Maybe you’re looking at the title of this post and thinking, “how is this academic? This is just some girl mad about some pop culture thing!” A) You’re sort of right but also B) It is VERY academic, and here’s why: Since learning about Tonya Harding at an early age – I discovered her name on a list of people banned for life from competing in USFSA-sanctioned events – I was obsessed, and I researched her thoroughly. Any time I had to do some kind of biographical presentation in school, it was about Tonya. In high school, I found out my figure skating coach was IN THE RINK when Nancy Kerrigan got hit (he heard the screaming!!!), which only made me feel closer to the saga. I have seen the 30 for 30 doc on Tonya a whole bunch of times. If I could find some remote way to connect her to the German Studies world, believe me, I would, and I’d write a dissertation on her.
In any event, I know a lot about Tonya Harding, and I believe this qualifies me to say that Margot Robbie should not play her in a biopic.
Let’s get the obvious reason out of the way: Margot Robbie is too hot for this role. I admit it is a problem to reduce someone to their looks, but in the case of a biopic, I think it matters. Margot Robbie is, among other things, known for her looks. If your acting credits include drinking champagne in a bathtub while explaining financial stuff – basically a role that requires nothing other than your hotness – you’re too hot to play Tonya. Tonya Harding was, to put it simply, rough-looking. Part of this was just the early 90s, a time of scrunchies and teased hair and bad eye makeup. And part of this was just her. She looked rough, and she had a rough life. For a little while, that didn’t matter, because she was an amazing skater. The tragedy is that her skating could have pulled her out of a bad situation, were it not for the whole Nancy incident (and Jeff Gillooly). In spite of her crimes (and I do believe she’s guilty of them), Tonya deserves better than the indignity of being played by a hot actress “uglied up” with prosthetics.
My next question re: Margot/Tonya is whether Margot Robbie can really skate. I’ve seen pictures of her on the ice, and she doesn’t look wobbly, but these are just stills, so who knows. Sure, she could have a double for the jumps and spins, but why not cast someone who can skate pretty well already? (For example, the author of this post?) I really appreciated that Miracle for the most part cast actual hockey players to play the 1980 Olympic team, so why not do the same here? (Probably because the human drama will take precedence over the skating.)
I don’t know what kind of movie I, Tonya will be. I hope it’s a nuanced look at its subject – not letting her off the hook for what she did, but also not vilifying or mocking her. I hope Margot Robbie does a good job, and I think, acting-wise, she could. I will go see it, even if I worry it might be a sensational look at an admittedly sensational sports story.
To offer a solution: I want to write, direct, and play Tonya Harding in I, Tonya. Thank you for your consideration, and I’ll see you come awards season.