How singer and TikTok star Jenna Davis gave M3GAN her "titanium" voice
Universal Pictures and Blumhouse’s latest horror creation, the titular 4-foot-tall, robotic artificial intelligence with Folklore-era style in M3GAN, has slayed her way into viral stardom. Since the trailer for the movie (which is out now in theaters) was released late last year, just about every community, from horror fans to the LGBTQ+, have welcomed this sentient, homicidal doll with open arms. Although she may call back the creepy dolls that came before her like Annabelle and Chucky, M3GAN has quickly taken the crown as the latest killer-doll icon of horror. That’s all thanks to her impeccable looks, sassy voice, and pure intentions to protect her very best friend Cady (Violet McGraw) from emotional and physical harm — not to mention an incredible marketing campaign featuring IRL troupes of dancing M3GANs.
The Gerard Johnstone-directed film, which is written by Akela Cooper and based on a story by James Wan, centers on Cady, a little girl who lost her parents in a tragic car accident and moves in with her toy roboticist aunt Gemma (Allison Williams). As they struggle to form a genuine connection, Gemma decides to pair Cady with her latest AI prototype — a “Model 3 Generative Android,” or M3GAN for short — to be her best friend and, at times, guardian. But as the doll gains more consciousness to the world around her and witnesses the dangers Cady faces, M3GAN’s objective becomes a bit more murderous than what she was programmed for.
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In order to bring M3GAN to life, the filmmakers cast 12-year-old Amie Donald to do her physical movement — cartwheels, incredible dance moves, and all — and added VFX in post-production to capture her robotic facial expressions. The last key ingredient for this sugar, spice, and everything nice AI girl, though, was the perfect voice, which meant casting 18-year-old actress Jenna Davis, who ended up giving the “titanium” doll her signature, eerily sweet sound.
For Davis, the outpour of love for her character is so surreal. (“Just like what she says in the movie, it’s insane!” she says.) M3GAN marks the theatrical film debut for Davis, who’s also a singer-songwriter, model, and influencer with a following of 4.3 million on TikTok, and for the role, she collaborated closely with director Gerard Johnstone to give M3GAN her own flair that has disturbed and delighted audiences. AltPress spoke with the rising star about crafting the instantly iconic character, the movie’s breakout success, and what’s next.
[Photo by Ashley Roberts / Styling by Lisa Marie Cameron / Hair/Makeup by Yara Cadena]
How did you get attached to the project?
I recorded the first audition, actually in my bedroom closet on my phone, and sent it in. I never realized that this project was a Universal nor Blumhouse feature at the time — I just knew it was called M3GAN and I was auditioning for M3GAN. I didn’t even know [if it] was a video game or a TV show, I had no clue, but I was like, “This looks fun. Let me try it.” [Now] that it’s going to be in theaters, I’m like, “This is bizarre.” Never in my wildest dreams could I imagine that this is what it is, and this is what M3GAN is!
My final audition was with our director [Gerard Johnstone], and he was lovely. At the end of the Zoom, he was like, “So are you ready?” and I was like. “What does he mean? Did I book it?” and he’s like, “Yeah! You didn’t know that?” and I was like, “No!” So, it was a definite surprise — and definitely one of the best Zooms of my life to this day. I’ll never forget it.
When it came to voice acting M3GAN, what was your unique approach to her dialect or your delivery?
Everything that I did tone-wise was based off a collaborative process between me and the director. I kind of found her and we played with her and made her very fun. I also got to react to the other actors. [For the majority of it], I was in studio recording. I had to be very imaginative and really put myself in the situation because I was behind the mic. I guess it could be seen as difficult in that regard, but I think I also found M3GAN and found her different [sides] — her fun side, her dark side, her oh-my-goodness-what-is-she-about-to-do side. It was fun to be able to play with tones, and also build a relationship with different characters because she’s not a human, she’s an AI.
That’s a whole other thing, which is kind of crazy because watching her, she is so humanlike. But there are elements of the film that I think you can recognize how she is an AI and spits out random information that can be similar to Siri in some regard — but she’s on a whole other level. It’s been fun to explore how a robot can build relationships with people, but if we think about it, the majority of us are addicted to our phones, and they are robots. In some regards, it’s like the film has, I think, a great message for our generation.
[M3GAN and Cady (Violet McGraw) in M3GAN / Courtesy of Geoffrey Short/Universal Pictures]
How is it to be able to express in a role all of your specific talents, including singing, and then finding it in the voice of the character?
It was a lot of playing around. For the singing, I came in and sang it how Jenna would sing it, but [the director] was like, “Now we need it to sound worse. Give me like Sesame Street vibes.” I’ve never been told to sing worse in my entire life! So I was like, “This is so interesting.” We did a bunch of variations and, because she’s not supposed to sound perfect because she’s an AI, I was like, “You’re so right.”
It was very collaborative between me and Mr. Gerard, for sure. He’s so lovely and he knew exactly what he wanted, which I really respect. As a director, he knew he had this image for her, and together we worked to bring that to life — adding my own elements and what I thought M3GAN to be and what he thought M3GAN to be. He took my side, then his side, and then merged them together, and here she is.
With the singing, it was very fun. It’s very unexpected. They don’t mention that in the trailer, and it’s definitely a surprise. It’s also very comical. I think that’s the beauty about the movie. Yes, it is horror. Yes, it is suspenseful. Yes, it has those moments. But it also very much has this comedic energy that you would not expect. In some parts where you feel like you shouldn’t be laughing, you are laughing. That’s the fun of the film.
I lost consciousness for a moment because of how unexpected something like M3GAN singing “Titanium” by SIA was, and audiences are definitely going to feel the same.
That’s why when everybody asks about the film, I’ve always tried to keep this thing on the down-low because it’s something that just comes out of her that makes you go, “What?” You stop in your tracks for a second because you’re like, “Why is she singing?” But for some reason, it works.
So, I think that’s the beauty of it, and it’s so fun to see other people’s reactions. That’s what I’ve had the most fun with: seeing other people’s reactions. Part of me wants to go [to the theater to] see this, see it everyday, and watch everybody else’s reactions. I’m glad to hear that people enjoyed [the movie and the “Titanium” scene specifically]. That makes me happy.
Speaking of people’s reactions, when the trailer dropped and everybody on social media was saying, “Who is she? We love her.” What was it like seeing that reaction and this character that you play being called an icon online?
It is so surreal and I feel very grateful because I did not realize how big horror culture really is. There’s a loyal fanbase, and I’m so happy that they’re loving and supporting her because she’s relevant to this generation. I hope [fans] know that if they saw a tiny, little glimpse of her on the trailer, they will love the entirety of the movie where they can really see her come to life. She’s just fun!
But she’s a villain — it’s like the 2023 villain. I’ve talked about this quite a bit — about how her kills are almost purposeful to protect Cady, which is very different. It’s interesting because she doesn’t just kill to kill. She kills for a purpose, which is, I mean, not for a purpose. I hate to say a purpose because that sounds so bad!
But she does kill for a purpose. Critics and fans have been joking online that, “M3GAN did nothing wrong.”
The interesting thing about it is there’s so many conflicting opinions of like, is she really the villain here or are people actually supporting her? It’s a fun, little debacle and debate. She also plays that like, “Well, what have I done? What am I doing wrong? I’m just here to protect the kid. This is what you programmed me to do.” The fun part about the film is people can start picking sides.
It’s so crazy to me that they’re seeing her as an icon. It feels so surreal. It means so much to me that people are enjoying the film. The other fellow actors I worked with, the director — he’s out of this world — and Blumhouse and Universal, it’s such an honor. As [M3GAN] says, “It’s insane, right?” It does feel very surreal.
[Courtesy of Geoffrey Short/Universal Pictures / Cady (Violet McGraw), M3GAN, and Gemma (Allison Williams) in M3GAN]
As you do have a background in voice acting on shows like Netflix’s Treehouse Detectives, HBO Max’s Infinity Train, and others, what draws you to voice acting and how did this role push your abilities even further?
I‘ve done voice acting for the majority of my life because my voice is very character, as in [there’s] a very different tone to it. I like doing voice over because you can go in in your pajamas if you want to. If you go in sweats, chill out, it’s very, very fun.
With M3GAN, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever done because she’s a villain. I’ve played mean fairies and mean people, but M3GAN is different. She’s not the classic mean girl, or anything like that. Finding her was surprisingly easy because I feel like my first audition tape was pretty similar to what was put into the movie, [aside from] a few tweaks.
It’s definitely difficult because she has elements where when you’re recording behind a mic, it’s sometimes easier to have that face-to-face connection. Especially, there are arguments that happen in the film where it is a challenge and you really have to put yourself in that character’s shoes. In that regard, I do think voiceover has its challenges, but I love it. I feel like it’s only helping me grow me as an actress.
[M3GAN specifically was also] different because she’s not a person, she’s an AI, so I spent a lot of time figuring out how she’s different in that regard, but also how she is so similar to a person that it’s freaky. When people are like, “Was she a person? Is she a doll?” I know I did my job because they don’t know what she is. I think that’s the beauty of it is because until you watch the film, until you see how she’s getting put together, until you see how she becomes, then you realize what she truly is.
What other genres would you want to see yourself tackle in the future?
Horror has been so fun to dive into. I would like to tackle drama. I’ve done a lot of comedy shows prior, so I think dramas are what I would like to do next. Obviously, I would never decline anything comical because I love a good laugh and, of course, anything horror I love.
What I’ve had fun with [in playing] M3GAN is [that] she’s not anything like me. There’s elements of me in there because, obviously, it’s me, but it’s been fun to play this villain. I also think it’d be fun to play a victim in a drama where I really have to showcase the dramatic side of my acting. [But right now], I love M3GAN. At the start of the New Year, having a film in theaters at the start of the year is such a blessing and I’m excited. So I think my attitude is, we’ll see.
Since we are not done with M3GAN just yet, could a sequel end up happening?
I’d be down for a sequel. She could come out with five. I mean, there’s a potential spark for more and I think that’s exciting. What could be next for her?
It’s a very visual ending. When I read the script, I didn’t catch that, ironically, but when I saw the movie, I was like, wait a second. It made me very excited. So, I mean, who knows? I know that she’s going to take over 2023 and they’re all going to love her.
What would you like to see for her next? More singing? More mayhem?
I would be totally up for more singing.
She had such a great relationship with Cady throughout the film and this love-hate relationship with Gemma, so it’d be cool to keep them around, but it would also be cool to see her expand elsewhere, too. If we could get a sequel, that would be a blessing alone. I think she could go to so many places. She fits so well into this generation that who knows what she could become. I feel like M3GAN can become anything she wanted to be. In the film, you see her bouncing around doing all different types of stuff, so I feel like her opportunities and storyline could be endless. It’s fun to play around with her, especially with the singing — who knows, maybe she can become a pop singer!
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.