Jenna Davis, The Voice of M3GAN

Texas actor talks about changing from straight horror to comedy

M3GAN, the killer robot who wants to be your best friend, as voiced by native Texan Jenna Davis (Image courtesy of NBCUniversal)

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."

Jenna Davis at the premiere of M3GAN (Image courtesy of NBCUniversal)
Davis's face may be best known as Sienna, the popular neighbor in the Disney Channel's Raven's Home, but her voice may be more recognizable as Teri the bear from Netflix's animated series Treehouse Detectives. Now she's given sardonic, sing-song life to the words emanating fro the eerily still mouth of the titular technological terror from M3GAN, but it all began with something a little sweeter - quite literally. In 2014, she got her first voce work as on a commercial for Haribo Sour Gold Bears, "and then when I moved to Los Angeles and started doing TV shows. I did Vampirina and Sofia the First. That's how I got my start in voice over, and then M3GAN came along."

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."

“(M3GAN) fits in this generation. She gets it.” – Jenna Davis
M3GAN had already gone viral before anyone really heard Davis's part of the performance, courtesy of TikTok picking up on her now-infamous creepy dance, and four-limbed sprint through the woods. Now the film is out, the vocal side of M3GAN (most especially an eerie cover of David Guetta's "Titanium") has also reached social media critical mass. For Davis, that's a sign of how perfect M3GAN is for the moment. "She fits so well into the generation, and I believe that's why TikTok embraced her so quickly," Davis said, but there's also the movie's timely discussion of technology in our everyday lives, "and how powerful technology is becoming. ... We talk about Tesla and TikTok, things that are very relevant to our generation. And [M3GAN] has an Instagram, she has a TikTok, she has all these platforms that we all love and embrace, and the fact that she's using them in the real world – not just in the movie – I think is what makes her likable and admirable. She fits in this generation. She gets it."

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.

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