Public Media for Central Pennsylvania
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Actor Allison Williams on the new horror film 'M3GAN'


When a doll tells you it's going to be your special friend forever, watch out.


ALLISON WILLIAMS: (As Gemma) So we need to talk about school.

VIOLET MCGRAW: (As Cady) Can I bring M3GAN?

WILLIAMS: (As Gemma) Cady, you know that's not possible.

MCGRAW: (As Cady) Then I'm not going.

WILLIAMS: (As Gemma) Oh, come on, Cady. Let's just talk about it. Hey, hey, hey.

MCGRAW: (As Cady) Let me go.

WILLIAMS: (As Gemma) Whoa. Hey. What's going on? Hey, Cady.

MCGRAW: (As Cady) Let me go.

WILLIAMS: (As Gemma) What are you doing? Stop it. Cady, calm down.

JENNA DAVIS: (As M3GAN) Let her go.

WILLIAMS: (As Gemma) M3GAN, turn off.

DAVIS: (As M3GAN) Are you sure?

RASCOE: In the new movie "M3GAN," a young girl, Cady, and her aunt Gemma learn this the hard way. M3GAN, is an AI-enabled doll meant to be a child's perfect playmate. It dances and sings like a pop star, paints lifelike portraits. But Cady and Aunt Gemma soon learn there's another side to M3GAN that's not so nice. Allison Williams plays Aunt Gemma in "M3GAN." She's also the movie's executive producer, and she joins us now. Welcome to the program.

WILLIAMS: Thank you so much for having me. I'm really thrilled to be here.

RASCOE: Well, I am so glad that you are here, too. In the movie, Gemma is an engineer and she develops toys, including this prototype, M3GAN, who is the star of the movie.

WILLIAMS: Let's be honest.

RASCOE: (Laughter).

WILLIAMS: Let's just be honest about that. She is the star. In some interviews, they introduce me as the star, and I'm like, I'm just going to stop you there. It's just - we're dealing with facts here. She's clearly our star.

RASCOE: But she's this robot doll. Gemma gives the doll to her niece, who's grieving her recently deceased parents. But it's kind of like a modern Frankenstein. Like, she's given her niece a creation she doesn't fully understand.

WILLIAMS: Yeah. Not only is she giving it to her, she's kind of made it for her. So, yes, of course, I love the Frankenstein analogy because it's built from a similar spirit of, like, exploration and innovation and wanting to try new things. And it's not at all done thinking about the repercussions in the moment. It's much more about progress. And it's also not done thinking about the ramifications for M3GAN herself. Gemma doesn't stop and think, what happens if she gains sentience? Like, what do I do then? What's my responsibility to this other, quote, "child" that I'm spawning? And so I think it is a classic example of, even in the best intentions, bad things can happen.

RASCOE: So, you know, Gemma ends up being Cady's caretaker, and because she doesn't know a lot about kids, she leans on M3GAN for help. But even when Cady's parents were alive, they would use an iPad for her or this other doll to, you know, kind of help keep her entertained. It's a bit of a slippery slope - right? - with technology and kids.

WILLIAMS: Well, I mean, I think one of the things that does is plug right into that area that's causing a lot of quiet angst among parents and people alike. In terms of a subject area for a movie to explore, that's the sweet spot, the stuff that we're worried about in a quiet place that we can thrust right into the open, thematically, with a movie.

RASCOE: You know, it's tough because my 5-year-old is looking at the tablet right now. If she wasn't, she'd be up here. She'd be in this room (laughter).

WILLIAMS: I have to say, I'm a little disappointed that she's not part of this, but I understand it's easier for you to focus if she's not here.

RASCOE: Yeah. You know, so it's one of those things where now the genie's out of the bottle. Can you put it back in, really?

WILLIAMS: So true. Well, I think the other thing is that you want to raise kids who have today's version of literacy, which is digital and technological literacy. There are so many tradeoffs, which is why it's such a thorny subject. It's not a simple one that's black and white. Otherwise, we would have seen one movie about - "Terminator" would've come out and we all would have stopped in our tracks, you know?

RASCOE: We would have stopped it.

WILLIAMS: Yeah, but we didn't.

RASCOE: But yet, we keep going.

WILLIAMS: Yes, because it's helpful. It's unbelievably helpful. And even as a parent, there are so many applications of technology that are supremely helpful. And as I was watching "M3GAN" and I see that she has the ability to take a kid's temperature and heart rate from across the room, I'm sitting there thinking, you know what? That would be great. To not have to wake up a kid to take their temperature sounds great to me.

RASCOE: That would be great. But is it also about how difficult it is to be a caretaker, right? Because, you know, essentially, I mean, Gemma would be a single parent to this child. Even with two parents and a little bit of help, you know, babysitting on a couple of days, you still are stretched to the max with a child because they require 24-hour, like, just care.


RASCOE: Is that also what the movie's about, just the amount of care that a child needs?

WILLIAMS: Definitely, and it's also about examining this person. One of the things that drew me to Gemma in the first place was that she seemed to fit outside of, or at least in a combination of, different archetypes I had seen before. She is the kind of person - and I know a lot of these people, I'm sure you do, too - who, when you ask them if they want kids, they're kind of, like, either ambivalent or unsure, or maybe if the right partner came along, but either way, it's not their preoccupation. Finding a partner is not what she's most focused on at this point in her life. She's finally getting to do what she loves, and that is, like, all she can think about.

Imagining that person suddenly getting custody of a kid, I don't know a ton of people that would have been prepared at the drop of a hat to accept this charge. And Gemma just does not have the tools to know to do that, doesn't feel like she has the access and the resources to. So she does what she can. She reaches for the thing that she does know. She reaches for this thing that she does trust, which is M3GAN.

RASCOE: I mean, you know, when you talk about the parents - but there's also the child in this case. I mean, you have Cady who does form this really deep connection to M3GAN. And it seems like that connection to M3GAN, it does give her some comfort, at least at first, and it does make her feel like she's important and she matters, right?

WILLIAMS: Totally. One of the things she says about M3GAN is that when she looks at me, it feels like I'm the only thing that matters, which is how she remembers her mom looking at her. And hearing that is a very big moment for Gemma in terms of realizing exactly the many ways that she's messed this up. But I think Gemma knows that M3GAN's sole preoccupation will be Cady. And so Cady's dependence on M3GAN is very obvious from the beginning. She needs someone to reach out to her, and here comes this toy/companion/maternal figure that is sort of the best of all worlds.

RASCOE: And she never runs out of patience, which is the key.

WILLIAMS: No, and that's - and it's very easy for us to imagine why that would make such a dream playmate for her. But it also lends itself to a lot of developmental problems. And there's a point in the movie when M3GAN is taken away from Cady, and she's experiencing withdrawal. And it's even more destabilizing because she's attached not only a chemical and hormonal dependence on this doll, but also any sense of comfort, any sense of home, any sense of family has now been attached to this object.

RASCOE: You know, in "M3GAN," there is this idea about the potential for technology to fundamentally change or threaten the nature of friendship and family.

WILLIAMS: Yes, I do think it is asking this question about why our reflexive response to anything that's not real is that it's worse than what is real. It's a really interesting question because if you think about real families that are made up of humans - I mean, non-robotic family members - some of them are terrible. Some of them are horribly dysfunctional. So it really is asking this - like, why do we just want kids to grow up appreciating what's real versus whatever works best? My instinct is that all the justification I need is that one is real and one is not, but I can't make a better case than that. That's kind of where I max out.

But I think made families - and as dysfunctional as it is, for a while, the three of them are a sort of created family, and I think that will always be an interesting thing to watch as we move into a time in our history where, luckily, the idea of family has been shaken up a bunch and they're starting to take on all these new forms. It's just another version of that that's a little bit exaggerated.

RASCOE: That's Allison Williams. You can see her in "M3GAN," which is playing in movie theaters across the country. Thank you so much for speaking with us today.

WILLIAMS: Thank you so much for having me, and thank you for asking these questions. It was a great conversation. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.