Olivia Munn: After an 'emotionally abusive' relationship, I'm finally focusing on me

The actress shared at the Forbes Under 30 summit how she balances passion and purpose, a Hollywood career with a healthy body image, and fighting for the causes that are most important to her.
Image: ForbesWomen editor Maggie McGrath interviews Olivia Munn at the Forbes 30 Under 30 Summit in Detroit on Oct. 27, 2019.
ForbesWomen editor Maggie McGrath interviews Olivia Munn at the Forbes 30 Under 30 Summit in Detroit on Oct. 27, 2019.Taylor Hill / Getty Images

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By Karen Dybis

Olivia Munn may seem like she has it all. She’s a successful actress, activist and financial powerhouse who invests her money so she can support herself and the causes she cares about.

But Munn admitted on Sunday at the Forbes Under 30 Summit in Detroit that she struggles to find balance in her work and personal life and peace in her relationships. Life, she is learning, isn’t about being tough.

“I was doing things unconsciously. I was in a relationship that was emotionally abusive. I thought you just had to gut it out,” Munn, 39, told ForbesWomen editor Maggie McGrath at the event. “Being a minority and a woman, it is ingrained in us to tough things out. We think life is supposed to be tough.”

But there are no shortcuts to good mental and physical health, Munn said. It was only when she took charge of her personal well-being, created daily habits to ground herself in the moment and accepted the fact that she simply couldn’t make anyone besides herself happy all of the time, did she start to feel balanced.

Olivia Munn at 2018's Met Gala. Eduardo Munoz / Reuters

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“We never ask men how they do it all. Because they don’t. They don’t do it all,” Munn told the audience, who applauded her candor. “You have to make a conscious effort to take care of yourself. It’s okay.”

Munn, who has a background in broadcast journalism, rose to fame on television with shows including HBO’s “The Newsroom” and Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” as well as movies including “Ocean’s 8” and “X-Men: Apocalypse.” She also works behind the scenes, pitching television shows and investing in businesses such as Uber and Wag.

“I excel when there’s this negativity around me for some reason. It propels me. It focuses me,” Munn said. “I think: I just have to work harder.”

Munn said her life felt unstable in recent years, partially because of work anxiety and a problematic romantic relationship. While she didn’t name anyone specifically, Munn was likely referring to her former boyfriend, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and a sexual-harassment scandal that emerged while she was working on and promoting the movie “The Predator” in 2018.

During that promotional tour, Munn came under the spotlight when she spoke up and challenged the movie’s director, producers and fellow actors to drop a scene that involved a man who was a registered sex offender. Munn said her career was affected, yet it was ultimately worth fighting for what she believed was right.

Munn said it was only when she started to give herself daily reminders to meditate, focus on the positive parts of her life and to honor the values she holds dear that she started to feel whole again. The actress said she also asked for help when she was in pain and feeling exhausted on and off for six years, finally receiving a diagnosis for candida overgrowth this past spring. Her new focus on her health isn’t about physical beauty, she said. Rather, it is about taking care of herself so she can do her best.

ForbesWomen editor Maggie McGrath interviews Olivia Munn at the Forbes 30 Under 30 Summit in Detroit on Oct. 27, 2019.Taylor Hill / Getty Images

Munn said she also feels a lot of pride for the work she has done throughout the ups and downs, including on “The Daily Show” and an upcoming project called “Violet,” with “Family Ties” television star Justine Bateman and actor Justin Theroux. Doing work that you love, developing healthy relationships and finding supportive friends is important to boost your overall mental health, Munn added.

“It’s really important to have people around you who are supportive of you and who aren’t negative but also can be critical and honest,” Munn said.

McGrath asked Munn what she advice she would give her younger self, and Munn drew a laugh and applause from the crowd when she said: “Break up with that guy.” But she also added people should do things that build them up on a daily basis.

“As hard as it is, take time to do some physical activity every day,” Munn said. “Learn a new language. Do stuff that will fill (your mind and soul) and be well.”