In October 2022, Twitter gained a new CEO, a tech-forward sociopath who disrupted the social-media platform forever. That person was M3gan, also known as Model 3 Generative Android, also known as mother. When Universal released the first trailer for Blumhouse horror-sci-fi-satire M3gan, it united Twitter users in obsession over the fabulous little robotic doll with a cutting stare and fierce roundhouse kick.
Amid all the excitement over horror’s new queen of the dwolls, some perceptive M3GstANs noticed that in addition to Allison Williams and a killer child-robot, the movie also featured comedian and actor Brian Jordan Alvarez. Over the past year, Alvarez has done the impossible: He made front-facing-camera comedy feel new again, harnessing the creepy-kooky power of TikTok filters to create a menagerie of characters with deep lore, including L.A. wellness guru Marnie T., entrepreneurial Erik, a celebrity chef with a fiery passion for onions, and the ever-enigmatic Mr. and Mrs. TJ Mack. Alvarez’s brilliantly silly videos have earned him places on multiple year-end best-of lists and a pilot at FX for his comedy series, English Teacher.
In the trailer for M3gan, Alvarez looks refreshingly like himself — or a tech-bro version of himself — as he’s strung up and strangled by his own creation, zero filters. His role in the movie is even bigger than the trailer lets on, playing Allison Williams’s right-hand man, Cole, a fellow robotics engineer. Alvarez spoke to Vulture about how M3gan conquered the gay internet, why she should be in more movies, and his place in the M3GAverse and beyond.
You’re in the movie start to finish as Allison Williams’s right-hand man, and you’re kind of M3gan’s dad. Did you have a sense when you were cast of how big your role would be?
I love that, M3gan’s dad! Yeah, it was a big, awesome part. Actually, I don’t know if I should say this, but there were two parts on the table at one point. But I was so happy with this cool roboticist role in this sci-fi horror movie. Everybody calls it a horror movie, and it is, but I’m into sci-fi, especially sleek, high-aesthetic sci-fi, like Ridley Scott’s Alien and Prometheus. And this is a sci-fi movie. That’s also why the scares and the laughs have so much payoff. Gerard Johnstone and Akela Cooper and Jason Blum and James Wan take their time at the beginning, building this sci-fi that you care about. You have to wait a second for the movie to start going insane.
You said you were up for another role. I don’t know which part it was, but if I were to guess, I’d imagine it was the head of the toy company, played by Ronnie Chieng.
My audience broke out in laughter from the moment in that early scene where you and Williams are testing M3gan’s facial reactions and she does that smirk. Everyone was fully onboard at that point.
And that’s the hard part. Getting a full theater of 100 or 200 people to laugh out loud is such a huge achievement. And it’s the most subtle stuff that makes it happen.
M3gan the doll was portrayed in full-body movement shots by 12-year-old dancer Amie Donald. So in the montage where you’re picking out M3gan’s wig and poking her with a stick …
I legitimately don’t remember if I was pushing Amie or not. They used as many practical effects as possible and only used CGI to fill in the gaps. So they’d be like, “Okay, you’re going to do it with Amie this time. Now you’re just going to do it to the air. Now to the doll.”
Did you have any other scenes that were cut?
I don’t think so. It might even just be that I was cut visually out of a scene where I was just in the background. But I do remember there was some scene when I was basically being ridiculous. I put on some crazy pair of goggles and a hat or something. I was rolling around in the chair while something else important was happening that did not appear in the movie, probably for the best.
While you were making this movie, did you get the sense that it would be as big a deal as it became?
Yeah, I did. On the days that I was there, I was glued to the monitors. When they were shooting the doll, it was the most amazing thing to watch. Because Amie Donald does all this amazing body work, but in close-up, that’s a real robotic doll. So Gerard would be doing this really subtle direction, like, “Tilt the doll’s head just slightly. Okay, now make her blink twice, and then make her turn her head to the other side. And then just a tiiiny smile.” So he, in a way, was acting through this robot, this puppet. All of this stuff was working at the highest levels, and on such a small budget.
So much of the movie is just a close-up on her taking a beat and blinking. And it rules.
She’s so deadpan, so subtle. A writer friend of mine said it would be funny if M3gan just started appearing in other movies, as an actor. Just taking on other roles.
Have you learned anything, as an actor, from watching M3gan’s process?
Yeah, be M3gan. Be more M3gan.
Have you learned the M3gan dance?
I didn’t. I should learn it! I need to have it ready.
What was your M3gan growing up? What was that toy, for you?
Tamagotchi! We were obsessed. I remember it would distract me from class, I’d be like, I have to go feed my Tamagotchi! It’s gonna starve!
“You don’t understand! I’m a single father!”
Looking back, it’s crazy how few pixels it took to get us caring. That’s really the power of story. They were like, “These two pixels need to eat,” and we were like, Oh my God, I feel it in my soul!
Screenwriter Akela Cooper has hypothesized that M3gan has resonated with queer audiences because it’s about a nontraditional family. Others have theorized it’s because of the age-old adage that when a girl does some sociopathic shit, her gays say, “Honestly, work.” Why do you think the film is such a hit with queer audiences in particular?
I think it’s pretty simple: Queer people have great taste. And when something is just amazing, they’re often on the frontlines of that.
I need you to settle something for me. My friends and I think Allison Williams’s character is queer-coded. She’s single and has all those Tinder notifications, but they don’t say from whom. She wears those flannel shirts. She can open a jar.
I was watching the other night and thought, Why does she open that jar? I assumed it was something beyond my understanding. So I have no idea.
Your character is a little banged up by the end of the movie, but he survives a M3gan attack. Do you think Cole will be back for the sequel?
I would love to come back for the sequel. Let’s party.
I want to talk about the comedy you’ve done on TikTok over the past year, and the way you’ve taken advantage of filter effects more than most other comedians.
It just felt like something I’d always been doing. I had been making these videos for myself and occasionally sending them to my friends. And I think there’s a lot of power in deciding, that funny thing that you send to your friend? Post that. Marnie T. was the first one that blew up, and at first, I made that video of Marnie T. being like, “It’s just been such a wonderful day,” and I had sent it to a group chat saying, ‘Is this funny?’ And they didn’t respond. So I just thought, Well, you know what, it’s fine. I’ll just post it. And I posted it. The world will tell you if it’s funny, but if it’s not, you can make something else.
Your characters are so funny in a way that’s confusing to me. Take TJ Mack, a house husband with an alpha wife who loves shopping for deals and also has a burgeoning pop career: I don’t even know the type of guy that’s trying to parody. What’s funny about TJ Mack to you?
I don’t want to ruin my own comedy by analyzing it. I’m improvising most of the time. But when somebody can do an accent — like, I can do a really amazing Australian accent — that has a quality that feels like a magic trick. It’s hard to describe why, but your brain reacts like somebody teleported or something. It’s that times three, because I’m transforming my whole look. And I’m transforming my voice, usually in one way or another. The other thing is that I love people. And I’m observant. I think once I sort of absorb someone’s energy, and I process it, even if it’s 20 years later … I mean, I don’t even know who I’m channeling that’s coming out of me. The joke is generally, Isn’t this something that someone who is like this would say? Or, Isn’t it funny that this is something that someone who’s like this usually wouldn’t say? You kind of can’t lose.
Is there an accent you have a hard time doing?
Yes, a northern English accent like Manchester or Leeds. And I think even those are quite different. I want to learn it and I’ve never been able to. I haven’t put that much focus into it, though. Also, I need to learn a Kiwi accent. I was trying to do it, and I would just slide into an Australian accent all the time. In New Zealand, where M3gan was filmed, they’d always tell me, “No, it’s actually nothing like an Australian accent.”
On TikTok, people engage with your work by playing along in the comments section like your characters are real people. What are those interactions in the comments like, for you?
I think that’s the best part, because it’s this positive-feedback loop. I’m realizing that you’re picking up what I’m putting down. I’m, like, creating a world, and they’re entering the world and going, “Hey, I’m a member of this world. And I have some jokes to add, too.” It’s so great. Like with the Timothy videos, everybody’s like, “Timothy get out of there!” “Timothy is not what you think!” Or they go, “Timothy, this sounds so great!” For the readers who do not know who he is, Timothy is a character I do on my Instagram and my TikTok who just moved to L.A. from somewhere probably in the Midwest, and then immediately met a boyfriend at the Abbey, which Timothy calls “the Abbey Bar and Grill.” And then his boyfriend, it seems, is using him in some kind of organized-crime situation. Maybe he’s some kind of mule, I don’t know, Timothy is oblivious, but the fans enjoy guessing at that, or pretending that they are also oblivious.
M3gan is a film about the perils of AI. So many of your characters are reliant on filter effects, which themselves use AI to identify facial features and manipulate them.
I love all the positive aspects of it. I do think it’s fun to envision maybe one day getting to do a show full of these characters in a time when full-blown, really high-quality CGI characters are easy to do, and an AI just does it for you. So instead of a Marnie filter, it’s a full 360 Marnie transformation. As far as making stuff yourself these days, I’ve had this thing where I’ll have access to a really good camera, and then I’ll barely use it, because it just makes so much more sense to just do everything on your phone. And so I look forward to the meeting of these two things, where there’s no longer a quality difference, really, between what your iPhone can do, including this AI that we were just mentioning, and an Alexa camera. So you can just shoot something that looks as good as a real TV show on your iPhone. You and I are both, I feel, very, very familiar with the internet. And as someone who likes to be on the forefront of this stuff, I’m like, Oh my God, it’s gonna be so exciting when all this stuff becomes even more advanced with ChatGPT and all that.
If I’ve learned anything from science fiction, it’s that it will all be totally great and fine.
What could possibly go wrong?
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.