Olivia Munn on Hosting Critics' Choice Awards Amid Hollywood Harassment Scandals

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"The goal at the end of everything is just to entertain people," says Olivia Munn.

"At the end of the day, everyone's intention is just trying to entertain," says the star and Time's Up activist of her plans for the Jan. 11 ceremony, where Gal Gadot will be honored.

She's played Psylocke in an X-Men movie and a fast-talking TV economist on HBO's The Newsroom, but Olivia Munn is taking on one of her most challenging roles yet: host of the 23rd annual Critics' Choice Awards on The CW. The actress previously co-hosted Attack of the Show! on G4 from 2006 to 2011 and the Academy's Scientific and Technical Awards (with Jason Segel) in 2016. Munn, 37, tells The Hollywood Reporter her thoughts on emceeing an awards show solo for the first time, and how she'll do so amid Hollywood's harassment scandals.

This is arguably your biggest hosting gig yet. Do you get nervous?

It's definitely different on my own. I did reach out to a lot of people who said they would co-host with me, but [the Critics' Choice producers] were insistent that I do this alone. I guess they have faith in just me. But ever since my days on G4, I've met so many amazing writers, producers and creatives over there, so whenever I've been given any opportunity over the years, I reach back out to my friends at G4. So that was the first thing I did. Having people who are talented and smart, and who have known you, definitely takes the heat off because we're all just trying to create something that can be entertaining and fun.

Will it be similar to your hilarious SAG Awards nominations announcement with Niecy Nash?

We had no idea that we weren’t supposed to do it that way! I don’t think either one of us had ever woken up early enough to watch one of those, so afterward people were expressing how fun it was, and we were like, "That’s not what people do? That’s not what we were supposed to do?" I love her so much.

Will you go for political punchlines? At the Emmys, some people were upset when Sean Spicer showed up, for example.

At the end of the day, if it's entertaining, it's entertaining — but entertaining doesn't mean being soft. If something feels like the right joke or the right bit, then we'll go there, but my style is not to shock. I remember that bit, and I thought the funny thing was Melissa McCarthy's face and watching everybody's eyes pop out. Everyone's intention — the creators, the host, the producers, the writers — is just trying to entertain. I don't think anyone is doing something just to shock or be malicious. Now being on the other side of this, my intention is to entertain, but not shy away from anything because it's taboo or risque.

You accused Brett Ratner of sexual misconduct, and harassment in Hollywood has been very much at the top of everyone's minds. Does that inform how you'll host?

I do believe that comedians are there to make light of really serious issues because it helps take the steam out of things. But what Dave Chappelle did, [calling a Louis C.K. accuser "weak"], I didn't find that funny. When you're talking about women who are physically or sexually violated, and on top of that, pushed out of our business — whether it's people stopping opportunities for them, or the experience of having to watch their abuser continue to flourish scours them from this business — then it's in poor taste, and it's really tone deaf to the experiences of others. And I think especially Chappelle, as a minority, should show more empathy for the experience of other people who are abused and belittled and pushed down. You don’t shy away from things, but you also don’t say it just to be mean, or just to get a laugh. The big thing is moving forward. We have to elevate each other. Elevate other women, minorities, and the LGBTQ. That will be the big thing: to change history, get more opportunities and not only be known for the abuses that have happened to us.

You're also involved with the Time's Up initiative. What are you most proud of about the way women are demanding change?

This isn't a women's issue, this is an abuse of power issue; it just so happens that a lot of heterosexual men are in positions of power, and they've abused women. There are a lot of men too. Terry Crews spoke out — and it’s very difficult as a straight man, and as a straight black man, to come forward with something like that — and there are a lot of gay men who've come forward with stories of abuse. The common denominator with everybody is they have been abused by someone who's in a position of power over them. What I'm really proud of is that the Time's Up group has created a defense fund to help women and men — anyone who needs help financially — to go against someone who's harassed them. And it's not just for Hollywood; it's for anyone in any profession.

This being the Critics' Choice Awards, I have to ask: Do you read reviews?

I don't; I wait. The best friends that I have known for years are not in the business, so they'll tell me, because everyone knows I do not like being placated. After I hear from my friends, then I might see the email that the publicist sends out, but normally I just pass it right back.

What's the most memorable feedback you've gotten from critics?

I can’t remember a specific thing, but the moment I’m most proud of is the critics' response to the work I did in The Newsroom. That meant so much to me because I majored in journalism, and I worked at The Daily Show and was trying to be a fake reporter, and then I worked at The Newsroom and was pretending to be a real reporter. I made a very distinct decision to be unapologetic — I think a lot of times women who are in strong roles have had to have an apologetic demeanor. The response to that meant so much to me. I was just really proud of my work.

On that note, what would you like to say to journalists and critics working today?

The most important thing is to be respectful of the power of a headline. Jessica Chastain just said something about that. A headline is designed to grab your attention and not just twist the entire truth of the story. But we are doing journalism a disservice if we don’t take into account how people digest and remember the news, and a lot of the times, that is the headline. It’s important to be more thoughtful of that. And the audience has forced a lot of our journalists into things — and there’s a point where you have to because of ratings and readership — but with all this sexual harassment stuff that's coming out, we’re in a place right now where all these amazing journalists are doing what I believe a lot of them went to school for. It takes a lot of pride to curate a headline that will accurately depict what the stories are about, and not take words out of people’s mouths. 

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WONDER WOMAN LASSOS A NEW TROPHY
Gal Gadot will be honored with the #SeeHer award — by Rebecca Ford

Wonder Woman is adding another award to her shelf. Gal Gadot, who played the Amazonian warrior in the Warner Bros. blockbuster, will be the second #SeeHer Award honoree at the Critics’ Choice Awards.

Viola Davis received the inaugural honor, which was organized by the Association of National Advertisers, the largest marketing and advertising group in the U.S. The award "recognizes a woman who embodies the values set forth by the #SeeHer movement — to push boundaries on changing stereotypes and recognize the importance of accurately portraying women across the entertainment landscape."

Patty Jenkins, who helmed the film (which earned $821.8 million worldwide), will present the award to Gadot.

The duo have been trading tributes during awards season, with Jenkins most recently honoring her star at the Palm Springs International Film Festival on Jan. 3. Said Jenkins at that event: "You cast a superhero film and you hope for someone that can walk in those shoes, but what we got is a wonderful, kind, warm, generous, brave human being."

A version of this story first appeared in the Jan. 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.