'I, Tonya': 8 of the Film's Stars and Their Real-Life Inspirations

8:30 AM 12/8/2017

by Courtney Idasetima

The movie centers on the scandal between Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan that rocked the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

Based on the life of former competitive figure skater Tonya Harding, I, Tonya, gives viewers a glimpse into Harding’s life leading up to her infamous involvement with the 1994 scandal that left her main competitor, Nancy Kerrigan, injured.

I, Tonya, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September and was named first runner-up for the People's Choice Award at TIFF. The film will hit the big screen in the United States on Friday, a release date that qualifies the film for 2017 awards season.

Margot Robbie, who portrays Harding in the film, and the film are both nominated for multiple awards, including Independent Spirit Awards. Below, read more about the cast, who they played and how the actors prepared for their role.

  • Tonya Harding, portrayed by Margot Robbie

    Margot Robbie (left) and Tonya Harding
    Margot Robbie (left) and Tonya Harding
    Left, courtesy of Neon; Right, Getty Images

    Tonya Harding is a former Olympic figure skater who not only made headlines for her figure-skating abilities but also for her association to a criminal act organized to take down her main competition, Nancy Kerrigan.

    Prior to the scandal and removal of Harding from the U.S. Figure Skating Association, she was the first American woman to complete a triple axel jump in a competition in 1991.                                   

    Before the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, associates of Harding arranged for Kerrigan to be assaulted. With denial of knowledge of the attack performed on Kerrigan, Harding was still able to compete in the 1994 Olympic Games, where she placed eighth. That same year, Harding was banned for life from the U.S. Figure Skating Association after she pled guilty to the felony of conspiracy to hinder the prosecution in the attack of Kerrigan. She was sentenced to three years of probation.

    Following her figure skating career, she dabbled in boxing on Fox’s Celebrity Boxing, which turned into a short-lived boxing career. She also obtained a few acting credits, and her story line has been portrayed on television and in music videos.

    People's Choice Award winner Margot Robbie plays Harding in the film. She was able to meet Tonya Harding with director Craig Gillespie.

    “The ice-skating portion of the character was obviously humongous and took a lot of training before we started and I really underestimated how difficult it would be," Robbie told THR (watch the video below). "It's such a hard sport. It's hard because it's like ballet in that you need to make it look effortless to e particularly good at it, and it's anything but. But we got there in the end.”

  • Jeff Gillooly, portrayed by Sebastian Stan

    Sebastian Stan (left) and Jeff Gilooly
    Sebastian Stan (left) and Jeff Gilooly
    Left, courtesy of of Neon; Right, Getty Images

    Jeff Gillooly, played by Sebastian Stan, was Tonya Harding's first husband, whom she married in 1990. According to Harding, he was abusive, which led her to leave him, although she was pressured to stay with Gillooly by the United States Figure Skating Association. She was told by a higher-up in the skating world that if she did not stay with Gillooly, she was not going to “get the marks she was going to deserve because now [she’s] not the picture-perfect girl.”

    She decided to stay with Gillooly to maintain her reputation. Gillooly helped organize the 1994 attack on Nancy Kerrigan. When a warrant was issued for his arrest in the case of Nancy Kerrigan, Gillooly turned himself in to the FBI.

    Stan had the opportunity to meet with Gillooly in person and told The Hollywood Reporter it had an impact on him. 

    "The more we shot, the more I kind of got surprised with where things were going with me initially with what I first thought of him," he said.

  • LaVona Harding, portrayed by Allison Janney

    LaVona Golden (left) and Allison Janney
    LaVona Golden (left) and Allison Janney
    Screengrab; Courtesy of NEON

    LaVona Harding is Tonya Harding's mother. She was a waitress in Portland, Ore. Before giving birth to daughter Tonya, she had been married five times. She divorced Tonya’s father when Tonya was 15 years old. 

    In the 1986 documentary Sharp Edges, Tonya Harding said of her mother: “My relationship with my mom is really bad. She's a good mother, but she is not a good mother. She hits me and she beats me and she drinks. My mom’s an alcoholic and she has been now for about the last year. And if anything goes wrong, then she has a drink, and then if something goes wrong with her work, then she takes it out on me.”

    Although Allison Janney, who plays Tonya’s mother in the movie, never got to meet her character in person, she credits the footage they had and "Tonya’s version of who her mother was” for her portrayal.

    “She is one of the probably most complicated characters I’ve ever played and one of the cruelest characters,” she told THR.

  • Nancy Kerrigan, portrayed by Caitlin Carver

    Caitlin Carver (left) and Nancy Kerrigan
    Caitlin Carver (left) and Nancy Kerrigan
    Getty Images (Kerrigan)

    Like Harding, Nancy Kerrigan is a former American figure skater. In January 1994, she was assaulted with a police baton by a man said to have been hired by Harding's then-husband and bodyguard. The attack resulted in bruising and swelling surrounding Kerrigan's right knee.

    With Kerrigan injured at the 1994 national competition, Harding won the competition, which secured her place for the Winter Olympics that year. Kerrigan was able to recover in time for the Olympics and received a silver medal for her performance.

    Caitlin Carver plays Kerrigan in the film. 

  • Diane Rawlinson, portrayed by Julianne Nicholson

    Julianne Nicholson (left) and Diane Rawlinson
    Julianne Nicholson (left) and Diane Rawlinson
    Left, courtesy of Neon; Right, Getty Images

    Diane Rawlinson is a former figure-skating champion who became Tonya Harding's coach. She was the person that Harding looked up to because she “did it herself and made herself," Harding has said.

    They cut their ties after almost 14 years together.  Rawlinson told Sports Illustrated, "Tonya wasn't training and wasn't meeting the goals she had set for herself. So I delegated her to Dody [Teachman]."

    Julianne Nicholson plays Diane Rawlinson in the film.

  • Young Tonya Harding, portrayed by Mckenna Grace

    McKenna Grace in 'I, Tonya'
    McKenna Grace in 'I, Tonya'

    As a child, Harding did not have the economic background most figure skaters have. She was born on Nov. 12, 1970, and raised in Portland, Ore. Her family relied on homemade clothing, fishing and hunting to supplement their needs. Harding began ice skating at 3 years old after a trip to Lloyds Center Mall, which had an ice rink at the time, in Portland, with her parents. She had natural-born, raw talent and was considered a prodigy. The same year she started skating, she won her first competition in Sun Valley, Idaho.

    Fuller House actor Mckenna Grace portrays a young Tonya Harding in the movie. 

  • Shawn Eckhardt, portrayed by Paul Walter Hauser

    Shawn Eckhardt and Paul Walter Hauser in 'I, Tonya'
    Shawn Eckhardt and Paul Walter Hauser in 'I, Tonya'
    Screengrab; Courtesy of NEON

    Eckhardt was the bodyguard of Tonya Harding who helped plan an assault on Nancy Kerrigan. Six days after the attack, Eckhardt confessed to the crime and cited Gilhooly and Harding as the minds behind the attack. Eckhardt was arrested with attacker Shane Stant and getaway driver Derrick Smith. He went by the name Brian Sean Griffith after the attack of Kerrigan and passed away in 2007. 

    Paul Walter Hauser plays Eckhardt in the film.  

     

     

  • Dody Teachman, portrayed by Bojana Novakovic

    Dody Teachman is the former coach of Tonya Harding, under whom she mastered the trip axel. Harding was introduced to Teachman by former coach Diane Rawlinson. Techman told Sports Illustrated of Harding, "She's a tough cookie.”

    Serbian-Australian actress Bojana Novakovic plays Teachman in the film. 

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