I, Tonya: Interview with Star Margot Robbie

I, Tonya, a darkly comic, satirical biopic features Margot Robbie in her most demanding role to date, one that may garner the beautiful actress her first Oscar nomination.

Physicality of Role

Margot Robbie: I did get a little bit of an injury when I was doing the ice skating.  I definitely underestimated how difficult it is as a sport.  It gave me such respect and admiration for figure skaters in general, and particularly for what Tonya Harding did, landing a triple axel, 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.  I have great admiration for this sport.


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 and Parental Support

MR: I really am grateful for the upbringing I had. Which was so far removed from this, Hollywood, filmmaking.  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.  When I go home, we do normal things and talk about normal things.

My parents thought that acting was kind of a hobby–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 I am probably not going to go to University and get a different job.  This is happening and it’s a real job.  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 they definitely didn’t realize that for a couple of years.


Being Athlete

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 muscled 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.  And when I met with her I asked her, 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 am doing a lot of sit ups, but 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.  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.


Ice Skating

MR: I had very little experience.  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.  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, I realized how difficult and how painful it is in comparison to ice hockey.  It’s a difficult sport.


Labeling: Victim of Media

MR: 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.