The most talked-about movie in the world right now is about a murderous dancing doll. Alex Casey talks to the Auckland girl who helped M3GAN find her groove.
Amie Donald is just a regular 12-year-old girl. She loves building things with Lego, collecting Funko Pop Vinyl figurines and hanging out with her chocolate lab named Bear. She also happens to be the same 12-year-old girl behind the murderous movements of M3GAN, the killer doll whose viral dancing has propelled the campy New Zealand-made horror into the internet’s most talked-about movie. “I feel really excited, it’s a little bit crazy because it’s my first movie”, Donald says from her lounge in Auckland, Bear the dog nestled at her side.
Donald is no stranger to the screen, having appeared in advertisements and, more recently, the Netflix series Sweet Tooth, in which she played a monkey, an owl and a meerkat. But dance is her first passion – at the age of nine she competed in the Dance World Cup in Portugal and took home a silver and a bronze medal, the first New Zealander ever to do so. This world-beating dance prowess would become vital in her latest onscreen role, where she performed all the movements for killer robot doll M3GAN (actor Jenna Davis provides the voice).
While the internet has latched onto essentially everything about M3GAN, from her predatory four legged run to her chilling bedtime rendition of Titanium, no moment set the hashtags alight quite like the Megan dance. In the sequence, which takes place inside toy tech company Funki (shot in the foyer of Auckland’s AUT university), M3GAN unleashes a series of discombobulating and wiggly moves down a blood red hallway before brandishing an office guillotine in the direction of her next target. As of writing, the #M3GANDANCE hashtag has over 219.3 million views on TikTok.
Although she had to do some dancing in her audition, Donald says the dance was never in the original script. “One day Gerard [Johnstone, director] just came up with the idea,” she laughs. After what he has previously called a moment of 3am madness, the New Zealand director gave her and choreographer Kylie Norris a list of words he wanted the dance to represent including “creepy” and “distracting”, and the pair spent the day in the dance studio filming ideas. Johnstone then picked his favourites – scary jelly legs here, sassy shoulder shuffle there.
When it came to shooting the dance, Donald remembers that everyone went “crazy” on set after her first take. “I thought it was pretty funny because you could hear them over the radio going ‘you’ve got to come see this’ to all the crew.” At the end of shooting the scene – she did just four takes of the entire dance sequence – Donald says the whole crew erupted into a round of applause. “I thought that was pretty cool,” she grins.
While you might not be able to tell from her freaky fluid moves, Donald had limited vision in the M3GAN costume. Donning a high-tech latex mask, she had a 30 minute window before M3GAN’s eyes would fog up and she would have to take a break to wipe them down. With her voice muffled, she devised a set of hand gestures to communicate – thumbs up for “doing good”, hands crossed across the chest for “get me out of the mask” and one finger up for “one more take”.
The dance sequence was just one of many dramatic stunts Donald had to do as M3GAN, including chasing a boy on all fours across the forest floor, and some time hanging upside down during the film’s dramatic climax. But between those intense scenes, Donald says her favourite part of being on set was spending time with Violet McGraw, who plays M3GAN’s “primary” user Cady. Between takes they would pair off into their own room to sing songs – including ‘Party in the USA’ and the Wicked soundtrack – before returning to the thrills and kills of M3GAN.
Auckland was plunged back into lockdown immediately after primary shooting finished, with reshoots happening months later. After that were many more months of nothing, says Donald, until one morning when her mum woke her up excitedly: the trailer was out. “Then all of a sudden all the videos were popping up everywhere of people recreating the dance,” says Donald. “It was just so much fun watching everybody doing it.” Her favourite TikTok of the dance features a girl replacing the flip move with a rotating still image – “so funny”.
Donald has just returned from Los Angeles for the world premiere of M3GAN, where she walked the black carpet with co-stars Allison Williams, Ronnie Chieng and a troupe of M3GAN dolls who opened the event with a suitably creepy choreographed dance. Although she’s back home in Aotearoa now, she’s not taking a break anytime soon. She’s in the middle of shooting the new season of Sweet Tooth, and has to find time to take her friends to see M3GAN in local cinemas – “they are a little bit scared, so we are going to watch it together.”
After that, Donald will be crossing her fingers for both a M3GAN sequel and a M3GAN Funko Pop Vinyl to add to her collection – whichever the internet manages to make happen first.