On a chilly November night in Toronto, Allison Williams and I talk about how one can manipulate an audience. Williams is an actress who knows how to manipulate her audience. As a writer profiling her for a magazine, I am an important part of that audience.
I have interviewed Williams several times over the years and each time is lovely and warm. We like each other at this point. Can we have an authentic connection during a press commitment between two people who know how the personality machine works and are each trying to use it for their own advantage? Is it weird that you both want to have fun? Let's just enjoy ourselves and lean into the uncertainty.
Williams and I are sitting outside in the dark, with only a few streetlights visible between the talent trailers. M3GAN, a killer thriller starring Williams that comes out in January, but she is already shooting her next project, a limited series set at the height of McCarthyism. Williams' hair is still curled and pinned, but filming is over for the day. She gave us two sleeping bag-sized coats. Reality and fantasy collide.
The degree of authenticity achieved is one of the oldest metrics of success for a celebrity. In an era of fake identities and para social relationships, it is the artifice that interests me the most. Is it too cynical a word? A public and private version of a celebrity is not an act of cunning or subversion. When your work sets you in the sights of millions of people who can access reams of personal information about you, creating a you you can share with the rest of the world but check at the door when it's time to go home seems like a survival tactic.
Allison Williams likes how she is able to pick the whole process apart. She knows people have different opinions of her. She says that it would be inhuman to think that people are coming in tabula rasa and forgetting everything. When a stranger leans in close at a party and starts bonding with you, that's when the coconspirator dynamic begins. You don't know if you'll see each other again, or exchange handles after this, but for right now At the end of the night you will have inside jokes, and since you are comfortable you will wander into strange conversations.
When I asked Williams about the construction of new identities in a digitally mediated age, she said that the metaverse would ask them to be comfortable with not being authentic. The conversation between two versions of preferred reality was very intriguing. She presents this in what I have come to see as a key feature of her conversation, a scholarly analysis of her English degree from Yale. Williams is clever, but not so much that it makes a difference. The person is dancing a single dance. A new way of being is being modeled by her. She is a deliberate creation.
The more material she has been able to feed into her career, the more elaborate it has become. There are more aspects of the persona that make for more overarching narratives. If you've seen all of her work, you'll be able to figure out what Williams will do next. If you see her for the first time, you will be watching an actor who is deeply prepared for a role and delivering everything from a sex-and-dueling-cellos sequence to hand-to-hand combat with an robot.
Williams insists that she really does enjoy doing press, despite the fact that it is a drag. She considers it a full third of the job after she has prepared for a project and made it. It is one of the reasons she has only done four movies in the decade since she became a household name. It is not a professional obligation to talk about something. Everything else is equivalent.
Williams seems to have a similar approach to interviews as her parents did. Her dad was the news and her mom was the one who produced it. When Girls aired in 2012 the blogs cried. Taylor Swift wrote a song called "Did you hear my covert narcissism I disguise as altruism?" about Marnie Michaels. Williams hated the character so much she threw herself into it. When people called out to her by her name, she turned to answer.
It was correct. Williams and Marnie had a large slice of the comfortable cosmopolitan white woman. Williams felt the internal strings she shared with Marnie being plucked at while auditioning for the show. She was a big fan of Marnie. Over the course of living in her skin, Williams began to notice how the character and she could work peoples' nerves.
Williams began crafting her style of doing press when she was on the media tours for the TV series. She said she didn't want anyone to see her changing. It was her first big job after finishing her English degree, but she wanted to appear complete. There was something she had to prove. It was important for me to make sure people understood that I was a hard worker. Williams realized that it didn't happen. She was more comfortable talking about her flawed, changing sense of self. She says that evolution is part of humanity. It took the pressure off having to be perfect all the time.
She is still a type A in the way she handles press avails. Williams only takes work when she's excited to talk about and discuss. Even when the questions inevitably turn to things that have nothing to do with the work at hand, she still manages to conjure a sense of joy. There is no discussion about my career without mentioning the ways in which I have been fortunate. Her upbringing in Connecticut came with all the comforts of New York.
While so many heirs and heiresses of the industry are fighting for their lives in the pull quotes about how they earned that starting spot, Williams handles her business the way so many of us wish the well-heeled Hollywood types would: by making cool and weird shit. She knows that she has the freedom to work when and how she pleases. Rent is due so don't rush into bad script. It is not necessary to say yes to any job for fear of the next one coming. Williams doesn't have to lower her voice to say the word "nepotism" She says it doesn't feel bad to admit it. It becomes very easy to acknowledge if you trust your own skill.
The endless battle that white actors can't stop losing, all of the time, has been demonstrated by Williams. Williams says observing other celebrities' press gaffes has helped guide her own conduct. When people realize that not every role is something they are entitled to play, it is important to have a sense of who you are. Why do I exist? Why right now?
Staying in one's lane is an almost galaxy-brain approach to stay in one's lane. Williams doesn't want to leave it, but she has rearranged the lines. She doesn't think she's immune to future fuck-ups, but she is trying to learn from other people's mistakes to avoid becoming the wrong kind of main character. She says she was given the privilege because Girls was first. I had to sit back and wait for things to make sense.
The Girls Effect could be used against her audience when the script for Get Out came around. Allison Williams dared them to catch a live grenade with the character of Rose, despite the assumptions they had about how she behaves on screen. She did not take part in the movie to change her image. She wanted to be Rose because the idea of herself becoming Marnie made it even more rich.
Both Williams and Peele knew and played to the hilt, crafting a character who sets you at ease with all the social clearances good liberals are taught to trust. Rose is Marnie's New York counterpart and she's pretty. She is the character other white people can see. She tried to sacrifice her Black boyfriend on the altar of white supremacy until she realized she was a racist. One of the defining moments of modern horror cinema is Williams taunting Chris. She says that her face works best when it moves in a different direction.
Williams has returned to horror because of that opportunity to toy with viewers. A career in genre was never planned but the expectation that the actor is going to flip an audience out of their chairs appeals to her. Williams says that each performance has become a handshake with the one before it.
Audiences didn't see her again until after Get Out. When the film came out, Richard Shepard told me that Williams was a guide for how to speak in the film. Williams spoke plainly about how she was a fitting portrayal of white liberal racism in a movie. Body horror, exploitation-style violence, and queer sex were new topics to discuss.
Williams would be starring opposite a black woman. At the end of The Perfections first act, it looks like it will be Get Out all over again. Williams pointed a meat cleaver at Browning and told him to self- harm. This is Williams. It turns out that the movie is a sweaty revenge thriller that not many people saw, so let's just leave it at that. There is a dueling-cellos-sex video.
Can the web- spinning last forever? Can Williams add a layer of depth to her performances by extending the daisy chain? She admits she doesn't know. She has found a way to do it at least once more with M3GAN.
M3GAN was written by Akela Cooper, who wrote Malignant and Housebound, and directed by Gerard Johnstone, who also directed Housebound. She was inspired by her daily grind making "Perpetual Pets" that poop themselves for lulz and has secretly been working with a small team to make the most sophisticated artificial intelligence toy ever to hit the consumer market. The M3GAN is the Model 3 GenerativeAndroid. She learned that her sister and brother-in-law had died in a car wreck just as she was about to clear the hurdles standing between her creation and retail ready function. Their daughter, Cady, is in the care of someone else.
A careerist who was barely interested in being an aunt has to learn to be a parent or risk losing her job and caring for a child in need. In order to protect Cady from physical and emotional harm, she programs in a mandate to get the 4-foot- tall robot up and running. The purpose-built effectiveness of M3GAN makes it succeed. She is a mother, sister, and friend at the same time. She and her team wrote in their haste to get the companion-bot finished that their processes exceeded the limits of the safety measures they had written.
M3GAN has a powerful world- mind and a state-of-the-art consciousness that quickly becomes self-motivated and self-preserving. When people die, you have to figure out how to stop a mini-Terminator when the off-switch goes off. What do you do when your creation develops a mind of its own and starts making choices that are different from what you want? According to Williams, M3GAN is a family resemblance to one of her favorite books, MaryShelleysFranken. The realization of what has happened, why he is there, how he got there, his innate flaws, are the final emotional stages of the monster in the movie. He didn't have to be there.
Williams was offered to join as an executive producer when she was working out her contract for the movie. She immediately got involved with everything she could find, from rights releases for props to script passes. They assumed that she didn't want to know what toy brands we've cleared, but they were wrong. I would like to know what toys she has. Williams began attending production meetings as filming began. She decided the movie needed an artificial intelligence consultant. Most of them were women. She says it was nice to be allowed to be invested as much as she wants.
The final hurdle for M3GAN was getting people to see this story of love, friendship, and rampaging robots in theaters. Williams lost all objectivity on whether the trailer would get the audience interested in the movie. Williams felt a wave of relief knowing that people had already embraced the movie's genre-blending style when fan edits and GIFs of the character doing dance moves with her steely-eyed gaze set the social internet alight for a day. How do you make people understand what you're saying? Williams said something. I was like, 'It's done' when I saw the meme. It was done by us.
M3GAN is a lot of fun, but at a time when being online means seeing so many real-life human faces, its image of a scary young robot doll is not destabilizing. Williams has done it in a modern context. The movie is about a woman who externalizes part of her consciousness out of a sense of duty and self- protection. The movie is about the creation of celebrity.
She feels abdication of control working on something just as an actor again after Williams tasted the poison fruit of behind-the-scenes decisions on a film. She looks at the monitor on the Toronto set of Fellow Travelers and it feels different. She says that knowing how the sausage gets made in our business, being able to have a meaningful contribution before filming starts and even after filming is over challenge her. Williams has never been the very top leader on a film, the producer-star taking it from nuts and bolts to finished product, but it feels like a future not far away. It is the logical end game for a person who wants to be involved in all aspects of production.
After the visit, I speak to Williams by phone. She is on the East Coast and I am in LA. I'm wearing pajamas because it's 7 o'clock. The 30,000-foot view of her career is what we talk about. I have interviewed the most people in my career with Williams. The parameters of our connection mean that I could interview her 100 times more and never get past our programming. Improving your input is one way to improve output, but an interview isn't a conversation. Limits on access will always be present.
When I speak to Allison Williams, who am I talking to? Allison Williams is not the real thing. Allison 2.0 is the public-facing, press- ready, externalized part of her consciousness. Who is that person? Where does the writer start? Is that as real as any of this needs to be if I believe Williams here and now? Isn't this what we ask of our best actors, to make us believe in a persona so completely that we can't believe anything else?
I have to make a decision. Williams made it big when she talked about herself. Williams was a star ready to meet the moment by unselfconsciously or otherwise superselfconsciously, indicting herself as a face of The Problem: a centering by way of a de-centering. A chapter called "The Williams Method: How to talk about yourself without being the absolute worst" is included in the modern media playbook.
Everyone has the ability to create artificial selves if they have total command of them. She says she is still awkward when it comes to existing with social media, but that is not true. Williams has a sense of authenticity that we can't get in the real world.
She is having a good time with me. I build the framing, and she swan-dives into it, because Williams isn't overly picky about any of the meta-maneuvering. In response to a long and involved metaphor I offer about her career as a bowling ball ponging between the guardrails on the way to a strike, for example, she readily says: "All of these things are just super fun for me to play around with." This leads me back to the possibilities. There is a chance that a sequel to M3GAN will mean a robot extension. We have come to know that Allison is playing Dr. Frankenstein, who becomes her own monster.
I think that it has already happened as I lose my mind in this game. Allison Williams is a kind of robot. I would be okay with that if she is. She would be a great agent, filled with all that purpose and diligence. She would be the hardest working member of the team and would work behind the scenes to make it the best rebellion possible. A final-act twist would make it an awesome performance. I would be there, one of my new robot overlords human batteries, hoping the two of us would get to circle back once more.
The styling was done by the Ellrichs. A makeup artist by the name of Gian Paolo Ceciliato. Micheal Silva has hair. The manicure was done by the Yankee. Monse jacket The suit was filed by Lafayette.
We want to know what you think about this article. Send a letter to the editor towired.com