M3GAN Movie Director Gerard Johnstone on Bringing the Killer Doll to Life

Jan 3, 2023

In M3GAN, roboticist Gemma (Allison Williams) becomes the unwitting caretaker of her 8-year-old niece Cady (Violet McGraw) when her sister and brother-in-law are killed in a car accident. Unequipped to deal with a grieving child, Gemma turns her focus towards what she is properly equipped to deal with: robots. She finishes up on her Model 3 Generative Android – M3GAN – an AI doll that links up with a child to learn and teach and become the child’s best friend. Cady, however, becomes too dependent on M3GAN, and M3GAN senses this.

M3GAN comes to us from the bonkers mind of James Wan, and the directorial eye of Gerard Johnstone. We spoke with Gerard, who told us about working with M3GAN, making this film self-aware without being too campy, and how he learned to become a horror director with his first feature, Housebound.
COLLIDER: So Gerard, tell me about working with M3GAN. This was your first time working with [an] animatronic puppet, real creation.

GERARD JOHNSTONE: Yeah, yeah. Well, as only my second movie, I’d have to say it was a bit of a naive undertaking really. It was just such a fun concept that I didn’t really think about how challenging it was going to be to bring this thing to life that we don’t quite have the technology for yet, but we will, maybe, in five or 10 years’ time. So yeah, it was hard, but it was also rewarding and fun, and I think the design of the doll was really the saving grace. She just looked so hypnotic, and that did most of the work for us, I think.

It’s a bonkers movie. Was that the goal to make it kind of… The only word I can use is bonkers.

JOHNSTONE: Yeah. Well, the world already has Ex Machina, that very slick, stylish meditation on artificial intelligence, and I love that movie, but that kind of movie exists, and I guess this is really… It’s a lot more offbeat, and I didn’t want to make anything like Chucky, or Child’s Play, because that’s also been done. It’s like we’ve had the real fun, campy goof-off version, and this is just somewhere in the middle of those things, that it’s really fun, it’s self-aware, and it’s offbeat, and those are the flavors that I like the most.

Yeah, because it’s both scary, and it’s funny.

JOHNSTONE: Yeah, right. Cool, cool. I will thank you. That it is a challenge to try to be both of those things, but it’s so rewarding when you sit in a room full of people, and they’re laughing and screaming, and reacting audibly. It’s just the best feeling. And so, although I never really thought about embarking on a career, I’ve made two horror films and I love all genres, but I would say that that is the really fun thing about horror comedies is that you’re just getting the best of both worlds, getting the laughs and the screams.

So do you see yourself as a horror director now?

JOHNSTONE: No, but I’m not snobbish about it. It’s fun. It’s a fun genre to work in. But no, I never really set out … My first film, Housebound, was a funny idea that lent itself to being a horror movie, but that meant I had to really go to school on how to make those movies because I learned that they’re really hard to make. You have to have a real understanding of your craft, and because so much of it, the camera’s helping to tell the story and evoke tension and things like that. So it’s a real art form, and I wish more people kind of understood that, [and] what goes into making a really good horror movie.

Image via Blumhouse

So what are you working on next?

JOHNSTONE: Oh, well, there’s talk of a sequel, but we’ll have to wait and see. So there’ll be that, and yeah, who knows? [There are] a few things in the fire, but you have to have a few irons in the fire because it’s never up to you what gets picked up. So yeah. So a lot of different things.

M3GAN is in theaters on January 6, 2023.

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