From Girls To M3GAN: Inside The Career Of Allison Williams

Chances are, you know Allison Williams as characters you love to hate — the grating and slightly narcissistic Marnie Michaels in Lena Dunham's "Girls," the heartless, deranged Rose in Jordan Peele's "Get Out," the creepy Charlotte in "The Perfection." And now, she's returning to our screens as Gemma, a young aunt taking care of her niece, in the much-anticipated horror film "M3GAN," which centers around an AI doll gone wrong. 

While Williams has played a number of not-so-likable characters, in real life, interviewers describe her as warm, clever, and refreshingly self-effacing. From her childhood, Williams seemed destined for a life in the spotlight. Born to parents who were both prominent journalists, Williams grew up with a passion for acting. After studying English at Yale University and training in improv, she quickly landed a few comedic roles before getting her big break as Marnie in "Girls." After five years on the groundbreaking show, Williams turned to film roles in projects like "Get Out," "The Perfection," "Horizon Line" and "A Series of Unfortunate Events." Now, all eyes are on Williams for the highly-anticipated release of "M3GAN." 

Allison Williams was born into a well-known family

Allison Williams was born on April 13, 1988, into a family of well-known journalists. Her mother was a producer, while her father, Brian Williams, was the recognizable face of "NBC Nightly News." 

As a child, Williams didn't see much of her father, who commuted from their home in Connecticut to New Jersey every evening. And yet, she managed to maintain a strong relationship with him through notes. "I would leave him a note about what had happened in my day," she told Glamour. "And I would wake up [to] his note. It was like the tooth fairy coming every night."

There's no doubt that Williams' privileged upbringing gave her a head start in the business — and she has never been afraid to admit it. But she's also proud of her skill. "It doesn't feel like a loss to admit [my privilege]," she told Wired. "If you trust your own skill, I think it becomes very simple to acknowledge."

Allison Williams always wanted to act

As a young girl, Allison Williams was already determined — she wanted to act. "My childhood was stamped with this one certainty, that I knew what I wanted to be, which I realize now was very unusual," Williams told Town & Country in 2013. "Most of my friends are still figuring it out. I only knew one other kid like me; she wanted to be a singer, and in first grade we'd have sleepovers, and she dressed up like a Beatle and I dressed up like Marilyn Monroe." Of course, being that set on one thing came with its fair share of stress. "The anxiety of it not working out," she said, "was a prevailing feeling in high school."

In school, Williams explained to Glamour that her ambition was sometimes intimidating for some of her peers. "It would bring out the, like, 'Who do you think you are?' In their minds it would have been as if I'd said I would like to be president." Of course, now, she's proven herself to everyone. And her friends couldn't be prouder. As Williams put it: "They can appreciate how long I've wanted this."

Allison Williams studied English at Yale University while also training in improv

After graduating from high school, Allison Williams enrolled in Yale University's English program. "When I logged into the Yale website and found out that I got in, I jumped up and down with joy," she recalled to College Magazine. "It was pretty obvious that that's where I wanted to go. I just never imagined I would get in!" 

As Williams explained, she spent most of her time at college studying or acting — but it wasn't initially easy to get her foot in the door. After she failed to get into a Yale production of "Urinetown," Williams ended up joining the school's improv team, Just Add Water. "I'm so happy I was accepted into the group, because [...] it made me the actor I am today," she said. In fact, as she told Yale Daily News, improv taught her one of the most important acting lessons: to accept when things don't go to plan. "The biggest gift that improv gave me was not freaking out when something goes wrong," she said. "You start to see those things as gifts, because it almost always inevitably leads to a weirder, more fun place." 

Allison Williams went viral with a Mad Men theme tune mashup

When Allison Williams graduated from Yale, she decided it was time to pursue acting professionally. As she told Yale News, she "felt a lot of internal pressure" at the time. So, she left for Los Angeles, filmed a series of comedic videos, and put them on YouTube. One of these videos was a spoof mashup of the "Mad Men" theme song. Her career approach was: "If it's not coming for you, just go for it — make it yourself."

The "Mad Men" video ended up being life-changing. After the video went viral, it was seen by producer Judd Apatow, who was, at the time, looking for someone to take on the role of Marnie in "Girls." Williams acknowledges that the viral video propelled her career. "I really do owe a lot to the 'Mad Men' video because one of the people who saw that was Judd. ... Judd saw me in that video," she told Yahoo Entertainment. "He called my agents, asked me to go in." And the rest, of course, is history.

Allison Williams found fame as Marnie in Girls

Landing the part of Marnie, one of the central four characters in Lena Dunham's "Girls," transformed Allison Williams' life. Overnight, she went from being an aspiring actor with a fresh college degree to a primetime TV star. 

Williams was deeply proud of "Girls" while it was on. "I'm endlessly proud of anything that makes an audience go: 'That looks just like me,'" she said to Stylist. "That is the radical choice that 'Girls' made. It came out when there wasn't anything else around like this."

When "Girls" came to an end after five years, Williams felt bereft. After all, she had been living in Marnie's shoes for half a decade. "It's difficult to picture my adult life without the series," she told Vogue at the time. "I've been playing Marnie since I graduated from university. It's as if at the age of 22, I stopped maturing and handed over my twenties to this character who experienced them for me — which I was happy to do. ... I just hope I learned from Marnie's experiences."

Allison Williams defied expectations with Peter Pan Live!

Allison Williams' next big role wasn't exactly what her fans might have expected. After finding fame as Marnie, Williams took things in a new direction when she signed on to play the titular character in NBC's "Peter Pan Live!" — a filmed version of the stage musical. Everybody expected her to fail. As Glamour noted, numerous publications were prepared to "hate watch" the musical. However, when the musical aired, it was impossible not to love Williams' portrayal of the boy who never grows up. One critic even wrote: "Williams ruined hate-watching."

As Williams told Allure, she had wanted the role from the moment she heard about it. "The minute they announced 'Peter Pan,' I emailed my agent. I was like, 'Too early?'" Apparently, Peter Pan was the perfect antithesis of Marnie. And this is exactly what Williams had been looking for. "Someone who will not grow up as opposed to someone who's only ever wanted to be a grown-up; who is a boy — it's so different," she said. "So I just want to keep making hard right turns and left turns." Even though no one imagined Williams could play a boy in a musical, she certainly proved them all wrong.

Allison Williams married CollegeHumor founder Ricky Van Veen

In 2015, Allison Williams tied the knot with Ricky Van Veen, her boyfriend of three years and the millionaire co-founder of the comedy website CollegeHumor.

As Williams told Stylist, she first met Van Veen shortly after landing the role of Marnie. When the pair married, she felt that she had grown up. "Right after shooting the pilot, I met Ricky, got engaged, got married three years later and got a dog," she said. "We're all very mature beyond our years." Apparently, the meeting happened thanks to a weekly viewing party of "The Bachelor" (via People). The couple would meet every week with friends to watch the popular match-making show. While the cameras followed cast members on their dating endeavors, more romantic scenes occurred off-screen between Williams and Van Veen.

As Vogue reported, the pair had a private wedding in Wyoming and Williams wore a wedding dress designed by Peter Copping, creative director for Oscar de la Renta. At the time, Williams' plan was to eventually take a break from her acting career to become a mother (via Page Six).

In Get Out, Allison Williams played a character for whom she had no empathy

After Allison Williams' time on "Girls" came to an end, she turned her attention away from television and toward the world of film. Her first project couldn't have been more different from "Girls." In "Get Out," Jordan Peele's horror-meets-social-commentary film, Williams played Rose, the daughter of a well-off family with a dark criminal secret. 

Rose wasn't exactly a likable character — in fact, as Williams explained in an interview, she was pretty detestable. Ultimately, the character was an unflattering mockery of white women — and Williams was up for the challenge. "[People would] say, 'She was hypnotized, right?'" Williams told Seth Meyers. "And I'm like, 'No! She's just evil!' ... and they're still like, 'But maybe she's also a victim?'" Williams refused to see her as one.

As Williams told Vanity Fair, she was careful not to judge Rose while she was playing her — and that wasn't easy. "I guess I needed to get to a place where, as I looked at everyone around me while shooting, I felt nothing," she said. "I felt no warmth or humanity. That obviously was really hard."

Allison Williams took on another horror role in The Perfection

In 2019, Allison Williams took on another role in a horror film. Like Rose in "Get Out," her character Charlotte in "The Perfection" is a privileged white woman who, it turns out, is actually fairly sinister. The movie follows Charlotte, a cello player, as she becomes embroiled in a dark, ominous battle with a younger cellist. While the relationship between the two women begins as a friendly one, by the end of the movie, it becomes clear that Charlotte had a darker plan for the young prodigy. 

For Williams, it was the wild, unpredictable script that attracted her. "It was the most insane script I've read in a long time," she told PopSugar. "It was the craziest script I'd read since 'Get Out,' which I think was part of it." In fact, Williams was willing to lean into the fact that viewers might still distrust her after her character in "Get Out."

Williams was eager to play the multi-faceted Charlotte. "First and foremost I was just fascinated by Charlotte," the actor said to CinemaBlend. "I thought she was so interesting and I just had to play her so that I could understand what makes that girl tick and what, what is going on in there."

Allison Williams split from her husband in 2019

In June 2019, almost four years after their marriage, Allison Williams and her husband Ricky Van Veen announced their plans to divorce. In a statement to Page Six, Williams and Van Veen said: "With mutual love and respect, we have made the decision to separate as a couple. We are grateful for the friendship that we have and will continue to have." According to a source close to the couple, the pair's differences were too great. "Allison really is Type A, a real go-getter. While Ricky is far more relaxed and laid-back. Things just haven't been going well recently," the source said. "Every time I've seen Allison out recently, Ricky's been nowhere to be seen," added the source. 

Williams and Van Veen never spoke about their separation in interviews, but both seem to have moved on. By September 2019, Van Veen was reportedly seeing another woman (via the Daily Mail). Williams also began dating her "Horizon Line" co-star Alexander Dreymon (via Town & Country).

Allison Williams took on a leading role in the already cult classic M3GAN

In 2022, Allison Williams appeared in the premiere of "M3GAN" in what may be remembered as one of her biggest roles ever — a horror film already making a stir before its release in January 2023. In fact, the viral film has even become the source of dozens of memes and has caused a stir by launching with a staggering 98% on Rotten Tomatoes. Williams plays Gemma, a young woman who adopts her sister's daughter and makes her an AI-powered doll, M3GAN, to protect her and keep her company. 

For Williams, the role was too exciting to pass up — namely, because it reminded her of one of her favorite books. "When I think about the monster in 'Frankenstein,' his last emotional stage is the realization of what has happened, why he's there, how he got there, his innate flaws, that he's mismatched with the world," she told Wired. "I couldn't resist an ambiguous creator figure."

Based on how popular this movie is already, it's safe to say that Gemma will go down in history as one of Williams' career-defining roles.

Allison Williams had her first child and became engaged

One thing that made the role of Gemma in "M3GAN" a little easier to understand was the fact that Allison Williams is a young mother herself. In 2022, news broke that Williams and her boyfriend Alexander Dreymon had their first child. "They are both private people individually, and they made the decision to keep this happy news to just a small circle of family and friends," an insider explained to the Daily Mail. Rumor has it, the pair are also engaged.

As Williams told Town & Country, her "status as a mom" helped her connect with Gemma's journey as an adoptive mother in the film. "I became a mom, and that made it all much more interesting, because that's Gemma's whole arc," she said, explaining that Gemma goes from having no children to having two — "one that she created from scratch and the other that she inherited, who, while sharing her DNA, is not her own. That was going to be complicated, but it also became more interesting as a performer to bring this person to life, having a greater appreciation of the stakes of that."

Allison Williams got her first taste of producing

"M3GAN" didn't just give Allison Williams the chance to take on the role of a doomed monster creator — it was also her first experience of getting into the producer's seat. As she told Wired, she tried to be as hands-on as possible, taking part in script edits, casting, and even props. "I think they assumed, 'She doesn't want to know what toy brands we've cleared,' but they were sorely mistaken," she said. "I want to know what toys Gemma has." She also came up with the idea of hiring an AI consultant to make the film as accurate as possible (considering the ludicrous premise, of course). Finally, she was also involved in marketing the film post-production — and when she realized that the internet was eating up the trailers, she felt she had done her job.  

It seems that Williams enjoyed getting a bit more involved in the behind-the-scenes elements of filmmaking. "It was nice to be allowed to be as invested as I naturally want to be in something — which is completely invested," she summed up. And by the sounds of things, she's eager to dip her toe into producing again soon.