You may not have heard her name yet, but producer/screenwriter Akela Cooper is turning the horror genre on its ear, hit by blockbuster hit.
Cooper’s off-the-wall horror writing already gained her two prior cult hits with 2018’s Hell Fest and 2021’s horror thriller Malignant. Now, she’s back with another instant hit with M3GAN, an AI-slasher that takes concepts like those presented in Child’s Play and iRobot and morphs them into a scare-scape unlike anything audiences have seen.
We chatted exclusively with the screenwriter behind everyone’s favorite deranged comfort companion just after the blockbuster success of its opening weekend to get her takes on all things spooky and what may be next for the new horror icon.
So, your film is clearly a hit. How does it feel?
It feels really good, I’ve got to say. I’ve been enjoying it as much as I can.
Is this what you anticipated?
Oh, this is nowhere near what I anticipated. I thought it was going to be a small cult hit film. So that it’s taken off like this is just like, it’s astounding and surprising in the most wonderful way.
Well M3GAN is certainly a unique story and character, and it’s clearly resonating big with audiences. What were some of your horror influences along the way that maybe helped shape your view of this story?
Well, got to give a shout-out to the OG Child’s Play. That was a movie that I saw at a really young age, and, oddly enough, was one of my early favorite horror films. I remember watching that repeatedly when we had beta machines. So to let you know how old I am. But I’m a Nightmare on Elm Street, girl.
It’s funny you say that. Freddy Kreuger is kind of terrifying.
He is terrifying, and like he’s terrifying at first, and then over time he becomes funny. So there’s that personality change that makes you want to hang out with him and see what he’s going to do, but also it’s terrifying. And so in a way, he’s also an inspiration for M3GAN.
Speaking of terrifying, I heard a rumor that you actually had to reign M3GAN in a bit. What had to be trimmed down?
My first draft, M3GAN killed a lot more people on the page, and James Wan when he was giving notes, he was like, “I love what you’ve done here, but I also love the characters that you’ve created. So can you not kill these characters?” And I’m like, “okay, I can pull it back.” And then production-wise yeah, the movie had more blood and more gore that was scaled back so it could get a PG-13 rating. I’m hoping that Universal releases an unrated Blu-ray in the future, but that’s up to them.
That’s insane because some of the scenes are shockingly bloody in this one. But it still manages to pull a laugh at you at the same time. How are you able to toe that line between horror and comedy so effortlessly?
When I’m writing, I’m just writing the scene as I see it in my head. So I have kind of a twisted sense of humor in that regard. You just try out things and if they work, they work and if not, you take them out.
The horror genre has had a resurgence for Black creators in recent years, but you rarely see Black people, especially Black women, in positions where they’re the minds behind horror tales that are not necessarily centered on a specifically Black experience. You’re breaking ground in a sense.
My hope is just that I’m opening the doors for other people. Everybody, not necessarily just Black women, although I do hope Black women are now able to write the things that they are passionate about, whether that’s horror or not, and they are given the chance to do that like I was. I want everybody to be able to walk into a room and it’s like, “yes, I can write horror, I can write comedy, I can write this, I can write that.” That doesn’t necessarily have to be centered around a specific experience, although if it is, all the better.
I feel like we need more room to tell non-traumatic stories about our lives. We have fun stories to tell as well, and fantastical stories to tell. And so I hope this is opening the door for the white executives who are still in charge of Hollywood to take chances on people they might not have considered before.
So, of course, I have to ask the obvious question: can we expect to see more of M3GAN in a sequel?
Horror movies always kind of have those open endings. We do have kind of fun, traditional, dun, dun, dun, kind of horror movie ending that leaves the door open for that. And I am all for talking about a sequel to this. Hopefully, it happens and we can continue the adventures of M3GAN because I do believe the world that we set up is ripe for future stories.
M3GAN is in theaters everywhere now.