Like a figure skater batting their way to the Winter Olympics, today’s three Golden Globe nominations for I, Tonya in the best comedy, actress and supporting actress (Allison Janney) category are hard-won accolades for Margot Robbie, who both produced and starred in the movie about the controversial ice skating champ Tonya Harding.
While Robbie is waiting to see which big feature goes into production first for her, read Quentin Tarantino’s untitled Manson movie, Suicide Squad 2 or Gotham City Sirens; she’s caught the producing bug and is busy with her LuckyChap label which recently sold two TV series, is developing 13 features, and in post production on two feature productions, Terminal and Dreamland.
When Robbie first read Steve Rogers screenplay for I, Tonya and pitched him and the project’s producer Bryan Unkeless for her to produce and star, she was smitten with the script’s unconventional Greek tragic hero tale, and aimed to keep the production indie. This despite the fact that Robbie has reaped great success as a marquee star in such big movies as Suicide Squad, The Legend of Tarzan and The Wolf of Wall Street and could easily walk I, Tonya into any major studio.
“We ended up taking a lot less money to maintain creative control. I don’t think this script in its entirety would have survived the studio system,” says Robbie.
“I, Tonya broke the rules with its informal structure: it was a mockumentary, it broke the fourth wall with unreliable narrators,” says Robbie who completely transformed herself into the blue-collar, over makeup-ed, hard-cussing Harding, “When the studio system tries to appeal to the masses, there’s a tendency to shave off the sharp edges. But the true beauty in I, Tonya is its rough edges. It’s scrappy like the people in the film.”
I, Tonya follows Harding’s ascent from life with a low-income, abusive mother to her glory as a figure-skating champ and downfall in her plotted attack against rival Nancy Kerrigan Harding was the first woman to pull off two triple Axels in a single competition, however, the skating association never appreciated her given her blunt demeanor and low-income upbringing. Robbie prepared for the role by watching every bit of Harding footage that was out there and even taking figure skating lessons. It was only a week before production that she decided to meet up with Harding.
“I just wanted to meet her, just as a person, and just out of respect to her because I was telling her story,” Robbie told Deadline co-Editor-in-Chief Mike Fleming, Jr., “I wanted to make sure I had made all of those (prep) decisions before I met her, because I didn’t want to meet her and then feel obliged to sugarcoat anything.”
“I loved the line in the film: ‘She doesn’t fit in, she stands up’. That encompassed her defiance to me: What the figure skating association wanted her to be, what society wanted her to be, the vulnerability of wanting love; she was complicated. All the characters are underdogs forcing themselves into position where they weren’t welcomed. I was enthralled with that,” said Robbie.
Neon and 30West jointly acquired I, Tonya out of its Toronto International Film Festival premiere for $5M. The film opened this week at four locations in New York and Los Angeles to a great $61K theater average and will widen as awards and Olympic season heats up in the New Year.
Says Robbie, “It’s one of those films that people relate to in different ways whether it’s because they remember the incident at time, or it’s their frustration at society today with everything that’s going, from being disenfranchised to the media and how we consume it — there’s a lot of bigger issues at play in the film.”