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The PG-13 thriller, from filmmaker Gerard Johnstone, casts Williams as a brilliant toy company roboticist who fast-tracks a secret invention — a lifelike doll named M3GAN — after a tragedy makes her the guardian of her 8-year-old niece. To make the doll as lifelike as possible, filmmakers used a combination of a real robot, special effects and young actress Amie Donald. “Sometimes it was also just a piece of tape in an “X” shape,” Williams continued. “It was just a very singular experience. I doubt I’ll ever have another one like it.”
She can thank Blumhouse guru Jason Blum for the gig. The two first teamed up on the blockbuster smash Get Out for filmmaker Jordan Peele.
“Jason said, ‘I think we have the next one to do with you,’” Williams recalled of when she first heard of the project. “I was basically ready to say yes before even reading the script or hearing anything more about it. Then I read the script and was like, ‘I’m in.’ Then I talked to Gerard and said, ‘I’m in.’ Then he said James Wan was producing and came up with the idea and I said, ‘I’m even more in.’ It just felt like coming home because I had such a great experience on Get Out so it was nice to be back in this family.”
To prepare to play a cutting-edge roboticist, Williams said she talked to “a bunch of people” in the field, like roboticists, engineers and “smart” AI experts. “I understood almost nothing that they told me,” she joked, adding that she did ask question beyond the science and technical aspects of it all. “I asked about what it’s like to be a woman in this field where there are so many men. I wanted to know what to wear and how to dress. Do you go full femme? Do you wear makeup? From the very superficial to the much deeper questions of why did you get into this field? What motivated you? Did you have role models? It was great.”
She’s also seemed stoked on having another title on M3GAN — executive producer. “I’m totally hooked now,” Williams added. “I inherently have always been super invested in the things that I work on. I love being involved from the script stage to the very end with marketing and promotion, so it was a relief to have a title that meant that I was allowed to be as obsessed and as involved as I have always wanted to be. It also meant that I was able to have a 360-degree perspective on what it takes to get something like this made.”
M3GAN is now in theaters.
This story first appeared in the Jan. 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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Santa Barbara International Film Festival