James Wan Talks M3GAN, The Conjuring 4, Malignant, and Blumhouse

Jan 5, 2023

James Wan is part of the new class of horror superstars. Writer, director, producer, he has had his hands in some of the biggest franchises of the last twenty years: Saw. Insidious. The Conjuring. Wan’s latest film, M3GAN, saw him acting as producer, though he does have a “story by” credit. The film, one of the most anticipated of the year, stars Allison Williams as Gemma, a roboticist, whose life is changed when her sister and brother-in-law die in a car accident, leaving her the sole caretaker of her young niece, Cady (played by Violet McGraw).

Ill-equipped to deal with a grieving child, Gemma creates M3GAN (Amie Donald) for Cady. The doll syncs with Cady, learns from Cady with high-tech AI abilities, and becomes Cady’s best friend. Unfortunately, the AI becomes out of control (as AI is wont to do in these circumstances) and will do anything to keep Cady safe – even if that means killing for her. And kill she does. (And twerk, for some reason….)

We spoke to James Wan about how they decided to make M3GAN, casting Allison Williams, and how they managed to find the perfect Cady to play against the perfect killer doll. We also asked plenty of questions about Wan’s upcoming projects, his collaboration with Blumhouse, the possibility of a Malignant sequel, and when we might see M3GAN fight Annabelle! You can learn about all of this and more in the video above, or you can read the full transcript below.

COLLIDER: So James, between M3GAN and Malignant, are you now only doing bonkers horror?

JAMES WAN: I like to think more that I am doing horror films that are not afraid to sort of push the boundaries, but that still play within that sort of commercial genre space. But really, it’s just me growing up loving all kinds of horror movies, and I’ve done my time in the haunted house genre. I’ve done my time in the ghostly sort of space. So as a filmmaker, I’m always trying to expand and just push my horizon. And I think that’s the great thing about the horror genre, is it really lets you free up to try things and do things. And that’s the most important thing for me, is just trying to stay original. And even if I’m inspired by things that I love, I want to find an interesting new way to do them.

Okay. But I still want to say “bonkers horror.”

WAN: I’m trying to stay away from that term. I’ve been [hearing] that thrown around quite a lot.

So I was just talking to (director) Gerard [Johnstone], and he said that you’re already talking about a M3GAN sequel.

WAN: Gerard, what does he know? I don’t like to talk about sequels so early on. The movie isn’t out yet. Only because I’m superstitious.

What I will say to that is, in any of my movies, whether it’s The Conjuring Universe, or Saw, or Malignant, or M3GAN here, we like to think of a bigger world. For me, it’s about creating the world, and knowing who the characters are, where the story could potentially go, and then building this bigger world, and then going into that and going, “Okay, I’m telling this particular story, but I know other stuff that’s going on.” So if we’re fortunate enough to have sequels, then we have an idea of where we want to go.

And any thoughts about maybe M3GAN versus Annabelle?

WAN: [Laughs] Two separate studios.

Oh, okay. Well, you never know. Now, can you tell me a little bit about your partnership with Blumhouse, and is there any IP that you’re really interested in tackling that Jason Blum has?

WAN: Well, it’s obviously very early on, and there’s not a lot I can really speak to at this moment, but to answer that question, hell yes, of course. Yes. And obviously, not just at Blumhouse, [but] with Universal as well. So that’s about to the extent I would say.

Ah, it’s killing me here. What about Conjuring 4? Can you talk about that at all?

WAN: Yeah, we are working on it right now. With the Conjuring films, we are very precious about [them]. And so we kind of want to just take our time to make sure we get it right and to make sure the emotion of the Warren stories that we want to tell, and moving into, and potentially wrapping up, we just want to make sure that it’s the right thing, the right story that we’re telling.

“Wrapping up,” does that mean that this is going to be the final Conjuring movie?

WAN: We never know. You never know. We’ll see.

Okay. And any word on Malignant 2?

WAN: No, no word. [Laughs]

Where did the idea for M3GAN come from?

WAN: Well, firstly, the idea for M3GAN sort of came about when we used to have offices pre-pandemic.

Image via Universal Pictures

Oh yeah, there was a time before.

WAN: There was a time when we all had offices, and we sort of hung out together. And it was great – I really miss that – because one of the things we love to do at Atomic Monsters, just at the end of the week, hang around, get together, just sort of chill on a Friday, have drinks and some food, and we loved to just gig about movies. And so that’s really how the concept for M3GAN came about. Somehow, the subject matter landed on the evil doll subgenre, the evil puppet subgenre, and I mentioned that it’s funny, because I’m known as the creepy puppet guy, the killer doll guy, but I’ve actually never made a killer doll movie. And so we said, “Let’s do it. Let’s do one that actually is a killer doll movie.” And that’s really how it came about.

And the thing I want to say, speak to as well is, I think (writer) Akela [Cooper] did such a great job with writing a script that was terrifying on the one hand, but also really comedically, darkly funny, as well, on the other hand. Between herself and Gerard, they really infuse M3GAN with a lot of personality, and she just has such cheekiness to her that really comes across.

Yeah, it was so funny, and there were some parts where I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to be laughing or not, but I was laughing really hard, and I’m like, “It has to be.”

WAN: I mean, have you seen Gerard’s first movie?

No, I haven’t.

WAN: Yeah, it’s kind of in the same tone. There are just moments of really creepy bits, and then it’s really funny at the same time. And so that’s kind of like how Gerard works. And when you meet him, he doesn’t seem necessarily an outright funny guy, but he has that sort of mentality for it. And he’s able to make M3GAN walk such a fine line between not too funny, but still keep the seriousness of the horror of the situation, but not be afraid to lean into the darky humorous stuff as well.

Yeah, like the twerking. What was that?

WAN: Yeah, that’s great, that’s just Gerard going, “M3GAN is learning to be more human,” and you really just see his sassiness at the end.

It was crazy. Can you talk a little bit about the decision to make her part puppet, part CGI, part human, part a little bit of everything?

WAN: Well, what I would say to that is, and again, to Gerard’s credit, he really kind of wants M3GAN to feel as real as possible. And that was where I worked with Gerard to kind of go, “We want her to feel as real as possible, but also at the same time we still need to remember that she’s a doll. And so we don’t want to go too far [in] that direction, as well.”

And the doll aspect, generally, is what makes the killer doll genre, or the creepy doll genre, creepy, because it’s clearly an inanimate object. It’s a plaything, it’s a doll. But the fact that this plaything could have a life of its own is what makes it scary. I would say, for the first time, that the idea of that uncanny valley actually really helps a movie like M3GAN. It actually makes her feel creepy to be sort of in between real and not quite real.

Image via Universal Pictures

Yeah, it was crazy. And can you talk a little bit about casting Allison Williams?

WAN: Yeah, I mean, I love Allison, we all do. Allison has a history at Blumhouse. So, from the get-go we thought of her for this role, just because we think she’s perfect to play someone who is very career-driven, very smart, she needs to do what she needs to do to create, to be this programmer that she is. But at the same time, she also has this sort of softer side, and we felt like it could be a great sort of contrast to see her pulling the softer side out of herself to be the parental guidance to Katie. And I think Allison is perfect for that.

And how did you go about finding Katie? I mean, with young kids it seems like it’s very hard to find the acting chops.

WAN: Yeah, I mean, Violet [McGraw] is incredible in this. We do our research. And I’m so glad we found her because so much of the movie is built around her emotion with the doll. So if she didn’t really work, then the movie wouldn’t work either.

M3GAN is set to release in theaters on January 6, 2023.

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