Report by Amon Warmann
I, Tonya has been a big player in this year’s awards season, and for good reason. Margot Robbie delivers a career-best performance as Tonya Harding – an ex figure skating champion with a shocking story to tell – and she’s ably supported by an eye-catching turn from Allison Janney, Harding’s overbearing mother.
The film finally makes its way to UK cinemas this week, and along with Robbie and Janney director Craig Gillespie and screenwriter Steven Rogers were in London to promote the movie. Here are the best soundbites from the press conference…
On how important it was for Tonya to tell this version of her story…
Steven Rogers: When I interviewed Tonya, she asked me flat-out: “Do I have a say in any of this?” And I said “No”, because I wanted to interpret it and make a movie. I said “I’m going to tell everyone’s point-of-view, but I am gonna tell your point-of-view”. And I think she really just wanted that. I think she just wanted to be heard. I don’t feel like she felt like she was before, I think that mattered to her.
Craig Gillespie: Margot and I got to meet Tonya two weeks before we started shooting, and I was amazed at how trusting she was. It’s been 25 years of living under this label of being this villain. I felt comfortable that we really were trying to portray her version of it. Constantly, I’d be calling Steven and being like “so this is what happened?”. Well, it’s what Tonya said. Or it’s what Jeff said. I felt we could honour that, and make a far more complex story.
On how her character’s distinct look helped her performance…
Allison Janney: My look was incredibly liberating. I went through three hours of make-up for the direct address scenes of LaVona’s – the incredible wig, the costumes by Jennifer Johnson, having that fur coat, and auditioning three birds. When I saw the final look, I felt like I’d stepped out of a Diane Arbus photograph. It was just extraordinary. I felt so empowered by that look, I didn’t feel as horrified as I thought I would be. I think I look better there than I do right now! I loved it. I felt like I didn’t care what anybody thought – I earned the right to sit here and I’m gonna tell you my story and you’re gonna listen to me.
On playing characters that defy expectations and challenge stereotypes…
Margot Robbie: I feel like it’s a more accurate representation of life. No-one’s just one thing. In fact, the most interesting people are full of contradictions. People I’m close to, whether it’s my sister who’s an accountant, whether it’s someone in a very powerful position – I feel like everyone I come across has this inner conflict that they’re wrestling with. I get more out of it as an actor to play conflicted characters, and I feel like an audience gets more out of it too. It’s not only more entertaining, but it’s more thought-provoking. I always strive to entertain, but to entertain in a meaningful way. If someone walks away and thinks about something a few days later, then I’ve done my job.
What did Tonya herself think of the film?
Margot Robbie: It’s a weird thing playing a real-life person who’s alive and gonna see the film. Because I knew I was going to be intimidated by that prospect, I kept the character of Tonya and real-life Tonya very separate in my mind for as long as I possibly could. In fact, I didn’t meet real-life Tonya purposely, not until right before we started shooting. I needed to approach the character as a fictional character, like I would with another one. I just had a whole lot more information to start with than I do with a fictional character. I needed that to feel like I could let this character do its own thing on set [and] not hold back. Otherwise, I think I would be trying to gloss over some character flaws. I wouldn’t have been as authentic.
It’s a complicated thing to sum up how she feels. I imagine if we put ourselves in her shoes, to see the best and worst parts of your life depicted on screen by other people, it would be a bizarre experience. She said she laughed and she cried. She didn’t agree with parts told from Jeff’s point of view, which we were expecting. Overall, I think she is pleased that a more nuanced version of her story is now out there in the world.
I, Tonya is playing in UK cinemas now.