Inside Tonya Harding's big screen rise and fall
Craig Gillespie’s rollicking retelling of infamous figure skater Tonya Harding’s rise and fall might take several dramatic liberties (peep the new trailer for a bloody-faced Margot Robbie mugging for the camera in one shot while brandishing a shotgun in pursuit of Harding’s ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, in another), but, at its core, I, Tonya is a film rooted in the rich, real-life story of a deeply troubled athlete fighting for her place in the world. Ahead, see how closely the film’s characters resemble their living, breathing counterparts.
Harding's rise to stardom
Before she became persona non grata on the professional ice skating circuit, Harding earned her reputation through a series of strong showings on the international scene, placing first at Skate America in 1990 and 1992, and second at the 1991 World Championships.
LaVona Golden (Allison Janney)
Avian affections and all, I, Tonya‘s most colorful character comes in the form of Harding’s abusive, foul-mouthed, booze-guzzling mother, LaVona Golden, whose penchant for fine fur and feathered friends comes to life with wicked conviction from a fearless Allison Janney.
1991 U.S. Figure Skating Championships
Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan)
Before the conspiracy to thwart Kerrigan’s Olympic bid, Gillooly and Harding’s relationship was fraught with alleged abuse. They married when Harding was 19 and divorced three years later. She went on to accuse Gillooly of physically assaulting her throughout their union.
Nancy Kerrigan incident
Paper Towns actress Caitlin Carver plays a small role as Nancy Kerrigan in the film, a performance that peaks during a thrilling recreation of the well-documented knee-clubbing scandal (perpetrated by associates of Harding) that rocked the sports world — and nearly ruined Kerrigan’s shot at competing in Lillehammer.
Shawn Eckhardt (Paul Walter Hauser)
Gillooly and Harding’s bodyguard, Shawn Eckhardt, hired an assailant to carry out the attack on Kerrigan during one of her practice sessions ahead of the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Detroit. Eckhardt would later serve jail time for the act before being released in Sept. 1995. In a televised interview with Diane Sawyer, Eckhardt claimed Gillooly approached him, initially wanting to “take [Kerrigan] out,” but Eckhardt ultimately suggested an appropriate alternative to killing her would be striking her “landing leg” (used for sticking on-ice maneuvers) with a blunt object. Eckhardt died in 2007.
1994 Winter Olympics
Despite growing opposition to her place in the competition, Harding retained her spot on the U.S. team at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, competing in the wake of the infamous Nancy Kerrigan incident. She began her set with a broken lace, and begged the judges to give her a second chance, which they granted. She ultimately finished in eighth place, while Kerrigan scored a silver medal.
Harding in the press
While the press covered her ascension through the figure skating ranks, they also savaged her downfall on the other side of the Kerrigan incident.
Gillespie frames the film as a recollection of memories told through the reflective gaze of an aged, domesticated Harding as she gives an interview from a ramshackle kitchen inside her suburban home, years after she faded from the national spotlight. Robbie’s performance in these moments suggests a hardened woman worn thin by a brief — but nonetheless exhaustive — time under media scrutiny, not unlike the woman whose life inspired the project.