Margot Robbie on ‘I, Tonya’ and When We Might See a Harley Quinn Movie
Directed by Craig Gillespie and based on unbelievable true events, the darkly comedic I, Tonya tells the story of American figure skater Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie, in a truly stand-out performance and one of the best of 2017), who went from being the first American woman to complete a triple axel in competition to being a part of one of the most sensational and infamous scandals in sports history. Harding’s career as a skater was as challenging as her home life, and even though she had the talent of a top athlete, she tragically fell short of reaching her dreams.
At the film’s Los Angeles press day, Collider got the opportunity to sit down with Margot Robbie to chat 1-on-1 about what she found so appealing about Tonya Harding, as a character, what she was most excited and most nervous about getting to do on this film, why she was never interested in telling a Tonya Harding vs. Nancy Kerrigan rivalry story, and how proud she is to have the film be a part of the conversation this awards season. She also talked about her hopes to get Harley Quinn back on the big screen soon, if she’s spoken to Suicide Squad 2 director Gavin O’Connor, what she’s looking for, as an actress and as a producer, and why Quentin Tarantino appeals to her, as a filmmaker (she met with him about his film revolving around the Manson Family murders).
Collider: How did you come to this, as the lead actress and producer on the project? Did they come hand-in-hand?
MARGOT ROBBIE: No, I was reading it as a producing vehicle. We were looking for female driven content that could operate in the high-end indie space, and this obviously ticked those boxes, but it was also one of the most original scripts I’d read. I couldn’t wrap my head around the character. I was fascinated by her. And then, I found out she’s actually a real live person and I was truly fascinated. So, when I sat down with Steven [Rogers], the screenwriter, and Bryan [Unkeless], our producing partner, I went there to pitch myself to play Tonya and for our company, LuckyChap, to produce, as well. I thought I was really going to have to force them into it. I wasn’t going to leave the table until they agreed. But really, they were much more welcoming to the idea than I thought they would be. It wasn’t about, if I was acting in it, I wanted more control. It was more like, this is the kind of film that our company wants to make, but it also happened to be a character that I wanted to play.
What was it about Tonya Harding that made you so passionate about doing both of those things?
ROBBIE: I love gangster films ‘cause I love the underdog story. I love watching someone rise up, despite their circumstances. It’s always something I feel like I can get behind. And she felt like an underdog, to me. She had this scrappiness and rebelliousness that is obviously fun, but she was also, in my eyes, really misunderstood. I could see this bravado and this defiance was really just covering a lot of hurt and a lack of love. There were so many elements to her that I needed to explore. And then, of course, once I started looking at the online footage, I couldn’t believe what she’d gone through and how harshly she was punished.
It makes her a tragic figure because she was just so close to having everything she wanted.
ROBBIE: So close! She was chasing the American dream and was just about to get it, and the whole thing came tumbling down. Skating was her one safe place in the world, and that was taken away from her. I don’t care if you think she did it or not, I don’t think she deserved that punishment.
Once you signed on for this role, what were you most excited about getting to do?
ROBBIE: I was excited about interacting with all of the other characters. I’m not an isolated actor. I don’t like doing scenes when I’m on my own. I need someone with me. I need a sparring partner, or a couple sparring partners. I love ensemble work. There was just such an amazing group of people to interact with. I like reacting. I like reacting to a situation. That’s fun to me. That’s always gonna be more fun when you’re getting more from your co-stars. All of these characters were just wildly different and unique, in their own way. I just couldn’t wait to interact with them.
Did anything make you particularly nervous or scared, in doing this? Were you nervous about the ice skating?
ROBBIE: Definitely! With my producer hat on, I was terrified of the ice skating. If I got injured, I knew the whole thing would fall apart. I didn’t know how we could make it work. I had no days off, on this shooting schedule. There was no room for injury. My window was going to start filling up, and once we spent X amount of money, even with insurance coverage, we’d still lose a bunch of money, and we needed every cent we had to complete this film. So, I was paralyzed by that fear of getting injured and destroying the production, essentially. That was scary. It’s also weird to start something like figure skating in your 20s. When you’re a kid, you’re fearless. You’re not falling from as high and you don’t care about that kind of stuff. You’re not thinking about getting injured. But as an adult, it seemed very counterintuitive to get on my outside edges and to lean in towards a very hard, slippery surface. I was forcing my body to do it and all of my instincts were like, “Don’t do that! That’s a terrible idea!” It’s really hard. If you didn’t grow up doing it, it’s really difficult. I have so much respect for it. It’s such a tough sport, and they make it look so graceful and easy. You have to be tough as nails to be a figure skater, falling from those heights with no padding. The sheer strength you have to have to even complete those jumps is insane, but the resilience you have to have to fall that often and pick yourself up again, my hat’s off to them.
As a producer on the film, did you ever have any conversations about making Nancy Kerrigan an actual character?
ROBBIE: No. I never would have signed on, if this was a Tonya vs. Nancy story. I hate when films or the media pit two women against each other. I hate that! They turned it into this big rivalry, and I hate that. I never would have signed on. I never would have been interested in this film, if it was a Tonya vs. Nancy story. Not that I don’t think Nancy has a wonderful story, too. From what little I learned of her, she has her own intriguing life and story, for sure, and she was a brilliant skater, as well. But if it was Tonya vs. Nancy, I would have had no part of it. I really believe, and Steven found, that the most crucial relationships in Tonya’s life were with her mom and Jeff Gillooly, so it made sense that the script was structured, in that way.
What was it like to play that dynamic between Tonya and her mother?
ROBBIE: Allison [Janney] plays it that she loves her, in her own way, and very much in a tough love approach. I don’t think she ever got the love and affection that she craved and needed. I separate Tonya as a character from Tonya in real life, and I wanted to play the character like she was always seeking validation and always craving love that she didn’t get, as a child. She was always waiting and hoping for validation, and then when she doesn’t get it, pretending that she didn’t want it anyway. There was something very human about that dynamic.
Another character that you’re very passionate about his Harley Quinn, and people are very anxious and excited about seeing you return to that character because we just didn’t get enough of her.
ROBBIE: I know! I didn’t get enough of her! I was like, “I need to keep playing her!” I love her so much.
How close are we to having that happen?
ROBBIE: I think we’re very close, actually. Everyone has been working really hard, myself included, to get Harley back on screen. I think it will be quite soon. There’s so much more to explore with her. I can’t wait! I hope next year, but with bigger films, it takes a lot longer to get it all up and running.
Have you gotten to have any conversations with Suicide Squad 2 director Gavin O’Connor yet, to learn about his vision and point of view on the material and characters?
ROBBIE: I haven’t yet. I should! There’s so much that I need to do right now.
At this point in your career, as an actress and producer, what are you looking for in a project and what gets you to say, “This just isn’t for me”?
ROBBIE: If I see a role that I know a different actress could play better than me, then I pass on it. Sometimes my team are like, “Why are you passing on this?!,” and I’m like, “‘Cause I just know someone could do this better than me.” And then, other roles I read and they scare me, but I know that that’s the reason to chase them. It’s very much based on gut instincts. You can look at the filmmakers involved, the cast that’s attached, the story itself, the structure of the script, and where you’re at with your career. All those kind of things go into making those decisions, but ultimately, I just rely on my gut. It’s led me in the right places, so far. That’s on the acting side. On the producing side, we’re looking for female driven content that can be told by as many female voices as possible. We also want to give first and second time filmmakers a chance, male and female.
Are you finding those goals more or less challenging than you expected?
ROBBIE: About as challenging as I expected. I knew it was gonna be a massive challenge, and it is. I get it, now that I’ve spent a lot of time with financiers. Usually, you just say, “Hi” and “Bye” on set, but now that I’ve sat with them, I understand that these people are putting their money into something and it’s a huge gamble. Film is not a solid investment. If you want to protect your investment, you should play around in the stock game because film is a total gamble. I guess people are trying to mitigate their losses or hedge their bets, a little bit, and they are more inclined to make safe choices that have paid off, in the past. Sometimes as a creative producer, you’re pushing them to make the riskier choices that have a lot of potential upside, but they could lose everything. I understand the position they’re in, and I understand now what I didn’t previously, as an actor, when I sat there and was like, “Why do they always have to have a name attached?! Why can’t they give some of us a go, who haven’t made it yet?! Why can’t they just give us a chance?!” It used to frustrate me so much, but now, I get it. It’s a numbers game. They literally add up numbers and say, “We can only give you this much, if you’ve got that person. If you need more money to make this film, you have to get a certain name in there.” You just have to keep the business side in mind sometimes and take it into consideration.
Word got out that you met with Quentin Tarantino about his film revolving around the Manson Family murders. Whether that ultimately happens or now, what is the appeal of working with Quentin Tarantino, for you?
ROBBIE: I love the structure of Tarantino films. They so often have isolated storylines that collide, at some point. I always love films like that. I, Tonya appealed to me, in that way, too. It’s a non-linear structure and a lot of narratives collide, clash and contradict one another. There’s something rebellious about that sort of structure that, as an audience member, I always feel engaged by. I find that more exciting than the more traditional, more formulaic, structured films. And his characters are just insane. I love them. They’re amazing!
With a film like I, Tonya, that you’re clearly passionate about and have put everything into, what’s it like to get to be a part of the awards conversation, regardless of the outcome?
ROBBIE: It’s mental! We were still shooting in March, so the turn-around has been insane. It’s just been a whirlwind. We didn’t even know if we could finish this film in time and for the budget, let alone get through post-production. To now be talked about amongst films that I’ve seen and think are brilliant, it’s incredible. Hopefully, it means more people want to see it.
When you were making this film, were you always wishing that you had more time, or were you glad that you didn’t have the change to overthink things?
ROBBIE: Yes, you always wish for more time and more money, so that you could do this or do that. Ultimately, the boundaries are what made this film what it is. We never could have embodied the spirit of these characters and this story, if we’d had a ton of money and time. It needed that scrappy, rough around the edges, roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty vibe that this set had to create this kind of film. I think if we’d had endless time and money, this film would have been shit, to be honest. I think those restrictions were sometimes the biggest blessing in disguise. We knew the things we wanted to fight for, and we didn’t stop fighting for them. We wanted to shoot on film, and we fought for that like crazy. When we wanted a certain music choice, we fought for that like crazy. You have to pick your battles and prioritize what’s important to you. In the end, I think we really fought for the right things.
I, Tonya is now playing in New York City and Los Angeles, and opens nationwide in January 2018.