Jenna Davis, The Voice of M3GAN
Texas actor talks about changing from straight horror to comedy
By Richard Whittaker,
2:00PM, Fri. Jan. 13, 2023
Viral social media success doesn't guarantee ticket sales (just ask Snakes on a Plane). But over the weekend the TikTok fascination with comedy-horror M3GAN translated into a $30 million three-day-opening. Not that invisible star Jenna Davis was paying that much attention.
"It was quite insane," the Plano, TX native said. "I didn't really start to look at them until the whole thing came out. I was just paying attention to my comments and people's reaction videos more than the box office numbers. So when I saw those it was so unreal. Sprinkles on top of the cupcake, to be sure!"
Produced and with a story by Insidious creator James Wan, and directed by Housebound's Gerard Johnstone ("Mister Gerard," as Davis politely insists on calling him), M3GAN has made a pop culture icon of M3GAN, the robotic killer doll who handles a sharp knife and a sharper tongue with equal ease. It's a performance of two halves: 11-year-old dancer Amie Donald as her onscreen presence, and 18-year-old Davis as her voice. And, as is often the way, the pair never met until the world premiere last month in Los Angeles. "That was our first encounter when we got to meet face to face," Davis said. "That was the first time I got to hug her and have a full, in-depth conversation."
Like many voice actors, Davis came into the project relatively late in production, when the film was almost complete ("I was the finishing touch"), but she admitted to being a little scared to create a new monster for Blumhouse and especially Universal, the studio synonymous with monsters. Moreover, she got very few details about the character, beyond her name and that she was an AI. As she had more auditions, she got more redirects and asks, "and the biggest ask they had was to make her more fun."
What Davis developed for M3GAN was her trademark sweet-sarcastic tone. "Unlike the standard AI, who has a very monotone speaking voice, M3GAN has variety, and she speaks different ways to different people, so that was fun to play with creatively. ... When she mentions her kills and mentions the things that she does, it's always with a very 'who, me?' attitude."
Fun and comedy became the key words as the project progressed. Scriptwriter Akela Cooper noted to the LA Times that M3GAN was scripted as a a much harder, scarier, gorier picture, adding that an unrated version is "on the books."
However, after test screenings and a wildfire social media response to the first trailer, the film underwent reshoots that refocused it towards a PG-13 rating and put more emphasis on the comedy. That change in emphasis included Davis's performance. She said, "After the reshoots there was some things I had to come in and re-do. I absolutely adore the comedy elements of the film, and I think that's what separates it, so I was more than happy to come in and do some more."
But there's more than just this moment to M3GAN. Davis said, "It means more than anything to me that people are labeling her as an iconic horror character. I'm looking at my IMDB and M3GAN is added into this list of the best scary dolls. I was like, wow. It feels quite unreal, and I'm so, so thrilled that people love her."
At the same time, as the voice but not the face of M3GAN Davis is in that rare situation of playing an immediately identifiable horror character, but not being immediately recognizable herself. She laughed: "I'll still go to the grocery store in my pajamas."
M3GAN is in cinemas now. Read our review and find showtimes here.