Sebastian Stan has always appreciated a good anti-hero. Maybe that’s why he went from breaking hearts on Gossip Girl for three seasons to breaking up the Avengers as the Winter Soldier, a brainwashed Soviet assassin who just so happened to be Captain America’s former BFF Bucky Barnes. And even though he may be back with the good guys again following the events of Civil War, Stan can’t quite seem to escape the pull of the dark side.
That’s how – in between his obligations as a now-central cog in the MCU – Stan found time to appear in I, Tonya, a no-holds-barred look at the notorious Tonya Harding scandal that’s taken the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival by storm. The dark comedy from director Craig Gillespie has been earning raves for both Margot Robbie, who stars as the two-time Olympic figure skater, and Stan, who plays Jeff Gillooly, who served 18 months in jail for his role in the ’94 assault on Harding’s fellow Olympian Nancy Kerrigan. The morning after the movie’s TIFF premiere, RT sat down with Stan to talk about his Five Favorite Films and love of complex characters, along with the challenges involved in playing Harding’s infamous ex-husband and doing this stranger-than-fiction true story justice.
Rick Mele for Rotten Tomatoes: It’s interesting, a lot of the movies you’ve mentioned sort of use all the tools of moviemaking — they pull from the whole toolbox — which is something I think I, Tonyadoes too. It’s got flashbacks, interview segments, it’s heavily stylized, it’s got a fun soundtrack, characters break the fourth wall.
Sebastian Stan: That’s what was really great about Craig [Gillespie]. I had a front-row, center seat to see him, how he worked. He was the best. There was a scene in I, Tonya where we ran out of time. It was a courtroom scene with extras, a packed courtroom — the judge, five characters, and some dialogue. And they ran out of time. They were like, “How do we do it?” Like, “How do we tell the story of being in this room for the judge’s decision?” And Craig was like, “OK, we’ll do one steadicam shot. We’ll come in, we’ll sweep through, we’ll take everybody in, we’ll come around here, and then Margot breaks the fourth wall and talks into the camera.” And I was like, “That’s great!” But, you know, I guess what sets those guys apart is being creative in terms of showing you something visual in a different way.
RT: And speaking of anti-heroes, that’s a little like what you’re playing here. Jeff is a difficult character. He’s not a straight villain, but he’s definitely not a hero.
Stan: Of course. My thing with Jeff was, I felt like there were these two really tough tasks, which was, one, he’s going to see this. I met him once, and once only, and I don’t know the man, other than what I’ve tried to find out about him. But I was just like, I want him to feel like… Hopefully I got something right. Regardless of what happened and who he is and whatever was said. And then the other problem is, of course, if that really is true [the accusations of domestic violence], if that’s how he was… How do you justify any of that? So, it was really difficult.
But I tried to look at it from the perspective that it was sort of a love story, in a weird way. And then I just started going from there, trying to push further and further with, well, what makes someone insecure or obsessive or jealous or crazy or needy? That was my “in” to the situation. Because otherwise, half the time I would’ve been judging my every move, and you can’t do that.
RT: Was there anything you picked up from meeting him that you were able to use in your performance?
Stan: It was more physical stuff. Meeting him was more helpful for me for the interview scenes, when he’s way older. Because I had no footage of him, like, now. So just seeing him now, and how he was behaving, what his mannerisms were. It was more about that, rather than the story itself. I just kind of wanted to watch him.
RT: How much did you know about the story going in? I was thinking back on it, and I definitely remember when this all happened, but I was still kind of young. I think we’re around the same age, but do you remember following this story?
Stan: I do and I don’t, yeah. We were really young. I remember the O.J. stuff really well, so this was right before that. I remember seeing something about her. But recently, maybe a year or two ago, I saw “The Price of Gold,” the 30 for 30 [documentary]. And I was like, I never really knew what happened with that Kerrigan thing. This is another take on the story, that I don’t think people have seen or heard of, or thought of. If you ask anybody about Tonya Harding, they just kind of remember something about a bat. Continue reading