To put it in figure skating terms, the degree of difficulty that the I, Tonya hair and makeup team faced in transforming actress Margot Robbie into the spitting image of infamous figure skater Tonya Harding was the equivalent of a triple lutz, triple toe loop.
Harding herself became notoriously recognizable thanks to her controversial rise — and widely publicized downfall. The 1991 U.S. Women’s Figure Skating champion and the first American woman to land a triple axel in international competition, Harding was later banned for life from the competitive sport after pleading guilty to conspiring to hinder the prosecution of the men who attacked skater Nancy Kerrigan at a practice session at the 1994 Figure Skating Championships in Detroit in the lead-up to the ’94 Winter Olympics.
The hairstylists and makeup artists faced additional challenges: a tight schedule (31 days, with their star donning multiple looks per day), a tight budget (just $11 million) and 96 costume changes for Robbie herself (not to mention those required for her skating doubles). And just to throw one more wrinkle into the mix, Robbie, the 27-year-old actress known for such films as The Wolf of Wall Street and Suicide Squad, would be playing Harding as she aged from her teens to her 40s.
So Adruitha Lee, hairstylist and hair designer and department head, created four different wigs for the actress. “I permed each one twice to give the hair the same texture as Tonya’s. The perms that I used were the same brand that were used in the ‘80s in the salon. I also wanted the wigs to look as much like Tonya’s color as possible, so I purchased boxed color from the drugstore and used the color techniques that were used in the early ‘90s.”
Lee even resorted to using cheap beer “as a setting lotion for that crunchy look Tonya was so well known for, because you’re not going to get that bang to stand up like that with just mousse.”
Hair accessories like scrunchies were handmade for the film. “One of my favorite pieces was her Lillehammer hair accessory. The fabric didn’t have enough sparkle to it, so we used a BeDazzler,” says Lee with a laugh.
For Harding’s younger years, as depicted in director Craig Gillespie’s film, makeup department head Deborah La Mia Denaver used highlights and shading to give Robbie a wider nose and a wider space between her brows, as well as to exaggerate and lengthen her chin. Robbie also wore braces and was given fuller brows.
Then, for the sections of the film that recount Harding’s time as a competitive skater, Denaver used lip colors, nail colors and eye shadow that matched the figure skater’s sometimes garish theatrical makeup.
Finally, for the film’s present-day, documentary-style scenes, Robbie sat for a face cast created by prosthetic designer Vincent Van Dyke. “We applied prosthetics to alter her looks and her weight to try to duplicate what Tonya Harding looks like today,” says Denaver. That included a nose piece, cheek pieces, chin and eye bags and a full wraparound prosthetic neck piece that added bulk.
This story first appeared in a December stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.