Variety’s 2014 Breakthrough Actress Winner: Olivia Munn

'Newsroom' actress stays busy with anchoring other projects

Variety Breakthrough Awards Olivia Munn
Marc Royce/Corbis Outline

The Variety Breakthrough of the Year Awards, which recognizes a select group of rising stars in entertainment and technology, will be held Jan. 9 at the Consumer Electronics Show. 

Olivia Munn isn’t your standard-issue star on the rise. With her exotic looks (a mix of Chinese, Irish and German heritage) and unusual background (born in Oklahoma, then moved to Japan with her military family) she still exudes an all-American appeal, but with a twist.

“I speak Japanese, which came in useful when I did ‘The Newsroom,’ ” she says of the Aaron Sorkin HBO drama in which she plays brainy but socially awkward economist Sloan Sabbith. “It’s the first time I was able to use it in my career, which was really cool.”

SEE ALL: Breakthrough of the Year Awards

Munn’s ascent to stardom began a decade ago with the role of Girl No. 1 in the straight-to-video horror film “Scarecrow Gone Wild.”

She began generating Hollywood interest after a stint co-hosting the G4 TV network’s “Attack of the Show!”

In 2010 Jon Stewart hired her as a correspondent on “The Daily Show.” “I love doing comedy,” says the 33-year-old, “and that put me in a world where people like Aaron paid attention – and Jon and Aaron are still my two go-to guys for any career advice.”

Their advice has paid off handsomely — as have Munn’s other casting coups.

Her film roles include turns in “Magic Mike,” “Iron Man 2” and “Date Night.” One upcoming project is helmer David Koepp’s action comedy “Mortdecai,” in which she plays opposite Johnny Depp, Ewan McGregor and Gwyneth Paltrow.

Munn also stars as the female lead opposite Eric Bana in “Deliver Us From Evil,” produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and set for a July 2 release. She describes the movie as a “scary, supernatural thriller based on a true story about some real Bronx cops who got involved in some unexplainable events. I saw some of the actual police footage (of the events) and it was terrifying. I couldn’t stop thinking about it.”

On a more serene note, the busy actress also joined a cast that includes Matt Damon, Harrison Ford, Jessica Alba and Don Cheadle in the James Cameron, Jerry Weintraub, Arnold Schwarzenegger-produced Showtime documentary series “Years of Living Dangerously,” which airs in April.

“It’s all about the environment and global warming – hugely important issues,” she says. “I love having the chance to do such different projects. That’s my future plan – to keep mixing it up.”