I, Tonya: Interview with Star Margot Robbie

Physicality of Role

Margot Robbie: I did get a little bit of an injury when I was doing the ice skating.  I think I definitely underestimated how difficult it is as a sport and it gave me such respect and admiration for figure skaters in general, but particularly for what Tonya Harding did, landing a triple axel, and I now understand which is a humungous feat of athleticism.  We didn’t really appreciate that until it came time to shooting it, and we couldn’t even get a stunt double to do the triple axel, no one can do it.  I think there has been six women since Tonya did it in the last 20 years, to actually land a triple axel in competition.  So yeah, I have great admiration for the sport.


Point of View: Domestic Violence

MR: The domestic violence was something that we spoke about a lot in pre-production and definitely when trying to find our director, we asked everyone about tone and how to handle the violence.  It was something that we wanted to handle respectfully and truthfully and to soften it in any way didn’t seem like we would be handling it correctly.  We didn’t want to make it seem easier than it actually is.  So, in those moments, it is very confronting.  But Craig had the idea to break the fourth wall in those moments, to see Tonya disassociate emotionally with what was happening at the time and speak to the audience directly, I think gave people a glimpse into what it was like and what it could be like to be in an abusive relationship and to see that cycle go on and to be able to disconnect emotionally from it at times and stay in it.  Because I think people who are outside those circumstances often wonder how can anyone go back to that guy, how could she go back to him?  But I think the repetitive nature and the disassociation emotionally actually contributed to the cycle continuing.  But as far as the rest of the physicality, yeah, there’s a lot of scenes obviously between Tonya and Jeff and she also hits him back a lot, which was another important thing for Craig, who said we have to see her giving it as good as she’s getting.  And if you hear Jeff’s version of events, that’s definitely what happened.  But as our story shows you, Jeff and Tonya’s version of events are very, very different.  And when we are in Tonya’s version of events, that’s the storyline that I am tracking, my character is tracking and I have to get behind that point of view completely and deliver those lines with conviction.  But when we are in Jeff’s point of view, it’s a different story and it’s the way he told it.

Upbringing: Parental Support

MR: I have said it many times, but I really am grateful for the upbringing I had and I am very grateful I had an upbringing so far removed from this Hollywood filmmaking.  And it made it seem much further away and much more unattainable.  But obviously once I had made the leap and actually started finding my way into the industry, in hindsight I am really grateful that I didn’t grow up in it at all.  And to have that separation between my personal life and my work life is amazing.  And when I go home, we do normal things and talk about normal things.  I think they didn’t see, they all thought it was kind of like a hobby and oh this acting thing, I guess it’s kind of fun for right now but when are you going to get a real job?  And slowly but surely over the years, I think it took literally until I showed them a poster of me in Times Square in New York when I have flown them over, to be like guys, I am probably not going to go to University and get a different job.  Like this is happening and it’s a real job.  And they were like oh, okay.  And then they started understanding it.  They have come to visit me on sets now and they have come to understand that there’s actually a big business running behind it and it’s not a fun hobby and it is a business and people can make a living off it. But no, they definitely didn’t realize that for a couple of years.

Embodying a Very Different Woman

MR: If you look at Tonya, it’s very clear that she is an athlete.  Even in comparison to the other figure skaters at the time, her legs are so muscle-ly (sic) and there’s something, no matter how much time I spend in the gym, I couldn’t do 20 years of being an athlete to suddenly look like one.  It was incredible.  And when I met with her I asked her, I am like tell me what you did, what was your training regime, because I am going to do exactly that.  And she spoke a lot about core strength and just do hundreds of sit ups. And I was like okay, I am doing a lot of sit ups, but like dude, I cannot get my legs as strong as yours.  And she was like, it takes a long time and I did it since I was two years old and I was on the ice.  So yeah, at some point, you have to let it go and realize that you are never going to transform suddenly into an Olympic level athlete. But I did a lot of training regardless.

Experience with Ice Skating?

MR: Very little.  I had been on the ice maybe a handful of times as a child.  I grew up in a coastal town and there was no ice there and it’s not something we did.  Surfing sure, but not ice skating.  But when I came to America, I joined an ice hockey team and I even then didn’t know how to ice skate really.  But I had so much padding on, I didn’t feel a thing when I hit the ice.  So as soon as I got on my figure skates, which have a toe kick by the way, it contributed to a lot of major falls, yeah, I realized how difficult and how painful it is in comparison to ice hockey.  It’s a difficult sport.


Choice of Roles

When you read a script and introduce a character and are given like three words to sum up that person, like “20s, blonde, this” and it’s everywhere.  Everyone is labeling and I think Tonya was definitely a victim of that, and the media really surmised her childhood and her athleticism and the good things and the bad things, they had to sum it up in one headline and then the world remembered that and forgot everything else and they never considered that there was more to her story.  She was labeled a monster and she is not.  She is a person, and that is all we really wanted to show in the movie.  She is a person and you can’t sum up someone in a five second sound bite.  But similarly, with any character I have played, I mean Harley, she is crazy.  No, it’s my job to show you that she is more than crazy, she is a million different things.  In “Wolf of Wall Street” she is a gold digger, and no, she’s not, she’s a million different things.  And everyone is a product of their upbringing and their circumstances and it all contributes to the person they become.  But there’s a full spectrum of characteristics and experiences that make up that person and Tonya is no different and that’s really what we wanted to show in this film.   If you are asking about the outfit I wore as Harley, we discussed it and there’s obviously the comic book versions of what she wore and a lot of times it was a corset and a cheerleading skirt.  And there’s like the full length outfits.  In the end, we found a picture of Debbie Harry and to me, she was wearing an outfit that she wanted to wear.  She wasn’t wearing it for a guy, she was wearing it for herself and she just didn’t give a shit. And it was awesome and it was bad ass, and that was the inspiration for Harley’s outfit, she wasn’t dressing for guys, she was dressing for herself.  And if her favorite thing in her wardrobe was a sparkly pair of hot shorts, then she was going to wear them.


Red Carpet

MR: We don’t really do red carpets together.  I mean, during all this press, since we are both producers on the project we are always in a group.  But no, we don’t have like a fashion show beforehand and figure out what we are going to wear.  My stylist weighs in on what I am going to wear.  Tom has got other things to worry about.  For the most part, film sites are kind of like glorified construction sites.  You are wearing big, heavy boots and a Patagonian jacket and you are keeping warm and you are traipsing all around the desert or wherever you are shooting this film. And a few times a year, you get all dolled up for an event and it makes it feel special because it is a rarity to the everyday set of life.


Real and Bizarre Story

MR: I didn’t know anything about this story. When I read the script, I thought it was complete fiction and I had never heard of these people. I knew nothing about the figure skating world.  So I approached it with fresh eyes.  No pre-conceived notions, which in the end was the best thing for the character of Tonya, because I hadn’t passed judgment on her already and I definitely felt empathy for her by the time I finished reading the script, which I think people will by the time they finish the film.  I thought it was just a bizarre, peculiar outrageous work of fiction, so to find out that it was true, made me want to do it 100 times more.


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