The supernatural spy thriller The Rook, airing with eight episodes on Starz, follows Myfanwy Thomas (Emma Greenwell), a woman who wakes up at London’s Millennium Bridge with no memory and no way to explain why she’s surrounded by a circle of dead bodies. While trying to piece her memories back together and figure out why she’s a target, she returns to the Checquy, where she’s a high-ranking official in what amounts to a secret service for people with paranormal abilities, in order to find answers about her own troubled past and to understand what she’s truly capable of.
During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, actress Olivia Munn (who plays Monica Reed, employed by the U.S. Bureau of Variant Affairs, American counterpart to the Checquy, and personally invested in uncovering the secrets surrounding Myfanwy) talked about being the lone American voice in this story, how much she knew about the stories mysteries ahead of time, uncovering the surprises of the season, how she grew to appreciate her character, the rules she follows for the roles that she signs on for, and finding the confidence in her own voice, to speak up for what she wants.
Collider: Particularly in the beginning, your character is quite isolated from everyone else because they don’t really want her there. What was your experience like, in making this? Did you feel like you were working very separately from everyone and everything else?
OLIVIA MUNN: Yeah. I’m the only American character in the cast. I’m definitely the American eyes looking into this corrupt agency. We’re all part of the same organization, but I’m a part of the U.S. organization, having come over to the London agency, and she’s trying to figure out what’s going on within this agency. At the same time, she has her own personal agenda that she’s trying to figure out, as well. So, it was a really interesting, fun role to play. I love British spy thrillers – the classical school ones. Reading this script, everything was just so intricate and detailed, and I loved that they were so economic with their words. Everything that you’re watching is needed. What I love about her is that she’s relentless and very resourceful, and she’ll figure out a way to find her answers, no matter what the cost.
How much information did you get, at the beginning of this?
MUNN: There are some people, like Emma Greenwell, who don’t wanna know anything. I’m somebody that likes to know a lot more, so that I can digest it all, and then throw it away. However, with this one, there was a middle ground. The creators were really great. They were like, “We’ll tell you as much as you want to know.” So, I was able to get a couple of episodes ahead, but I didn’t wanna know how the entire thing would wrap up, too early on. I wanted to be able to bring in some of that uncertainty and suspicion that I wanted the character to have.
She seems like she knows a little bit more than some people, but doesn’t necessarily know the whole picture.
MUNN: What she knows is that there is a corruption going on in this British agency, and she knows that a lot of people are programmed to turn a blind eye and look the other way. She knows there’s something wrong, and she knows that nobody else is gonna expose it, so she’s gotta get into it. Just knowing that was enough. If you know that you know there’s something wrong and nobody else knows it, that’s a lot. Knowing that something’s wrong and that people don’t want to acknowledge it is enough to drive somebody because that’s more than a lot of other people.
What was it like to finally learn all of those answers? What was your reaction to how it played out?
MUNN: There was a lot of surprise. Your wheels start turning, and you start to think back on it. It all makes sense, when you look back and you start to realize, “Oh, that moment mattered because of this,” and you start to put it together.
Did you feel like it played out how you thought it might, or were you surprised?
MUNN: I was surprised. I love this kind of show, when you’re trying to unravel and figure it out, especially binge watching it and putting it together. By the time it came around, it was already starting to make some sense, but there were definitely moments, motivations or reasons that I wasn’t expecting, for sure.
Are there things that you grew to appreciate about who Monica Reed is, as a character, the longer you played her?
MUNN: I have one prerequisite before I take on any role, which is, does she exist if he doesn’t exist? Another soft rule that I have, that I’ve applied a lot to whether I take on roles or not is whether her motivations is simply because she’s lost a child or a man. I haven’t wanted to do those roles ‘cause I feel like a woman always has to be really upset or vengeful because she’s no longer a mother, a wife or a girlfriend. I just wanted the motivation to come from within, or from something that had nothing to do with those attributes. So, it was a soft rule for me, but it’s a rule that I’ve applied it to a lot of things that I was turning down. In this show, she is trying to figure out what happened to the man that she loved. That normally would be something that I would say, “Why is that?,” and I’d probably be probably be pretty obnoxious, in that way. But there were so many other things that I love about this show, and that wasn’t who she was, in totality, or at least who they were showing her to be, and I really did appreciate that more. Just looking at the motivation of, not that she lost a loved one, but to try to get justice for someone that she loved, whether it be a brother or a boyfriend or a friend, and finding that within her, I really did learn to appreciate, understand and respect those storylines where people are trying to avenge a loved one’s death. In this show, they did it in a different way that didn’t feel like that was her only passion in the world.
She’s clearly already a woman who’s established in her life and career.
MUNN: Exactly. She’s not throwing everything away for this person that she loves and is now gone. It’s more than just avenging his death, or finding justice, or trying to right what’s been wronged. It’s the beginning crack of a bigger conspiracy and a bigger issue that has to be handled.
You talked about having these rules for roles that you do. Is that something you’ve always done, or is that something that took time for you to realize you needed to do?
MUNN: No. In beginning, at least for me, I wanted to work. You play into certain stereotypes or roles because you want to do anything just to work. While I was doing Attack of the Show! on G4, when I was getting more opportunities and before I went onto The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, I got tired of doing one thing and I was playing into one thing, and I just wanted to do something different. After awhile, what I realized was that it just wasn’t what I wanted to do. If I was gonna be spending my time doing anything, I wanted it to be something that I, personally, enjoyed and believed in. I didn’t really think they were rules. I only call them rules now because it’s the clearest way to explain it to my own representatives. You have to explain to your reps why you don’t want to take certain roles, and it’s a process of teaching them, if you keep coming to me with these roles, we won’t be making money together. Those same roles will keep coming and coming. It’s a long process of teaching people what you’re interested in and what you want to do, which can be very different from what people offer you and see you in.