To convincingly portray the turbulent story of I, TONYA on ice was a huge challenge. Though Tonya Harding makes the triple axel look so simple, the jump presented a huge challenge to the film team. Since the triple axel has only been landed by eight women ever, it wasn#t something Margot Robbie could easily repeat.
Robbie had played ice hockey as a teenager, but had no experience with figure skating. Nothing could prepare her for the difficulties she would encounter on the ice – let alone the challenge of achieving those movements with the elegance of Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan. “You wear centimeter-thick protective layers in ice hockey. So I thought that figure skating would be a breeze for me. I can move very fast on the ice and thought that I could learn everything very quickly. But the skates are quite different from each other. I fell constantly, and without padding every fall on the ice is extremely painful. “
A surprisingly gruesome Sport
Robbie trained with the Japanese-Canadian trainer and former figure skater Sarah Kawahara, who had worked with Nancy Kerrigan during her wedding. “Figure skating has many similarities with ballet, namely in its extreme brutality and the enormous levels of strength and athleticism it demands”, explains Robbie.
“The end goal is to make it look graceful and effortless. I have enormous respect for everyone that has mastered the art of figure skating. It’s an unbelievably difficult and surprisingly guesome sport. It’s also something else entirely to begin at the age of 26 rather than at 5 year’s old, as was the case with Tonya. At that age you’ve got a lot less fear and the impact on the body is less when you’re smaller.”
A further challenge whilst shooting the figure skating sequences was the equipment. Director Craig Gillespie wanted to follow Robbie on the ice for as long as possible in the competition sequences. A large portion of the gear, however, couldn’t be transported on ice. Since everything was shot on film, digital cameras weren’t an option. Fortunately cameraman Dana Morris was able to ice skate, filming with the camera on ice.
Perfecting the Triple Axel
The I, TONYA team went throughout the USA on the hunt for a stunt double for Robbie, in order to take over the role for the more challenging sections like the triple axel. But at the time just two US figure skaters had mastered the triple axel and both were too small. A male figure skater with a wig was at one point a serious possibility.
In the end it was decided that figure skaters who has almost mastered the triple axel would be used. The rest would be sorted in post-production with the help of visual effects.
Robbie would launch into these complex movements, the stunt-doubles would continue them and digital effects were used to complete the move that Harding had performed with astouding elegance in ice rinks across the world, during the peak of her career.
“When we first began the search for our stunt-doubles it became clear to me just how phenomenal Tonya’s achievements were”, explains Robbie. “The sport has developed in the last two decades, but the triple axel is still, now as before, this crazy move that only a few people can execute”.
I, TONYA is now available in cinemas.