Margot Robbie — who’s been the most exciting force in less exciting films like Focus and The Wolf of Wall Street, in roles that normally wouldn’t even showcase an actor’s abilities — is about to take on a particularly fraught role that’ll likely give her full reign to give an astounding performance… or bait Oscar… or, of course, both. Deadline announced that she’ll be playing figure skater Tonya Harding, whose representation in the media — following her bizarre assault on competitor Nancy Kerrigan — turned her into a sequined super-villain of sorts. The film, which does not yet have a release date (or a director, for that matter), is called I, Tonya.
The story behind Harding’s rise to fame — and eventual infamy — was full of milestones; Deadline points out that she was the first American woman to successfully perform a triple axel across big competitions, and she was on a track to world renown for her skill. However, when she was competing for Olympic gold against Kerrigan, her husband and a group of men plotted to debilitate her competitor, sending a man named Shane Stant to break her leg. (Harding still claims she was not aware of these plans, though her husband alleged that she was in on them.) She’d ultimately pleaded guilty “to conspiring to hinder prosecution,” was fined for 160,000, had to serve 500 days of community service, and was banned from the USFSA.
The media coverage of the events was rife with the examples of reducing women to sensationally dichotomized tropes. In NPR, Linda Holmes wrote about the complexity of the story, following the release of the documentary The Price of Gold:
There have always been two Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan narratives…The first one — the sparkly, easy, TV-coverage one — is that Nancy Kerrigan was a beautiful, elegant, classy skater and Tonya Harding was trash…But the other one has always been there, too. In this one, Tonya was a tough little scrapper, athletic and constantly underappreciated. The little underdog, helpless against a skating establishment that would never appreciate her. Nancy was a stuck-up pretty girl who felt sorry for herself over what was really nothing and revealed herself to be an ungrateful, snooty, spoiled crybaby. Tonya was The People’s Skater; Nancy was The Establishment.
She posits that these two stories required that the public see either Harding or Kerrigan as the “bitch,” but that the documentary posited that “competitive skating as a sport and a media spectacle is a bitch, and both of these theories are too simplistic to capture either of these women.” What’s most interesting about the story is certainly the interplay of person and media-created persona, and hopefully the movie will draw on these contrasts.
Allegedly, Robbie is actually searching for a director to helm the project, whose script was penned by Steven Rogers (whose catalog includes seemingly fluffier fare — Kate & Leopold, Stepmom, P.S. I Love You.)