Allison Janney Reveals the "Funny" Text Tonya Harding Sent Her After Oscar Noms Were Announced
The actress, who portrays Harding's abusive, acerbic mother in 'I, Tonya,' also opens up about what it was like to get back on the ice herself after giving up skating at age 17.
Janney’s take on Tonya Harding’s mother, LaVona Golden, is the stuff of nightmares: She’s an abusive, acerbic skater mom who seems to prefer her pet bird over her daughter. The performance has earned Janney, 58, a slew of awards and her first-ever Oscar nomination. She spoke to THR about meeting the real Harding and what it was like to get back on the ice herself.
Your character is so intense. What has the reaction from audiences been like?
I was surprised by how much Tonya [Harding] thought I nailed it and then how many times I’ve had people come up and say, “Oh my God, you can’t understand, you are exactly what I grew up with, my mother. You’re exactly like my aunt, so and so.” People were coming to me saying they knew that character, and that’s shocking and surprising to me because sometimes I just thought these things were so over-the-top.
Are you similar to the character?
God, no! I don't think I am, but the way she spoke to Margot is the way my inner critic speaks to me sometimes. So that, in a funny, odd, twisted way, is how I could be in that character and talk to her that way, imagining I was talking to myself in moments when I was disappointed in myself. We all have that critic inside us, and that's mine personified. She's not a nice lady.
Did you spend time with Tonya at the Globes?
It was the first time I actually did. We didn’t get into a deep conversation — mostly it was just so fun to watch her jaw drop and look at everyone who was around. She was overwhelmed by being in that room. She’s been nothing but gracious and lovely and so appreciative of what [screenwriter Steven Rogers] ended up doing with her story. I realize it could have gone in any [direction], a different way too, because she didn’t have any control over the story Steven ended up telling. And she sent me the cutest text message when I got the Oscar nomination. She said, “Congrats, you’re going to the big top, girl.” I thought that was so funny. It was perfect.
Has there been anything unusual or unexpected during this awards season — other than winning?
Other than winning? Those have been pretty extraordinary moments. Every time I win one, I think, “I’m not going to get the next one.” I had the most wonderful dream the other night: I used to be a skater, and I dreamed that I was back on the rink and I was skating and I was feeling this incredible sense of power back on the rink again. And I went to do a jump and landed on the outside of the rink on the floor. So I fell. So it was fun to feel that but also be brought right back down to earth.
When was the last time you skated?
I stopped when I was 17 and really didn’t get back on the ice again until this movie, when I thought for a minute that I was going to have to skate. I had so much fun getting a pair of skates and getting back on. I went to Pickwick in Burbank. It took me a while to get my skating legs back, but I got to some pretty good crossover moments. I don’t think I could attempt a jump at this point.
What are you excited about for the Oscars?
Just to go. I’ve never been to the Oscars. I always said the same about the Oscars that I said about L.A. I always said, “I’m never going to move to L.A. unless I’m invited to.” That’s when I got West Wing, and I was like, “OK, that’s an invitation to come to L.A.” I’ve had other opportunities to go when people have said, “Do you want to go to the Oscars?” And I thought, “No, I don’t ever want to go to the Oscars until I’m nominated, and then I want to walk down that carpet as a nominee.”
A version of this story first appeared in a February standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.