Margot Robbie On The Blistering Madness Of 'I,Tonya'

Margot Robbie and Sebastian Stan are ready to set the industry ablaze with their new film “I, Tonya,” based on the story of Tonya Harding’s life, figure skating career and subsequent “incident” involving Nancy Kerrigan. Director Craig Gillespie said he had his reservations about doing the film, having done some bio-pics in the past but, “the minute I heard it was starring Margot Robbie I just thought ‘this is so intriguing’ – the combination of her and the script I had to do it!” The cast appeared as part of the TimesTalks ScreenTimes series to discuss the film, what it took to prepare for their roles and how the film’s themes reflect our current society.

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Robbie has been venturing into the producing role fervently, picking unconventional projects like this one with a few more in development.  When asked what it’s been like acting and producing she replied she’s, “always looking for good stories whether I can star in it or not and sometimes I get scripts and I pass on because I know another actress can do it better than I can.” In terms of finding her way into taking the lead, Robbie explained, “The role really scared me! I wasn’t sure I could pull it off but I wanted to play her so bad, that’s when I knew I had to do it.”

When it came to casting, Allison Janney (the mere mention of her name drew applause), who plays Harding’s mother LaVona “came with the script” according to Gillespie, and Logan Hill of the New York Times pointed to one superb line in the film that Gillespie said was improvised — “skate wet.” This just serves as more proof that Janney is one of the most superb actresses working today. For Jeff Gillooly however, casting proved a bit more challenging, that is, until Sebastian Stan walked in. “Sebastian came in to audition and just blew us away, he even came [to the audition] with a mustache and turtleneck,” Robbie said as Gillespie nodded in agreement.

“He played it so different than everyone else we saw,” Gillespie added.

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“I never played a real person before,” Stan explained, “so to mold yourself to something that is already out there and that already existed was scary.”  At the same time, however, he was very entertained by the script and engrossed in it. Even still, the draw of making your own assumptions about what transpired is tempting. “The human part of you immediately makes these judgments and you already have these preconceived ideas about who they are and who they aren’t but once you commit to the project you kind of have to let all that go and do your job,” he explained.

Margot Robbie worked hard to embody Harding, training in figure skating, “doing lots of sit-ups” and watching videos of [Harding] skating or doing interviews. “It was all I did for months, watch videos of her over and over.”

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Hill noted that an interesting conundrum with this project might have been the drastically different points of view. “It’s really a fascinating dilemma to have, these disparate points of view so I kept trying to find movie references,” Gillespie said. “The first thing I came to was ‘To Die For‘ with Nicole Kidman directed by Gus Van Sant.” Gillespie said he couldn’t find anything that really compared to what they were doing with “I, Tonya” and said, “It was a little nerve wracking to think, ‘Is this really going to work?’ ” Ultimately, the entire cast was willing to roll up their sleeves and “no one was afraid to get their hands dirty; I don’t know if it was fate but the fact that all of us came together for this project was really great,” Robbie said.

On meeting Tonya Harding, Robbie said that she was extremely open and trusting about the film. Gillespie recalled that he was worried Harding wasn’t going to want to revisit this but “she was incredibly gracious about the whole thing.” Considering the events that transpired, and how Harding was portrayed in the media, provided more material for Robbie to chew on. “She’s been viewed as a villain and a punchline in the media for so long but to look at her life through a different lens, as a human being, it was very interesting to me.” she explained.

“We have an appetite for scandal and we eat it up,” Gillespie added. “There is a line in the film that goes, ‘We want someone to love and someone to hate’ and its true and its a commentary on the media but society as well.”

For more on the film, what the cast kept from the set and how Margot Robbie’s pet rat ended up living with Guillermo del Toro, check out the full conversation. “I, Tonya” opens December 8th.