Since its release in early December, I, Tonya has quickly become one of the most polarizing films of the past year. While critics have given it their official seal of approval (the flick is currently up for three Oscars), it hasn’t been without its naysayers — including skating darlings Nancy Kerrigan and Tara Lipinski. Also up for heated debate, the film’s portrayal of Tonya Harding’s home life, which sees her suffering domestic familial violence at the hands of her mother (portrayed by Allison Janney) and ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan).
With the movie spawning articles with headlines such as “Why Does I, Tonya Want Us to Think Domestic Abuse Is Hilarious?” it was clear that not everyone was onboard with what the article’s author called “flatline commentary on physical and emotional abuse” or its attempts at humor regarding the serious topic.
Now, Robbie herself is weighing in, telling The New York Times, “Craig had the very clever idea of breaking the fourth wall in those specific moments so that you can see her emotionally disconnect from what’s happening to her physically at the time.”
She went on to explain that it was largely based Tonya Harding’s own demeanor when discussing violence she says she experienced in her life, saying, “Something that struck me most about watching all the footage was the documentary made about her when she was 15. She’s very candid and vulnerable, and insecure. She’s just looking at the camera, saying, ‘My mom’s an alcoholic, and she hits me, and she beats me.’ The worst thing [about] a domestically abusive relationship is that it’s a vicious cycle.”
Robbie, 27, also spoke to the altercations depicted between the former husband and wife, saying, “And you see her go back to [her first husband, Jeff Gillooly] time and time again. We wanted to emphasize that this is a cycle and this is so routine for her, because it’s happened her whole life. She can emotionally disconnect in that moment and speak to the audience, completely matter-of-factly.”
While she certainly seems comfortable with the finished product now, the Suicide Squad actress admitted to The Wrap back in September that she had some concerns, particularly when it came to casting. “We actually spoke about the domestic violence a lot before shooting, and especially when casting our Jeff,” she said. “It was so hard to find the person who could make the violence not seem premeditated and more reactionary, which is what Sebastian [Stan] did.”
Even then, the Critics Choice Award winner says she questioned the footage, thinking, ‘Have we lost the audience now? Have we pushed it too far? Is he still redeemable? Is she still redeemable? Like, where is that line and how do we walk along it?”
Movie director Craig Gillespie also spoke out on the issue, previously telling Vulture, “It would be handled in such a matter-of-fact way when Tonya would talk about it, you could see how desensitized she was to it, the violence.”
Still, he too had reservations. “It was one of the things I was most concerned about in the film,” he explained. “It was one of the first questions that Margot asked me: ‘How would you portray the violence?’ I said, ‘We have to reflect the life that Tonya came from and the abuse that she went through that gave her the armor that she had, and the way that she sees the world.’ To not show it would be a disservice.”
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(Photo via John Sciulli/Getty + LuckyChap Entertainment/Clubhouse Pictures/AI Film)