The New Year of Horror is kicking off on a high note with the arrival of M3GAN in theaters this weekend and to get you ready for all the killer doll shenanigans, we have an interview with director Gerard Johnstone today. During the recent press day for the film, Daily Dead chatted with Johnstone about his experiences working on M3GAN, collaborating with James Wan, the importance of practical effects and more.
Great to speak with you today, Gerard. I would love to start off at the beginning and talk about what was the initial appeal for you as a storyteller coming into this project, where you were like, “Yes, I need to be the person at the helm of M3GAN.”
Gerard Johnstone: I think the movie in so many ways is an allegory about parenting in the 21st century with all these new devices and how that has just completely changed the landscape in terms of how we bring up our kids and even talk to our kids. I was really struggling with all of that as a parent myself. So, it's always great when you can bring to light some of the anxieties you have in your own life in a movie, but do it in a way that's palatable and fun and not preachy. And ultimately, M3GAN has a personality, too, So you almost get to see everything from the artificial intelligence's point of view here as well.
I just spoke to James a little while ago and he was saying in our conversation how he had been wanting to work with you for a while because he’s a huge Housebound fan, and I've been singing its praises for years now, too. I'm just curious, how amazing does that feel to know that James Wan had been seeking you out and wanted to work with you?
Gerard Johnstone: Yeah, it’s amazing. Especially because I stole so much from him when I made Housebound (laughs). I fully admit that I directly stole sequences and jump scares and techniques and so I was able to tell him that in person and get his forgiveness and also get a film on top of it. It was pretty great (laughs).
One of the things I really loved about this story is that with all three different characters, this is very much a fiercely female-driven story between Gemma and Katie and M3GAN in very different forms. Can you discuss exploring these different relationships between the characters and your experiences exploring the female dynamics in M3GAN?
Gerard Johnstone: Yeah, I think the character of Gemma is fascinating because she almost resents the fact that women are usually defined by being a mother . It was this foregone conclusion that she should just be a vessel to give life and she feels like she has more to offer the world than that. So, this was a nice story about someone coming to actually understand what motherhood was really about and that she can do all these incredible things and create this unbelievable piece of technology. Gemma is someone who thought parenthood was easy, so it was really nice to show the flip side of that and have her character go on that journey here.
In terms of the character of M3GAN, I'm sure coming into this project you understood that it was going to be somewhat daunting to take on a character like this, using practical effects and other tricks and things like that. But once you got into it, were there any surprises or certain challenges that came up when you were like, “Wow, this is way more than I was expecting?” What your team was able to pull off in this movie is nothing short of a miracle.
Gerard Johnstone: Oh cool. Thank you. Yeah, it was such an involved process bringing her to life. I did wanna make sure that from the very get-go that we had a real M3GAN for people to interact with and anyone that works in CG will still tell you the best way is always when you can have a marriage of the two, with practical effects that you can augment when you need to. I don't think there's a single shot in this movie where we didn't have the presence of a real textile thing that was symbolizing M3GAN. So that was hugely important. I mean, it's hard to talk about everything we did, just because there was so much that went into creating M3GAN. That is why it would be great if we got to make another one (laughs) because I feel like I've learned so much on this one.
Well, I would love another one as well (laughs). I have one last question just because I know we're already getting close on time. I'm a really big believer that whenever you do something creative, you put a piece of yourself into that project. But I also believe that you take a piece away with you once it's over. I'm curious, looking at your experiences of working on M3GAN, what has been the biggest takeaway from your experience?
Gerard Johnstone: I think my biggest takeaway was that there is a big component of me that's in the character of Gemma, where being a parent was something that I was just unprepared for because of how complicated it is. So the biggest takeaway for me is to try to understand how sometimes you put themes subconsciously into your work about things you’re dealing with. In the case of this movie, it's just about how important it is to spend time with your children even if what you're doing seems important. So that's something that I've tried to take away with me, just making sure that I can be the parent that I want to be and spend as much time with my kids as possible and try to balance work and family life the best I can.