Like its titular protagonist, “I, Tonya” doesn’t bend or break to anyone. Instead, its depiction of Tonya Harding’s rise as a figure skater and then spectacular fall into a pop culture punchline moves with the pace of a movie trailer and the attitude of a truck driver.
As such it is one of the most idiosyncratic and watchable films of 2017. I recently had the chance to talk to director Craig Gillespie, its star and producer Margot Robbie and actress Allison Janney about “I, Tonya,” and the trifecta broke down how they created the “crazy” and unconventional biopic in such hugely hectic circumstances.
Craig Gillespie: “So I was hoping the script [from Steven Rogers] would be good. And it is crazy. I’ve never read a script like that really. I wasn’t sure if it was going to work.”
Margot Robbie: “I saw the script first. It felt very original. Like nothing else that I had read before. I gravitate towards stories that are told in a non-linear way.”
Allison Janney: “I was so thrilled at the possibility to play a character that was so offensive. Especially because it was like, ‘Why a bird and a fur coat? Where does that come from?’ But when I watched the documentary there was LaVona looking exactly like that.”
CG: “There were no rules. Every single member of the cast and crew was so prepared. But on the day we weren’t afraid to just try something new. There was this freedom to it that was so rare. We wanted it to be independent, and to have less money, so that we could have more creative control. There’s an energy to it. We would change scenes.”
MR: “There were scenes where I would be laughing out loud, and then in the same scene suddenly feel very guilty for laughing. It made me think, ‘Wow, am I a sh***y person for laughing at that?’ It was constantly sucking me in and then pushing it in my face. I found that exciting, thrilling and new.”
CG: “It is 260 scenes in 110 pages. It is non-stop. I started to really investigate the film language of that. Because it read like it had already been cut. There was almost no complete scenes, you’d get half-way into a scene and then you would be somewhere else.”
MR: “This was a very unconventional telling to a biopic. There was the mockumentary style interviews that kind of anchored the whole story. It was filled with unreliable narrators, and butting in on each other’s stories and contradicting each other, and all of those aspects just made it so exciting and appealing to me.”
CG: “It’s funny, the edit came together in 3 weeks. I thought it would just be this crazy hodge-podge. It seems incredibly fragmented. But it was so precise, because we knew that in the middle of a scene we would be cutting to Sebastian saying this about the scene. It ended up being that there wasn’t a lot of different ways for us to cut it.”
AJ: “This is not just from one person’s point of view. This is from many different players’ point of views. Which ends up making it a comedy. None of us believe we are in a comedy. But the juxtaposition of our stories, and my version against hers, that’s where the comedy comes.”
CG: “It is actually more complicated than you realize. At first, there are situations where characters will say that didn’t happen. But then as you get into the second half of the movie you start to lose track of who the narrator is. I think on a first viewing people aren’t aware, because they are so used to being spoon-fed, ‘Here’s the story.’ But after you have watched the movie you notice the different versions.”
AJ: “Most people think Tonya took a baseball bat to Nancy Kerrigan’s shins. She was not involved. But to what degree she was involved is up to what you believe, which is the wonderful way that Stephen wrote this.”
CG: “I love that there’s that kind of complexity to it. I feel that’s the haze that has been around that for 25 years and has kept it so intriguing. There is haze around it. And there is no accountability. And she has stayed true to what she believes. I don’t think we can answer that in the film. But my objective was to humanize her.”
“I, Tonya” is released in New York on December 8, while it will hit cinemas across the country over the next few weeks.