10 Surprising Facts About I, Tonya
With Oscar nominations for Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Film Editing, the fourth wall-demolishing biopic about Tonya Harding’s life and figure skating career through the infamous attack on Nancy Kerrigan in 1994 is the scrappy little outsider of this year's awards season. Which is fitting, as I, Tonya has a punk rock edge that should make audiences question the way they view the usual, stuffy biopics (and the truth itself).
Written by Steven Rogers and directed by Craig Gillespie, the movie stars Margot Robbie as Harding, Sebastian Stan as Jeff Gillooly, and Allison Janney as Harding’s mother, LaVona Golden. It also stars a lot of early 1990s fashion and Olympic-sized drama. Here are 10 fun facts about I, Tonya.
1. CRAIG GILLESPIE WORKED WITH NANCY KERRIGAN ON A 1993 CAMPBELL’S SOUP COMMERCIAL.
Before making movies, Craig Gillespie worked as an art director for several advertising companies, and just as Kerrigan’s star was rising higher, she starred in one of his commercials that showed that eating soup gives you the strength to gut-check an ice hockey player. What are the odds that he’d make a movie about her attackers 25 years later?
2. I, TONYA HIRED ONE OF KERRIGAN’S CHOREOGRAPHERS.
For training and choreography, the film turned to Canadian figure skater Sarah Kawahara. Kawahara was the first skater to win an Emmy for choreography, for her work on a Scott Hamilton special in 1997, and she won again for choreographing the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. She’s also worked with dozens of top-level skaters in her career, including with Kerrigan for the 1995 TV event Nancy Kerrigan Special: Dreams on Ice.
3. ALLISON JANNEY USED TO BE A COMPETITIVE SKATER.
Allison Janney, who scored an Oscar nomination for playing Harding’s mother LaVona Golden, grew up with Olympic ambitions, figure skating as a teenager until she accidentally ran into a glass door and sliced a tendon in her leg. She gave up competitive skating and went to college to become an actor instead.
4. THE ROLE OF TONYA HARDING’S MOTHER WAS WRITTEN FOR JANNEY.
Screenwriter Steven Rogers is a longtime friend of Janney’s, and he’s written several roles with her in mind, but she was never cast in any of them until now. Unlike the other real-life counterparts from the film, Rogers was never able to track down LaVona Golden to interview her, so her portrayal is built from old documentary footage and creative license.
5. THEY USED BEER TO GET HARDING’S HAIR RIGHT.
Lead hair designer Adruitha Lee made four wigs for Robbie to wear, designing them using products and dyes from the time. Her secret weapon for getting that crispy, crunchy look? Cheap beer. “You’re not going to get that bang to stand up like that with just mousse,” she told The Hollywood Reporter.
6. EVEN THE PARAKEET HAD TO AUDITION.
The production auditioned three different birds to see which one would remain calmest while perched atop Janney’s fur coat-covered shoulders. “I tried a couple of birds, and I picked Little Man, which is not his real name, but that’s what I called him,” Janney told The Huffington Post. “I knew it was my job to make it look like I had a relationship with the bird, that we’d been together for a long time. I couldn’t look ruffled, if you will, by anything this bird did. And believe me, he did a lot. I mean, you saw him trying to eat out my ear.”
7. MARGOT ROBBIE STRUGGLED THROUGH AN INJURY ALL THROUGHOUT FILMING.
While tackling the physically demanding ice skating elements of the shoot, Robbie herniated a disc in her neck and says she would have quit the production had she not been a producer on it. “Because I was a producer, I was like, ‘We can’t afford that. Just shoot me up with some steroids, and let’s keep going,’” she said during a SAG-AFTRA interview. Robbie, who earned a Best Actress Oscar nod for the role, got an MRI at the end of each week to assess whether she could keep filming or not.
8. HARDING’S CONTACT INFORMATION CONVINCED ROGERS TO WRITE THE MOVIE.
Rogers was inspired to do something with the story after seeing a skating documentary, but he didn’t get invested until he tried to reach out to Harding for the first time. He dialed the contact phone number for her agent as listed on her professional website, and it went to a Motel 6. At that point, Rogers decided that he would stick with the project no matter where it took him.
9. THE SCREENWRITER LEANED INTO THE REAL STORY’S LACK OF TRUTH.
What do you do if you’re writing a movie based on real events, but no one can agree on exactly what happened? Rogers conducted interviews with both Harding and Jeff Gillooly, but, “Their stories were so wildly contradictory,” Rogers told Gold Derby. “I thought, ‘That’s my in.’ I’ll just show everybody’s point of view, and then let the audience decide what they want to decide … Everyone’s trying to control the narrative…They’re all telling themselves what they need to know to be able to live with themselves.”
10. ROBBIE DIDN’T KNOW THE EVENTS OF THE MOVIE REALLY HAPPENED.
The rivalry between Kerrigan and Harding was all over the news leading up to the 1992 Olympics, and the attack on Kerrigan became a national scandal ahead of the 1994 games in Lillehammer, but Robbie didn’t know about it until after she read a script she thought was fictional. You can’t really blame her, though: Robbie is from Australia, and she was 4 years old when the attack happened.