The story of figure skater Tonya Harding is so outrageous that the actress who portrays her, Margot Robbie, can be forgiven for not realizing it was a true tale when she first read the script. Harding, her then-husband, Jeff Gillooly, and her bodyguard Shawn Eckhart were implicated in an attack on fellow skater Nancy Kerrigan before the 1994 Olympics, and the media coverage was relentless. In telling her story, screenwriter Steven Rogers spent time with both Harding and Gillooly and utilizes their different versions of the events to tell a funny, insightful and very human story. Best known for his work in such blockbusters as “The Martian” and as Bucky “The Winter Soldier” Barnes in the “Captain America” films, Sebastian Stan completely transformed himself to play Gillooly, a man who sported a mustache he “can’t apologize enough for.”
Stan: “I remember hearing the story of Tonya and Nancy when it happened, but I think I was 10 and not really aware of what happened. I was in Europe back then and I can still remember seeing Tonya Harding’s face on the news. That gives you an idea how much they were recycling that footage and how prevalent it was everywhere.
“My agent sent me the script to ‘I, Tonya’ last year. From an actor’s perspective, the script was like finding gold. Not a lot of things like this come my way. It had this documentary style and so many funny elements, but also these very scary, violent sequences. I’ve never played anyone that was a real person before, so that excited me. I immediately went online and looked him up and found an episode of ‘Inside Edition’ with him and it was such an interesting character study. He was fascinating. I was bouncing ideas around with Craig and getting excited and then I had a moment where I realized this is a true story and these are real people and their lives were ruined by this. I’ve learned through the years to keep a rein on judging characters. It’s very easy to do that.
“The day I got the part, Craig said, ‘If you want to meet Jeff, you can. But you don’t have to.’ But I wanted to get some perspective. Tonya’s upbringing was out in the open, it was known she had a violent past and she was somewhat replaying her past. But with Jeff, I couldn’t really find anything on his upbringing. In addition, I was going to have to play him when he was 50 years old. I didn’t even have a picture of what he looks like.
“Two weeks before shooting, I met with him. It was bizarre sitting across from the person you’ve been looking at and listening to. I had the tapes from his meeting with Steven and had been listening to him over and over again. It was surreal at first. We met at a restaurant and had dinner. He seemed apprehensive, he hadn’t read the script and I think he was hesitant about revisiting it. At the same time, he was open and direct in talking about the experience and himself. I asked a lot of questions: ‘How did you meet? How did you fall in love? Why the mustache?’ He really didn’t have an answer for that one, I don’t think he gave it a lot of thought.
“Working with Margot was a dream come true. We laughed, we cried, we were exhausted at some points. There’s a scene with a gun that loomed large in my mind; I was always sort of dreading it because I knew it would be difficult emotionally. We shot it over and over again. we have so many versions of it. There are chaotic versions and slow versions and we did some improvising. We went from over–the-top to subtle, just trying to find it. Margot was very inspiring to be around during difficult times in the sense she had a positive attitude about the whole thing. We shot it in 30 days and they were long days with a lot on her plate and she kept showing up and having the best attitude. It inspired and motivated you.”