) and is making extraordinary advances at a time of unprecedented competition and scrutiny. Every move she makes, personally and professionally, is recorded on the Internet—as are her audiences’ reactions. What was once ethereal and fleeting, the adoration of strangers, is now recorded for digital posterity in search engines and Web forums. And unlike most in Hollywood, Munn is happy to discuss and analyze her cutthroat pursuit of popularity—a subject that remains one of the entertainment world’s last taboos. The more people chase popularity, the more they tend to rationalize it as something else. Not Munn. “People say, ‘Oh, yeah, I wasn’t popular growing up—I didn’t care,’ ” says Munn. “Everybody cares. Somebody needs to say it.”

Growing up in a military family—the Munns moved from Utah to Japan to Oklahoma back to Japan and back to Oklahoma—Munn developed an early thirst for popularity. During much of her adolescence, she felt like an outsider and experimented with radical self-packaging. “Almost every month I would join a new clique,” she writes in her book. “But not just join them, I would completely transform myself.” She adopted the trappings of student government kids, alternative potheads, debate geeks, jocks, partiers, and ultimately mean cheerleaders. “All the things she wanted, she got,” says Corinne Secrease, a friend who first met Munn in the eighth grade in Tokyo and is now studying to be a nurse.

After graduating from the University of Oklahoma with a major in journalism and moving to Hollywood, Munn landed her first screen role in 2004, playing Girl #1 in the slasher film Scarecrow Gone Wild. This did not set her career on fire. Munn was born in July 1980, the same month as actor Kristen Bell, model Gisele Bündchen, and singer Jessica Simpson.

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