I, Tonya: Why Nancy Kerrigan appears so little in the film
Tonya Harding’s story will always be connected to that of Nancy Kerrigan’s, and vice versa. After Kerrigan’s leg was clubbed at a training session in 1994 and Harding was accused of plotting the attack with her ex-husband and her bodyguard, both skaters were pitted against each other in the press, and the ensuing scandal inspired years of scrutiny into both Olympians’ lives. One was marked a villain, the other an angel. One went on to be banned from the sport, the other into the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame.
But I, Tonya, the satirical black comedy tracing the story of Harding (played by Margot Robbie), barely shows Kerrigan (played by Caitlin Carver). In fact, she only has a single line: “Whyyy?” And though screenwriter Steven Rogers knows the importance of Kerrigan to the incident that derailed Harding’s career, he says he wasn’t interested in that story.
After all, when he watched ESPN’s 2014 documentary about the scandal, The Price of Gold, he found himself drawn to telling only Harding’s tale. The fact that her life completely changed as a result made Rogers want to trace her rise and her steep fall, he explains, and meeting Harding and her ex-husband Jeff Gillooly — the alleged mastermind behind the attack — only solidified his belief that her story was the one to tell on the big screen.
“Truth and the perception of truth always interests me, and memory,” he says. “The things that we tell ourselves in order to be able to live with ourselves — I think that’s very healing. [The documentary] also touched on family and the media and class, and I just thought, ‘There’s a lot there.'”
That’s why, he says, “It’s not I, Nancy. It’s I, Tonya. Nothing against Nancy Kerrigan, but I wanted to tell the story of the people who potentially thought [the attack] was a good idea. I always knew that I wanted it to be from Jeff and Tonya’s point of view, which did not include Nancy.”
Director Craig Gillespie agreed. “It’s funny because back then, when it all happened, it was Tonya versus Nancy. That was the whole draw, and that’s what sold the papers, and this really wasn’t that for me,” Gillespie says. “There was nothing really about this movie that is that. It was really understanding Tonya and it’s the Tonya Harding story of how she got there. So, I was actually very happy that it was minimal.”
But, he points out, he does feel bad that making a film about Harding means bringing up the uncomfortable past for both women. “I knew it would be a hard journey for [Harding] to take, to have to bring all of this up again after 25 years, but I feel actually even worse for Nancy because this has nothing to do with her, and it’s going to all be coming up again,” he admits. “Tragically, for her, it’s like she’s still known for this even though she won two medals at two different Olympics… I tried to minimize [Kerrigan’s involvement] as much as possible in the film and not make it about that, and not have to make it that headline again, of the villain versus the princess. It’s really Tonya’s story.”
I, Tonya is now in theaters.