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What 'I, Tonya' wants to do for Tonya Harding

Plus, director Craig Gillespie reveals how the infamous figure skater responded to the biopic
Tonya Harding and Margot Robbie
[Image: Getty]

There are SPOILERS ahead for I, Tonya. So if you haven’t watched the black comedy sports biopic then you should proceed cautiously. Or, instead, watch the film then return to read below.

For nearly 24 years Tonya Harding has been widely admonished because of her supposed involvement in the 1994 attack on Nancy Kerrigan that brought her figure skating career to an end. With I, Tonya, though, those involved wanted to peel back the hysteria, and humanize her.

“My objective was to humanize her. And to take this character that has been a villain in our pop culture for 25 years. And to see her as a human being, and understand what she went through,” director Craig Gillespie explained.

“That’s not condoning what she did. But Tonya is such a fighter. You can’t help but love that about her. What I love about her it is that she’s still not accountable for the attack. But now you understand why she can’t get to that place, from her upbringing and what she went through.”

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This was a sentiment that Allison Janney, who plays Tonya’s mother LaVonna in “I, Tonya,” and has been heavily touted for an Oscar nomination for her performance, very much agrees with.

“Tonya Harding is a survivor. She is so resilient. People never realized how much she had gone through and gone up against, because they just picked up the story in the 24-hour news cycle.”

“She did not fit into the typical image that the figure skating world wanted for her. She was completely different. She was skating to ZZ Top. She was the underdog. You wanted to root for her. She was clearly the most talented skater. Still one of the only women to complete a triple axel. She rose to the top despite it all.”

“But the tragedy is that she is stripped of it all, and is unable to skate again, because of these two bumbling idiots. I can see them joking about it, and then she skates off never to think about it again. Then they are like, ‘We have to make this happen dude.’ They think they’re going to change the world. But it is just a disaster.”

Gillespie designed to film to provoke a debate over Tonya Harding’s actual involvement in the assault on Kerrigan, who was hit on the knee by Shane Stint after a practice session in Detroit. It later transpired that it was planned by Harding’s ex-husband Jeff Gillooly and her bodyguard Shawn Eckhardt.

“I love that the film, in this amazing way, it makes the audience have to participate and debate and make their own choice,” Gillespie remarked. “Even on the set we would be debating. Sebastian would be like, ‘She had to have known?’ And Margot would be like, ‘How could she have known?’ I’d have to remind Margot that this is Sebastian’s character’s version of the events.”

For Margot Robbie, though, who has been nominated for a Best Actress Golden Globe award for her performance in “I, Tonya,” she just loves the irony that flows throughout the film.

“The irony that she got brought down for allegedly hitting somebody, but she got hit her own life, then later became a boxer and decided to be hit continuously for a living? It is dripping in irony.”

But what did the actual Tonya Harding think of “I, Tonya,” though? “There were things she didn’t agree with,” Gillespie explained. “But overall she was very happy.”

You can make your own judgment on “I, Tonya” now, as it was released in New York on December 8, and will extend across the rest of the United States over the next few weeks.