Allison Williams And Gerard Johnstone On Bringing M3GAN To Life

Sometimes all it takes are a few glimpses of an actor in a trailer to know that they are going to be a major movie star.

In October one teaser delivered just that, introducing us to an iconic figure who became a cultural sensation overnight – something that surprised the filmmakers who brought M3GAN to life.

Within a week, the murderous robot had gone viral: her camp dancing skills helped the trailer climb to 150 million views, she became Halloween’s go-to fancy dress costume, and a sequel was greenlit before the film had even been released.

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“Obviously, when you make a movie like this, your goal is to try and make her into an icon in her own right”, director Gerard Johnstone explained to Zavvi.

“But for this to happen before the film has come out is very unusual – I could never have imagined the sensation M3GAN would become. And I certainly won’t be expecting this to happen with whatever film I make next!”

The world may have fallen in love with the Model 3 Generative Android (M3GAN for short) via the bonkers trailer, but the more ridiculous elements aren’t what attracted Johnstone to making the film.

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The New Zealand filmmaker, here following up his acclaimed low-budget horror comedy Housebound, was more immediately drawn to the social commentary in Akela Cooper’s screenplay, which he felt found a fun way to explore many of the anxieties he has as a parent.

“I have two boys [now aged eight and 10]. My wife and I were constantly having conversations about how phones and tablets have become virtual babysitters that we hand out to kids.

“They don’t get together and watch movies as a group anymore, or do any socialising, they just play Minecraft on their own and it sucks!

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“Some of my best childhood experiences were getting together with friends to watch films we shouldn’t have been watching at that age.

“I am grateful my kids love movies, but it’s hard to monitor their screen time when other parents don’t, so they’re still missing out on that social experience because of it.

“I had all these anxieties and frustrations, and the chance to package those into a fun, bonkers horror comedy was one I couldn’t say no to. It was the perfect source to channel all the issues I was having!”

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In Johnstone’s film, M3GAN is created by roboticist Gemma (Allison Williams) almost by accident. Long past her deadline to produce a prototype for a new toy her company can put on the market, she finds inspiration shortly after gaining custody of her niece Cady (Violet McGraw).

Seeing her become isolated following the death of her parents, Gemma goes back to her childhood dream of making a perfect toy that can act as a friend.

She just doesn’t realise how close a bond her creation will have to Cady, setting out to destroy anything that gets in the way of harming her.

The film is produced by Blumhouse, the legendary horror studio known for their cost-effective productions – very few of the company’s movies exceed the $5 million budget barrier, meaning they often make their money back within days of release.

But due to the demands of creating M3GAN, a process which involved blending elaborate practical effects with CGI, the costs went way beyond those expected from a Blumhouse movie.

Johnstone explained: “We all know the Blumhouse model, and we all went into this naively thinking we could follow it, but the complexities of M3GAN just meant that wasn’t possible.

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“I’m grateful that Blumhouse saw the potential in it and let us break the rules a little bit – even if it was intimidating to see that the budget for this was more than some of their most successful films.”

Interestingly, even though Johnstone is vocal in his efforts to praise the team who helped bring M3GAN to life, both he and star Allison Williams remain tight-lipped about the specifics of her creation, wanting audiences to fully believe in the character without becoming distracted by the “magic” required to get her on our screens.

We know there’s a young gymnast in costume at certain points (“she was a real miracle find”) and that an animatronic doll was also used – but that is only scratching the surface of the logistical complexities.

“I’m being very coy about it now when anybody asks, as I want people to be able to look at the screen and think ‘oh, that’s M3GAN’ without wondering about whether she’s a practical effect or CGI at any given moment”, Williams told Zavvi.

“But I can say that creating her was one of the biggest challenges I’ve ever encountered – it’s not an exaggeration to say every department working on the movie became involved in creating her.

“It was a communally rewarding experience, having the whole team solving this problem together, and we’re all so proud of how she’s turned out – we don’t want to burden audiences by telling them how the sausage was made just yet!”

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The actress caught up with Zavvi shortly after the premiere, admitting that the rapturous response to the trailer is the source of some nerves as she hopes it lives up to fan expectations.

Williams initially boarded the project as it gave her a chance to work with Blumhouse again, having previously starred in Jordan Peele’s Get Out, which remains their most acclaimed film to date.

“When I first got the script, I was inclined to say yes just because I love the idea of being back at this company. And then when I read it, I couldn’t put it down: I was nervous, sweating, and didn’t know who to root for and what I wanted, it did all the right things you want a horror to do.

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“But I was also drawn in by the idea of portraying someone who’s a genius and doesn’t spend her time obsessing over finding a man or having children – she reminded me of many of my friends in a way that I hadn’t seen on screen in a while.

“The idea of becoming an executive producer was also appealing because everything I’ve ever been a part of, I invest in 100,000%, it’s the only speed I can work at.

“I love being involved with the minutiae along the way, from seeing new drafts of the script to the edit, and helping with promotion. I just love the process of making movies from start to finish”.

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That process is something Williams takes seriously on every project, constantly thinking beyond each film as to where the story could go next. With a sequel already greenlit, has she got any ideas of where she would want to take M3GAN?

“When you’re in the horror genre, it’s so heightened, you have many opportunities to keep the party going. I remember when making Get Out, I kept saying to Jordan ‘is it possible that she’s only ambiguously dead?’

“He knew exactly what I was trying to do there – but in this case, a sequel is something we dream of.

“There are some breadcrumbs at the end of the movie that indicate the world could continue. But audiences will have to watch M3GAN first and see if I survive to know if I’ll be a part of that…”

Williams certainly knows how to sell a movie – although, let’s face it, we were already going to be first in line for all of M3GAN’s future big screen rampages.

You can read more from Allison Williams and Gerard Johnstone in the January edition of our free digital magazine The Lowdown which releases next week. Subscribe here to get it sent to your inbox.

M3GAN is released in UK cinemas on Friday 13th January.

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Alistair Ryder

Alistair Ryder


Alistair is a culture journalist and lover of bad puns from Leeds. Subject yourself to his bad tweets by following him on Twitter @YesItsAlistair.