Since working with Blumhouse on Jordan Peele's acclaimed horror-thriller Get Out, Allison Williams has been desperate to team up with the production company again. So when its founder Jason Blum reached out to her about collaborating on M3GAN, a tongue-in-cheek fable about a killer child-looking android, she was all in before she even saw a screenplay.
"I'd already decided I'd love to go back to work with this group of extremely talented people, then I started reading the script that Akela Cooper wrote so well, and I was like, 'Oh, this is awesome.' I couldn't put it down," the actor, who has appeared in other scary flicks like The Perfection and Horizon Line over the years, tells Total Film and GamesRadar+. "I was sweating. I was so nervous. I was like, 'Who's gonna make it out alive? Who do I even want to make it out alive?' I didn't know who was rooting for a lot of the time."
In M3GAN, Williams plays Gemma, a gifted roboticist whose career-focused life is thrown out of whack when she's suddenly tasked with raising her 8-year-old, newly orphaned niece Cady (The Haunting of Hill House's Violet McGraw). Unable to connect with the lonely youngster, she buries herself in her latest work project: a cutting edge AI toy that walks and talks just like a little girl. Essentially, the Model 3 Generative Android, M3GAN for short, is a buyable best friend and Gemma figures that if Cady had one, she wouldn't be so sad and dependent. Gemma programs the doll to teach Cady, her primary user, basic life skills and protect her from harm, too – an order that proves to have terrible consequences when M3GAN starts becoming more independent with each update, and offing everyone she perceives as a threat.
"I kind of preferred the doll to Gemma, but of course, I knew it was better for Cady to have a human guardian but… is it?! I didn't know," Williams admits. "The fact that I was already doing all of that while simply reading the script was a really good sign, then talking to [director] Gerard [Johnstone] just made me want to do it even more. As I started preparing to play Gemma, I really came to love her and understand her. She's not easy to love for most of the movie, even though most of us wouldn't be super functional in that situation; to be ready to just step into that motherly role. I relate to her."
Touching on how the character challenges the gender stereotypes of typical Hollywood titles, Williams notes: "In most movies where the lead is a woman, the movie would be about her finding a man. We have one line about Tinder matches, and then that's it. We never talk about it again. We don't know who the matches are. We don't get any sense that she cares. I just liked that. We were in a movie about a really smart, successful engineer. It's a woman, she's obsessed with her job. She's not obsessed with being a mom or finding a man to complete her. That's cool, and because of that, she already felt way more familiar to me than so many characters I see on screen. She reminded me of myself in a lot of ways and a lot of my friends, too.
"It's very easy to look at Gemma and be like 'Oh my god, just give her a hug' – but I also think that, with Gemma, that part of her just isn't developed," says Williams. "She's a bit like Dr. Frankenstein, right? She created this situation. She's a genius. She's so good at what she does. That is the part of her life that is the most meaningful to her and that she puts the most attention into. The relationship part has been long neglected and so suddenly she's a mom and she just doesn't know how to handle it. She thinks, 'I know, the part of my life that I do put all my focus into – the one that I think has the most promise for our future, the one I believe in the most – I'm gonna take that part and add it to this other part and hope that it helps.' Then everything's fine, everything's perfect and nothing goes wrong. It's a family comedy...” she laughs.
Of course, things do start going wrong and as Gemma slowly realizes how dangerous M3GAN can be, and her relationship with Cady becomes even more distant and tense. At one point, Cady lashes out at Gemma as she tries to convince her to see the harm M3GAN is causing – a surprisingly dark, serious, and emotional moment in an otherwise fun, campy movie. Fortunately, for Williams, McGraw is "such a joy to work with" that even shooting a scene as hard and heavy as that one wasn't as tough as she had been expecting.
"No one does morose like Violet McGraw," Williams gushes. "This girl can channel, 'I'm in the depths of hell' so beautifully. She is so funny. Let me shock you with this: she's got a dark sense of humour. She's so professional. She's so smart.
"Gemma's arc, essentially, is that she realises that her priorities have shifted tragically too late. She knows in that scene that she now cares much more about her parenthood of Cady than her parenthood of M3GAN. But her timing is so off, she misses Cady. Cady is trying to attach to her in the beginning and then ditches her and attaches instead to M3GAN. Gemma knows what she should've done from the beginning, which is to acknowledge the pain and the trauma and the loss that Cady is experiencing rather than trying to put a big expensive, four-foot tall Band-Aid on it."
"It's such a turning point," she says. "There's a bunch of stuff in this movie that you don't think are going to fit into the tonal landscape of it that works well; things you don't think you'll get when you sign up to go see it. You're not like, 'I bet someone's gonna burst into song a couple times during this movie.' And yeah, that happens, too. Those are the best moments."
Although she's "always been lucky enough to be pretty involved" in the things she's worked on, M3GAN marks Williams' first project as an executive producer – and it's something she's keen to do more of in the future.
"I loved being part of making sure we made the best movie we possibly could, but also making sure there was a happy vibe on set and we found the right cast and crew," she says. "Dealing with the marketing materials and talking about how you're going to publicize the movie; I really enjoyed the whole spectrum. While we were filming, I didn't get to have the full executive producer experience because I was busy in other ways but at lunch, we'd have production meetings and whenever I could, if I wasn't in the middle of a really tough scene, I would be there for those meetings and it was really fun switching. We used to say it was like I'd take off my actor hat and put on my producer hat and I switch them back after. I loved it. I'm addicted to it. There's no going back now.” Just like M3GAN, Williams has evolved.
M3GAN releases in the US on January 6, and in UK cinemas on January 13. While we wait, check out our list of the most exciting upcoming movie releases coming our way in 2023 and beyond.