When actor Sebastian Stan first read the script for “I, Tonya,” the eccentric biopic about former figure-skating champion Tonya Harding, he felt terrified.
Stan was considering the part of Jeff Gillooly, Harding’s abusive ex-husband who was convicted in 1994 for the attack on rival figure skater Nancy Kerrigan. “How could I ever play this?” Stan wondered. There were scenes showing Gillooly physically abusing Harding, manipulating her after the Kerrigan attack, and ultimately ruining her skating career.
But there were also moments of raw passion between them and a protective, vulnerable side to Gillooly that was at odds with the punchline that he became: “To Gillooly” meant “to kneecap someone.”
“I know there are a lot of really disturbing things that are happening in the movie,” Stan said in an interview. “Looking at the script, without trying to make any other judgments on the real people, what really came across to me was someone who was in love with this person to perhaps obsessive points, to a point where it was not healthy necessarily. But the same unhealthy, toxic love was coming from her towards him.”
“I, Tonya,” directed by Craig Gillespie from a screenplay by Steven Rogers, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last weekend and quickly became the most buzzed-about film as audiences cheered the eccentric, empathetic performances by Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding, Allison Janney as her caustic mother, and Stan as Gillooly. The film was reportedly picked up by Neon and 30West for about $5 million.
Stan, 35 years old, also plays Bucky Barnes (the Winter Soldier) in Marvel’s “Captain America” films co-starring Chris Evans, and he’ll reprise the role in the upcoming “Avengers: Infinity War.” He’ll also star in upcoming political drama “The Last Full Measure”.
He sat with MarketWatch to discuss “I, Tonya,” his indulgence in chocolate and books about space, and Bucky’s future in “Captain America.”
How did you approach Jeff Gillooly as a character? It seems easy to look down on these people, but you had to find the empathy for him.
The script had funny moments in it, it had scary moments, tragic moments. When I read the script I was like, “this cannot really be true.” I listened to the interviews that [screenwriter] Steven Rogers had with Tonya and Jeff, and I realized, “Oh my God, a lot of what was in the interviews is actually in the script.” Craig had a lot to do with it — the idea of tone, which was right from the beginning, the idea of something Fargo-esque about it. The sensationalism of it all. We had to play that along with finding anything that was grounding and that made it real. Things like breaking the fourth wall, talking to the camera, making the documentary-style approach — that helped a lot.
What were your thoughts on masculinity while playing him? There are times it seems he was trying to protect Tonya, even if his way of doing that was destructive.
I’m thrilled to hear that’s something you felt. I was sort of hoping for that. He was generally setting out to try and do the right thing but unfortunately was perhaps hindered and incapable by not having the tools to be able to do that in the right way. I think sometimes in life, we take things for granted. Not everybody has a psychologist in their mind that sits there and goes, “Do this, don’t do that.” Both of them are incredibly emotionally impulsive. It’s really unfortunate that sometimes, as is the case with Tonya obviously, we always tend to reflect the love that we get when we’re children. If you’re getting abandonment, if you’re getting abuse as a child, if you’re getting uncertainty when you’re a child, unfortunately you tend to look for that in your life later on and you think that’s love.
“You could say that they love too much. Sometimes maybe Jeff was coming from a place of, you love the thing that you have so much you’re squeezing it too hard. You gotta let it go. So anyway, that was a way in for me to something as opposed to trying to judge it and go “oh well, he’s a f-ing asshole and let’s just call it!”
Did you have to suspend judgment and just inhabit him?
There’s no judgment. You can’t judge a character, and you’re never going to always play characters that are morally sound or know right from wrong. Oftentimes it’s more entertaining to play characters that are living on the edge somewhere. With the exception of some of the villains on “Game of Thrones,” and a couple serial killers in our lifetime, people that even do horrible things tend to come from a place of serious need for love and care. Continue reading
As this year’s Toronto Film Festival moves toward its closing night on Sunday, we take a look back at some of its most eye-catching, and potentially award-garnering, breakout performances.
Sebastian Stan is the best-known of these rising stars, having played the role of Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier in three “Captain America” movies (with another on the way), but the 35-year-old actor makes a next-level career move in the biopic “I, Tonya,” playing Jeff Gillooly, the volatile, less-than-bright husband of figure skater Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie). Stan’s suffered for his art: Robbie has said she got so into character during their domestic disputes that she really punched him in the head. Well, nobody ever said making it to the Oscar-contender circuit was easy.
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
After three all-night negotiations, Neon and 30WEST tag teamed to skate off with a deal for I, Tonya, the Craig Gillespie-directed black comedy from Miramax about the epic fall from grace of Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding. Sources peg the deal at around $5 million, and Neon’s Tom Quinn and Tim League will make a strong play for the film in Oscar season. The Steven Rogers-scripted film stars Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan and Allison Janney, and came into the festival as the hottest acquisition title before it premiered Friday at 9:30 at the Princess of Wales Theatre. At a post premiere party at Ivan Reitman’s restaurant Montecito, potential buyers I spoke to were not disappointed, nor were reviewers. Robbie produced the film with Tom Ackerley, Rogers and Bryan Unkeless.
The bidding came down to the compelling choice of a traditional theatrical play (Neon) or a streaming deal (Netflix) and here the filmmakers and financiers chose the former. Beyond the strong performances by Robbie and Janney, I, Tonya has an enviable path in front of it. The film can qualify for awards, and roll out slowly with the Winter Olympics coming in February (where the Harding scandal played out in 1994) and then Oscars in March. Neon and 30WEST made a passionate pitch and this will be a big film for the upstart distributor.
In unabashed R-rated fashion, Gillespie admirably threaded the needle and balanced the sometimes outrageously funny chronicle of how Harding skated from a hardscrabble life into momentary glory followed by tabloid scandal, counterbalanced by the upsetting depiction of her being used as a punching bag by her dimwitted husband Jeff Gillooly, after she was slapped around repeatedly as a child by her tough as nails and impossible to please mother. The film shapes up as a cross between hallowed black comedies Fargo and To Die For, in characterizing the twisted things that can happen when not bright people have ambition and try to cut corners to achieve those dreams of escaping their low station in life.
In the lead up to the festival, CBS Films had made an offer said to be around $6 million, which was what Miramax Films paid earlier to acquire and make the film. Before others could step up, the sellers — CAA and UTA Independent Film Group co-brokered the deal for Miramax chief Bill Block — stuck a pin in any talks and let buyers see the film here in Toronto, or at simultaneous screenings in L.A. The clear goal was to match the film with the right distributor and put it into the upcoming awards season race. Some buyers I spoke with felt the movie could be tightened, and it seemed like Gillespie was happy with the cut audiences saw last night. Continue reading
The new film I, Tonya, which made its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival this weekend, sees Margot Robbie step into the notorious skates of infamous American figure skater Tonya Harding, who in 1994 made the U.S. Olympic team after her rival, Nancy Kerrigan was clubbed in the knee in a plot masterminded by Harding’s ex-husband Jeff Gillooly. Harding’s level of involvement or knowledge beforehand has always been up for debate, though she was ultimately banned from figure skating for life; Gillooly, however, emerged as the real creep of the ordeal, especially once Tonya revealed he’d been physically abusive to her throughout their marriage.
I, Tonya director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl) presents the events of Harding’s life as a kind of ludicrous and darkly comedic story, with Margot Robbie playing Harding as both trashy and defiant, an athletic wonder and also a habitual liar, plagued by toxic relationships with her mother (an excellent Allison Janney) and later her husband, played with pathetic aggression but also an undercurrent of pure infatuation by Sebastian Stan. Stan is likely best known for his role in the Marvel movies as Bucky Barnes/The Winter Soldier, but his career has spanned from Gossip Girl to underrated TV gems like NBC’s ill-fated Kings and USA’s Political Animals to films like Ricki and the Flash, The Martian, and The Bronze, where he played a hyper-competitive gymnastics coach with his eyes on the Olympics. This summer, he co-starred in Steven Soderbergh’s phenomenally fun Logan Lucky.
Stan took a moment in Toronto this weekend to sit with Decider and discuss playing Gillooly, the appeal of the Olympics at the movies, and why Tonya Harding just might be a hero if you look at it a certain way.
Decider.com: This is your first time playing a real-life character in a movie?
Sebastian Stan: Yes, it was.
Was that a little daunting?
100%, yeah. It feels like you have someone’s life in your hands, in a way.
I feel like you’re around the same age as me, and I remember watching that whole Olympics and all the controversy around it; do you remember watching it back then?
I watched it very, very, very briefly. But then I caught up with it again when 30 for 30 did that great documentary [The Price of Gold]. And then doing research on this, I really got into it. It’s just a wild time.
That was my next question, actually: were you all encouraged to watch the 30 for 30 or the NBC documentary [Nancy & Tonya]? How much did they want you looking at footage of your characters?
Yeah, they wanted to, but mostly Craig [Gillespie] left me to decide. He said if you want to meet [Jeff Gillooly], meet him. If you don’t want to meet him, you don’t have to. And I was like yeah, I’d love to meet him. And it was great to meet him, because I didn’t have enough footage of him from the present day. It was great to see him now, especially if I was going to try to play him at an older age.
What was your impression of him?
Again, you’re always walking in there with a preconceived idea. And I’d watched so much, over and over and over again, so just seeing him, it was like, “HEY!” I was actually really excited, because I’d spent so much time with him already. And he was very cool with it, he was like, “Hey, what’s going on?” And I was like, I’ve gotta calm down I guess. But yeah, it was surreal; I think there’s a lot more to the story than people think. And that’s what our movie does is try to point that way and get you to look at it a little differently. And it’s bizarre, but in the end, I wanted to see him and how he talked and acted. It was good.
What are the challenges of playing somebody who is on the surface pretty despicable, and then finding something both human and also funny in there?
Well all those things were in the script, that’s what was easy. But it was all laid there as it was, and then Craig coming in and really getting it down. It seems like he knew the very balance of how far to take it. And I think when you see the movie, you see that he’s done it very cleverly in terms of giving a mix of all the right things. Yeah, it’s crazy, man. I think we had to commit ourselves to what was on the page, and at the same time really keep an objective, bird’s-eye-view of safety and being able to trust each other. And Margot, it was very easy with Margot. You know, she was very committed, she wanted to go the distance, and we trusted each other. And sometimes we laughed and sometimes we’d go “Are you okay?” you know, checking in. And by the end we managed very well. Continue reading
Margot Robbie stars as Harding…
…Allison Janney stars as LaVona Golden, Harding’s abusive mother…
…and Sebastian Stan plays Jeff Gillooly, Harding’s equally abusive ex-husband and alleged co-conspirator in the attack on Kerrigan.
Now, I know there’s only one question on your mind: Did Sebastian Stan really grow that iconic Jeff Gillooly-level mustache for this role?
Well, get ready for the journey of a lifetime. I spoke with Stan the morning after I, Tonya premiered at TIFF, and it basically turned into a cold case file.
As soon as I brought it up, Stan said quietly, “Ahh, the mustache.” He smiled. “The mustache may or may not be mine.”
“I’ll tell you this,” he continued, and then paused, choosing his words carefully. “I had a mustache for the audition. I had a mustache for…here, I’ll show you a photo.”
He grabbed his phone and pulled up a selfie in which he was in his Jeff Giloolly costume making a funny face — and he had a mustache that was definitely his and looked a lot like the one he had in the movie.
“I had a mustache for some of the time filming in Atlanta, which proved to be interesting,” he said cryptically, like a very wise but mischievous wizard with a secret. “We had to alter it at times because of the fact that [Jeff] ages [in the film], but yeah, I did for as long as I could.”
The one and only thing we know for sure is that Jeff Giloolly himself officially approved of the ‘stache. “I posted one time when I was on set, and [Jeff Giloolly] wrote to me and he said, ‘You might have actually made that mustache look cool for once,'” Stan said.
Sebastian Stan’s mustache, you riddle, I will solve you.
It might be best to stay out of Margot Robbie’s way when she’s in character. She may not have known at first that her character, Tonya Harding, was a real person, but while on set — as she told the audience after the Toronto Film Festival premiere of I, Tonya — sometimes she got so into playing Harding that she forgot she wasn’t actually in a volatile, violent relationship with Sebastian Stan’s Jeff Gillooly.
Asked to name her favorite moment shooting the movie, she cited a scene with Stan that never made it to screen. It was part of a montage where things are getting so bad between Tonya and Jeff that the police show up. “[Director Craig Gillespie] kind of on the day was like, ‘Just do whatever in the moment,’” said Robbie, “and we got so carried away that I genuinely forgot that we were on a film set and that I wasn’t Tonya and that he wasn’t Jeff.” The ensuing fight was so intense, Gillespie had to cut it. “We got into, like a brawl,” said Robbie, clearly proud. “He slams my hand into the door. And I ended up storming off down the street, which was, like, the end of set, so I was just on the road in the real world.” She turned to Stan, “And you were coming after me, screaming, ‘Where are you going?’ I think you even said, ‘Margot,’ and I said, ‘I’m going to the hospital because you broke my hand!’ And I was so caught up in it and I think I punched you in the side of the head!”
Stan agreed that Robbie had indeed punched him in the head. Still, she went on, “That ended up being my favorite scene because I forgot that I was acting, and nothing makes me more exhilarated when I genuinely forget where I am.”
Something tells us that Sebastian Stan and the side of his head might feel a little bit differently about their favorite moment in the movie.
Check out various snippets below from a variety of reviews of I, Tonya after it’s debut at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival.
Hollywood Repoter: Despite its title, the pic (written by Steven Rogers) is deliberate in spreading the narrative focus around. Based, per the opening title cards, on frank interviews with the participants that are re-created here, the film front-and-centers not just Robbie’s Tonya but her ex-husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan, endearingly stupid and embarrassed of his infamy), mother LaVona Golden (Allison Janney), skating coach Dian Rawlinson (Julianne Nicholson) and deluded “bodyguard” Shawn Eckhardt (Paul Walter Hauser). All are sadder now; wisdom is less evenly distributed. But each brings something to the table — even the too-proper Rawlinson, who when training young Tonya always encouraged her to wear nicer clothes and clean up her manners: A movie this full of colorful wingnuts needs a voice from Squaresville. […]
Variety: Part of the film’s drama — almost its morality — is that Tonya, though a highly successful skater who starts to compete in national championships, gets lower scores than she deserves, and the judges, at several points, come out and admit that it’s about factors besides skating — what they call “presentation.” But that’s just code for conventionality, for wanting to sell a homogenized image of America on the Olympics level. It has nothing to do with what any of this is supposed to be about — skating — and that lends Tonya a streak of rebel realness.
That’s the good side of her contempt for respectability. The bad side is that she falls for Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), a loser in a sardine mustache who’s nice enough to Tonya — when he isn’t punching her in the face. Their relationship isn’t portrayed as one of those hellacious ones in which the abuser keeps the abused under his thumb by threatening her. Tonya, no matter how much she gets slapped around, simply won’t cut him loose; she marries him, and leaves him, and keeps coming back to him. The movie is sharp enough to suggest that she feels the echo of her mother’s hatred in every slap, and she can’t give that up. She’s addicted to what she thinks she deserves. […]
The Wrap: As a whole the film delights in and demands audience participation by breaking the fourth wall often. Robbie brings a brand of vinegar we haven’t seen in her previous work, and it illuminates a long-forgotten trainwreck.
A postscript on screen says that Tonya now builds and restores decks in Michigan. We’ll take their word that it‘s the f—— truth. […]
With all the recent news and photos of Sebastian promoting I, Tonya at the Toronto International Film Festival I thought it was time for a very handy video master-post featuring all the newest interviews in one easy to watch location. So to make things as organized as possible I’ve decided to create a YouTube playlist specifically for all the interviews Sebastian took part in during his time at the festival.
You can find screen captures from all the videos in the playlist in our gallery.