Allison Williams doesn’t consider herself a horror buff — in fact, she can only watch “Annabelle” by peeking through her fingers. Yet, after the runaway success of 2017’s “Get Out,” she finds herself with another horror hit on her hands: “M3GAN.”
In the Blumhouse film, which slayed its way to a $30 million opening weekend, Williams’ well-meaning but misguided roboticist Gemma faces a conundrum when niece Cady (Violet McGraw) is placed in her custody after a family tragedy. Struggling to connect with the grieving young girl, Gemma introduces Cady to her revolutionary new invention — the Model 3 Generative Android, a.k.a. M3GAN — to provide companionship.
The terrifying (but oh-so chic) AI doll quickly became an unexpected social media sensation, much to the delight of Williams, who also serves as an executive producer on the project. “I love anything that elevates original IP and risky genre-mixing. Not to be weirdly meta and self-deprecating, but I’m not Tom Cruise. It’s not like my face on the poster alone can guarantee a certain amount of opening,” she says. “The fact that movies like this are going to be seen and enjoyed by audiences just bodes well for others like it, and that is a very exciting version of our industry: one that’s experimental and doesn’t rely on being part of a pre-existing franchise to expect success.”
In an interview with Variety, Williams opens up about what drew her to the role of Gemma, her thoughts on a potential sequel and what makes M3GAN a gay icon.
Gemma is obviously well-meaning, but her methods of caring for Cady are unorthodox, to say the least. What drew you to her?
Oddly enough, Gemma was one of the hardest characters I’ve had to play, partially because she exists on a very, very specific tightrope in order for the movie to work. You need someone who is responsible enough that this mom, who we see is very well-intentioned and focused on her child’s well-being, would leave Cady to her in case anything catastrophic happening to her and her husband.
You also need to believe that she is someone who, presented with a child, is so useless that she’s going to resort to enlisting the help of a robot that she’s building. We also can’t think that, by the end, she is telling us that to be a good mom, you have to get rid of all the work in your life and focus solely on being a mother. That’s not what she believes.
We also want the audience rooting against her, and at certain point, you kind of are rooting for M3GAN to be Cady’s guardian — until the last second where the more adult, human parts of you are like, “Yeah, I guess it’s a better idea for her aunt to take care of her.” But we want people cheering for M3GAN for the rest.
It was just hard for me as someone who loves kids and would take this so seriously if I was given this responsibility. I find Gemma fascinating. I find those nuances make her someone that I love playing, because she felt very three-dimensional and contradictory and real and weird. It’s hard for me to put her in a box, which is always what I love in a character.
“M3GAN” had a bigger-than-expected opening weekend. How are you feeling?
I feel so gratified and excited and just really grateful. I understand that going to the movies is expensive and time-consuming, and we still are living in a pandemic. I get all the barriers of entry. So the fact that people are going out and picking our movie just thrills me. Everything is at our fingertips in our homes now. It makes it even more enticing to just say, “Screw it. I don’t want to leave the house. We’re just gonna watch something where I get to pee when I want to!” But this really is something that gets better with the more people that you’re watching it with, so to know that people are going to see it just thrills me.
You became a mom in real life after shooting this film. How did that change your perspective on the story?
It’s interesting because we’ve been working on this for so long. From the beginning of when I was working on it, I was not a mom in any way, to now, I have a full-on child! The fact that I lived through that full spectrum allowed me to see Gemma from all these different perspectives. I think it really strengthened my connection to her along all those different paths. Granted, we are extremely different — especially the way that we see parenthood. I can’t even begin to list the ways that we deviate from each other!
But it is something that definitely helped me see her differently and empathize with her various positions along her path. From a macro standpoint, looking at the movie, looking at what it’s saying, looking at the questions it’s asking and the concerns it’s raising, it allowed me to understand that from different points of view as well. It became more personal by the time we were finished.
M3GAN has become somewhat of a gay icon! What’s it like seeing the social media obsession with her?
It’s the pinnacle of what we could have possibly hoped for, the way she’s being treated. Truthfully, she’s a very specific kind of gal. Her iconic individuality is something that people can project so much onto and can put her into all these different memes and scenarios and it works.
I just have loved watching what people have done with her, in terms of the commentary, memes and jokes on Twitter. So many of the tweets that I’ve gotten have made me laugh out loud. Someone sent me a meme like, “The applause upon seeing Nicole Kidman’s AMC intro at the screenings of ‘M3GAN’ is so loud, I’m worried about the infrastructure of the theater.”
It’s hitting some kind of sweet spot that is so gratifying, mostly because when we were working on the movie and putting the trailer together, our biggest mission was to try to convey her vibe. Trying to get that across in a trailer was a really big challenge, so once it was out and once people just immediately started iterating on dance and stuff like that, we realized that not only had the basic plot and bullet points of the movie come across, but also people just got M3GAN. And then hopefully, after becoming kind of familiar with her essence, going to see her in the theater and just enjoying it even more.
Director Gerard Johnstone told me he’s interested in more “M3GAN” and open to a sequel. Are you?
While you’re making it, you can’t help but wonder, “If we got to make more, what would they be?” So much of what we do is in service of the people who watch it. So I think the idea of people wanting more and being able to deliver is so wonderful.
I just feel so grateful that it all has gone the way that it has, from the trailer coming out and people really embracing her, people going out and supporting the movie and seeing it and going back with their friends. The fact that they want more is just so great. It’s gonna be really fun if we get to work on it, to figure out how we can zig and zag that around the expectations of what it would be and try to keep things surprising while also delivering on the reasons that people want more in the first place.
People have already started making jokes about what a sequel could be called: “MEG4N?” “M3GAN 2.0?” Do you have any ideas?
We have written ourselves into a slight corner for having two failed M3GANs ahead of that [laughs]. I don’t have an answer for you, but I did see one Twitter thread that just listed all the sequels, doing different things with the numbers, and it ended with “M3GAN: Hobbs & Shaw.” It made me laugh so hard. The idea that it becomes part of the “Fast and Furious” franchise tickles me to no end.
You previously delivered a standout performance in “Get Out.” Is horror a genre you hope to continue exploring?
I follow interesting characters and interesting stories and scripts, and they just kept leading me in this direction! I think also now, it’s easy for people to picture me in the genre, so I get more things in this realm. But I also read things in other genres and other mediums — I just filmed a limited series [Showtime’s “Fellow Travelers”] that’s very dramatic and historical fiction. So it’s a very different genre, but I’m still playing someone that we are wondering what she’s experiencing throughout.
That idea of keeping people guessing, playing a role where I feel I can layer in a bunch of different stuff that becomes different each time you watch it. That is such a gratifying experience for me, so I feel like I’m just gonna keep doing that as long as I can. If it keeps bringing me into this genre, then so be it.
I’m really scared of everything, so I don’t watch a lot horror movies. The experience of interacting with horror fans and people who are hugely passionate about this genre has been such a pleasure. I have loved the pure-hearted enjoyment and embrace of everything from true camp to extreme scares. I just really love being in this world — one that I definitely could not have predicted myself being in.
Screenwriter Akela Cooper recently mentioned that there’s an unrated version of the script that was much gorier. What can you tell me about it?
Unrated! That makes it sound like it’s X-rated! We made the decision to move from R to PG-13 after we did a test screening of the PG-13 version that people seemed to enjoy just as much. So I think eventually, that R version may be available for people to see — I have no idea where or what the timeline would be. But it’s a really interesting case study. With an R rated movie, you get to say the F-word as many times as you want. PG-13, I believe you have one. It was such an interesting process for us to be like, “What’s the one?”
Who’s a better singer: Marnie from “Girls” or M3GAN?
Oh my God. Well, M3GAN. They both perform in very unexpected contexts. M3GAN’s audiences seem to love her work and really appreciate it in the moment. Whereas Marnie’s audiences were there by force, and really unhappily. I think M3GAN has a certain amount of confidence in her performance that Marnie could only dream of. M3GAN’s the better singer, but I’m sure Marnie’s still out there trying in some way. I’m sure she’ll cover “Titanium” after this.
This interview has been edited and condensed.