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Filmmaker Letter

Filmmaker Letter

I, Tonya

by director Craig Gillespie

Figure skating and Tonya Harding weren’t at the top of my list as I searched for my next film, but when my agent called and said Margot Robbie was attached to play Tonya Harding I was intrigued. I then read Steven Rogers script and was sold. It was a very tricky script, dancing between humor and drama, in short scenes with unreliable narrators, and I was up for the challenge.

Steven had interviewed Tonya Harding, then interviewed Jeff Gillooly. What he was left with was the contradictory stories of both. This is what he presents to the audience. I loved this idea of not picking sides, letting the audience be an active participant and draw their own conclusions. I found the details riveting; indeed, there would be debates on the set of what Tonya did or didn’t know. I loved this ambiguity and I tried to present it as honestly as possible, without melodrama, so the audience can draw their own conclusions. At times the details are absurd, and often would lead to hilarious circumstances, but I never wanted the humor to demean the characters. I tried to give an understanding to the world they came from, which informed their choices.

Of course being able to deliver on that empathy falls squarely on the shoulders of the cast. I was so fortunate to have a dream cast. Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney, Paul Walter Hauser and Julianne Nicholson all bought empathy and humor to their characters. It’s a delicate dance, and is truly an ensemble performance.

Lastly, the barrage of the media on this event was a fascinating prelude of our current climate. It was the first time we had 24-hour news coverage, and the public was inundated with news of the scandal. I felt there was an opportunity to show the effect of the media and the impact on the lives involved, with a nod to our current times. It was important that I was never defending what Tonya did, just trying to understand it. It was a heinous act against Nancy Kerrigan, and sadly she will always be tied to this event, rather than the amazing feat that she won two Olympic medals. This movie was never about picking sides; rather, just trying to look at people as human beings and understanding the choices that are made.
We shot this film in 35mm. It was intended for the big screen, and I hope people enjoy seeing in Landmark theatres.

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