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I, Tonya: History vs. Hollywood

Starring Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney

Margot Robbie
Born: July 2, 1990
Dalby, Queensland, Australia
Tonya Harding
Born: November 12, 1970
Birthplace: Portland, Oregon, USA
Mckenna Grace
Born: June 25, 2006
Texas, USA
Tonya Harding (young)
Sebastian Stan
Born: August 13, 1982
Constanta, Romania
Jeff Gillooly
Born: September 15, 1967
Birthplace: Portland, Oregon, USA

Ex-husband. He changed his name to Jeff Stone after getting out of prison.
Allison Janney
Born: November 19, 1959
Dayton, Ohio, USA
LaVona Golden
Born: February 1, 1940
Birthplace: Oregon, USA

Tonya's mother
Jason Davis
Pine Bluff, Arkansas, USA
Alan 'Al' Harding
Born: March 19, 1933
Birthplace: Portland, Oregon, USA
Death: April 1, 2009, Tillamook, Oregon, USA

Tonya's father
Caitlin Carver
Born: March 31, 1992
Monrovia, Alabama, USA
Nancy Kerrigan
Born: October 13, 1969
Birthplace: Stoneham, Massachusetts, USA

Figure skater and rival who was attacked
Julianne Nicholson
Born: July 1, 1971
Medford, Massachusetts, USA
Diane Rawlinson
Born: July 24, 1946

Harding's coach
Paul Walter Hauser
Born: October 15, 1986
Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA
Shawn Eckhardt
Born: June 18, 1967
Birthplace: Portland, Oregon, USA
Death: December 12, 2007 (unknown natural causes)

Bodyguard. He later changed his name to Brian Griffith.
Ricky Russert
Washington, USA
Shane Stant

He attacked Nancy Kerrigan with a tactical baton.
Anthony Reynolds
Born: May 8, 1968
Durham, North Carolina, USA
Derrick Smith

Getaway driver for Shane Stant

Questioning the Story:

In general, how accurate is I, Tonya?

The movie isn't specifically based on true events, but rather draws from multiple versions of the same events. This is what makes pinpointing the definitive version of the truth difficult, but in the questions that follow we were able to separate fact from fiction at a number of different points in the movie, while the reality of other scenes may never be known. The tabloids had their versions of the truth and the people involved had their own accounts. The movie leans largely on telling Tonya Harding's side of the story. However, screenwriter Steve Rogers also based his script on ex-husband Jeff Gillooly's perspective too, mainly drawing from separate interviews he conducted with Harding and Gillooly. The exes' stories hardly ever matched up.

"Their stories were so wildly different, they didn't remember anything the same," Rogers told the LA Times at TIFF. Even the details of their first date didn't line up. Their contrasting stories led the filmmakers to open I, Tonya with a title card that states, "Based on irony free, wildly contradictory, totally true interviews with Tonya Harding and Jeff Gillooly."

Tonya Harding (left) at 1991 Skate America where she landed a triple axel and edged out Kristie Yamaguchi to win the competition. Margot Robbie as Harding in the movie.

Why is the movie called I, Tonya

"I don't know if anybody really realizes, it's I, Tonya because it's after I, Claudius," explained Sebastian Stan in an interview. I, Claudius is a 1934 historical novel by Robert Graves, written as if it were an autobiography by the Roman Emperor Claudius.

ESPN Films 30 for 30: The Price of Gold is an acclaimed documentary that thoroughly examines the Tonya Harding - Nancy Kerrigan incident.
Had Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan been rivals before the attack?

Yes. The I, Tonya true story confirms that they both were competing for the top spot among U.S. figure skaters. Tonya's groundbreaking triple axel at the 1991 U.S. Figure Skating Championships helped her to win first place, while Kerrigan received bronze. They went up against each other again at the 1992 Olympics in Albertville, France, with Tonya landing in fourth and Kerrigan edging her out to win bronze. Their rivalry went beyond healthy competition. Tonya was arguably the slightly better skater, but Kerrigan had more sponsorships (Reebok, Campbell's, Revlon, etc.) and the public seemed to favor her persona more. Director Nanette Burstein's ESPN Films documentary 30 for 30: The Price of Gold examines Tonya Harding's rise and the Nancy Kerrigan scandal, which became one of the most well-known controversies in the history of sports.

Was Tonya Harding abused as a child?

Yes. According to Harding, she was both mentally and physically abused by her mother, LaVona Golden, beginning at age 6 or 7. "She became very abusive [and was] drinking all day long," Harding said. "Beating me, dragging me off the rink, hitting me with a hairbrush … right in front of everyone." Her mother admitted to hitting her once at a competition while she was trying to do Tonya's hair and Tonya wouldn't sit still as they were calling for her on the ice. She stressed that she tried to do the best she could as a mother and worked three jobs to pay for Tonya's training.

"She was sweet back then," Tonya's mother said in a 2017 Inside Edition interview. "I didn't have any problems until she got up in her teens." LaVona says that they haven't spoken since 2002. "She hates me, period. I could never do anything right for her, nothing." Toward the end of the interview, she added, "I'd love to be part of the family, but I know she doesn't want this, so I do not bother her." Tonya now has a husband and a young son, LaVona's grandson.

A young Tonya Harding (left) with a figure skating trophy and actress Mckenna Grace (right) looking not so happy in the I, Tonya movie.

Did Tonya Harding really say to a judge, "Suck my d**k"?

No. "That's ah, actually one of the rare things that Tonya actually didn't say," explained Margot Robbie, "but when she saw the movie, the real Tonya Harding I mean, she was like, 'I loved that line! I wish I had actually said that.'" -Jimmy Kimmel Live

The rest of that scene is mostly true. A judge did criticize her bright pink outfit that she had made herself, but it didn't happen in front of the judges' panel. "It was really pretty," says Harding. "One of the judges came up to me afterwards and said, 'You know what, if you ever wear anything like that again at a U.S. Championships, you will never do another one.' And I told them where to go. I said, 'Well, you know what. If you can come up with $5,000 for a costume for me, then I won't have to make it, but until then, stay out of my face.'" -30 for 30: The Price of Gold

Did Tonya Harding really become the first American woman to perform a triple axel in competition?

Yes. Tonya Harding's triple axel was as big of a deal as in the I, Tonya movie. Her successful execution of a triple axel on February 16, 1991 at the United States National Figure Skating Championships in Minneapolis, Minnesota made her the first American female figure skater to pull it off in a competition (watch the Tonya Harding triple axel video). The next month at the World Figure Skating Championships in Munich, she became the first American woman to complete a triple axel at an international event. That same year at the Fall 1991 Skate America she had three more triple axel firsts, becoming the first woman to complete one in the short program, the first to execute two in a single competition, and the first ever to execute a triple axel combined with a double toe loop.

Tonya Harding (left) just after becoming the first American woman to land a triple axel in competition. Margot Robbie (right) recreates the moment in the I, Tonya movie.

How accurate is the I, Tonya movie's portrayal of Allison Janney as Tonya's mom?

A significant portion of the character is fiction, in part due to the fact that Allison Janney and the filmmakers could not track down Tonya's mother LaVona to speak to her. "[Screenwriter] Steven [Rogers] asked Tonya where her mother was and she didn't know, and if she did, she wasn't going to let on," Janney said after the Toronto Film Festival screening. "We couldn't find her anywhere, so we just used existing footage and what he found out through Tonya what her mother was like. It was a little freeing, to me, knowing that, Well, we have this tape and from there, it's whatever we choose to create as a team." Janney had only one video interview on which to base her performance, and it didn't help that Tonya had been estranged from her mother for quite a few years (Vulture). "We didn't know at the time if she was alive or dead, so it was pretty much Tonya's experience of her mother and artistic license," Janney told Deadline.

It's more likely that the filmmakers didn't try very hard to find LaVona, because Inside Edition managed to track her down for an interview about Tonya and the movie, which was taped not long before the movie's release. "Is that me!?" LaVona said while looking at a screenshot of Allison Janney portraying her in the movie. "She doesn't even look like me."

Did Tonya's mom LaVona really appear in an interview with her bird on her shoulder?

Yes. The I, Tonya true story reveals that, surprisingly, this actually happened. "We had all the actual footage—you couldn't invent this stuff," says Margot Robbie. "In an interview, Tonya's mom, LaVona, wore a fur coat with an actual bird sitting on her shoulder." And like in the movie, LaVona sewed Tonya's costumes, a task that Tonya would later take over. -W Magazine

Tonya Harding's mom, LaVona Golden (left), really did appear in an interview with a bird on her shoulder. Allison Janney (right) recreates the moment for the movie.

Did Tonya Harding really get lower scores than she deserved because of her tough image?

Yes. Like in the movie, judges at times gave her lower scores because her gruff personality contradicted the conventional "presentation" they were looking for. Her skating was powerful and athletic instead of graceful and balletic. The unfair treatment by the judges made Tonya an even more rebellious skater. "Ice skating, I think, it's a very snob sport. It's a very snob sport," said Harding's former choreographer, Vicki Mills-O'Donnell, during ESPN Films 30 for 30: The Price of Gold documentary, "and she did not fit the image at all, not even close." Harding grew up a tomboy, going hunting and fishing with her dad, and chopping firewood.

When and where did the attack on Nancy Kerrigan take place?

The attack happened on January 6, 1994 at Cobo Arena in Detroit Michigan, where Kerrigan had just finished a practice session for the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

Did Tonya Harding's ex-husband and her bodyguard really orchestrate the attack on Nancy Kerrigan?

Yes. Harding's ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, and her bodyguard, Shawn Eckhardt, paid assailant Shane Stant to carry out the attack. Stant first planned to attack Nancy Kerrigan at her training rink in Massachusetts but was unable to find Kerrigan. So he followed her to Detroit and attacked her shortly after she stepped off the ice after practicing at Cobo Arena for the national championships. The moments before and after the attack were caught on tape and can be seen in this Nancy Kerrigan attack video. Like in the I, Tonya movie, she is on the ground crying out, "Why?!" in between moans, describing the object she was hit in the leg with as "some hard, hard black stick."

Figure skater Nancy Kerrigan (left) cries out in pain on the floor of an ice rink hallway moments after she was attacked. Actress Caitlin Carver (right) portrays Kerrigan in the I, Tonya movie.

What did assailant Shane Stant use to try and break Nancy Kerrigan's leg?

Shane Stant used a 21-inch retractable ASP tactical baton that he purchased for $58.56 from a store called Spy Headquarters. He struck Kerrigan on her right leg very close to the top outer side of her knee. Fortunately for Kerrigan, her leg was not broken but she did suffer a bone bruise. The injury kept her from competing in the national championships the next day, which Tonya Harding won, guaranteeing her a spot on the Olympic team (Sports Illustrated). After the win, Harding remarked, "I'm really happy, but it won't be a true crown until I get my chance with Nancy, and that'll be Olympics and let me tell ya, I'm gonna whip her butt" (National Geographic).

Tonya Harding (left) finished a disappointing 8th at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehamer, Norway. Rival Nancy Kerrigan took home the silver medal. Margot Robbie (right) as Harding in the I, Tonya movie.

Did Nancy Kerrigan's attacker, Shane Stant, really shatter a glass door as he escaped?

Yes. After striking Nancy Kerrigan in the leg, Shane Stant fled from Cobo Arena. On his way out, he encountered a locked glass door that he shattered in order to escape the building. -ESPN Films 30 for 30: The Price of Gold

What was the punishment for the individuals involved in the attack?

In researching the I, Tonya true story, we learned that Tonya Harding's ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, testified against Harding and was given a plea bargain. Gillooly, assailant Shane Stant, Harding's bodyguard Shawn Eckhardt, and getaway driver Derrick Smith all spent time in prison for the attack. -The New York Times

Ex-husband Jeff Gillooly (left) and his accomplices turned on Tonya Harding and told the FBI that she was involved in planning the attack.

Did Tonya Harding know that the attack on Nancy Kerrigan was going to happen?

In 1994, the United States Figure Skating Association (USFSA) concluded that Harding knew that the attack on Kerrigan was going to happen, stating that Harding exhibited "a clear disregard for fairness, good sportsmanship and ethical behavior." Harding denied that she had any knowledge of the attack before it happened and maintains her innocence to this day (The New York Times). She claims that her ex-husband confessed privately to her after the attack. Actress Margot Robbie, who was skeptical at first, came to support Harding's innocence. "I'm on her side 100 percent," said Robbie. "I don't think she did anything but be different from what the world wanted. There are cool misfits, and then there is Tonya. She didn't fit in. And I love that" (W Magazine).

Did Nancy Kerrigan's injury help Tonya Harding at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway?

No, but it did help Tonya to win nationals and guarantee herself a spot on the Olympic team. Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan were both selected for the 1994 Olympic team, but by then Kerrigan's leg had fully recovered from the attack, as depicted in the I, Tonya movie. Harding finished in eighth place at Lillehamer, while Kerrigan took second behind Oksana Baiul, winning the silver medal (many believe that Kerrigan should have won gold since her routine was more technical than Baiul's). Harding at one point had to stop midway into her routine to plead with the judges to allow her to fix her skate lace. See the video.

After experiencing lace issues, an emotional Tonya Harding (top) stops shortly into her routine at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehamer, Norway and explains her issue to the judges. Margot Robbie (bottom) recreates the moment in the I, Tonya movie.

Was Tonya Harding really banned from U.S. figure skating?

Yes. In March 1994, Harding plead guilty to conspiring to hinder the prosecution of Nancy Kerrigan's attackers. She received a $160,000 fine, three years probation, and 500 hours of community service. She was forced to resign from the United States Figure Skating Association and withdraw from the 1994 World Figure Skating Championships. Harding was banned from participating in any event sanctioned by the USFSA, including as a coach. -The New York Times

The Tonya Tapes book by Lynda Prouse was written in collaboration with Tonya Harding.
In her 2008 autobiography, The Tonya Tapes, she claimed that she wanted to tell the FBI what she knew but her ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, threatened to kill her following a gunpoint gang rape with two other men, an assertion Gillooly calls "utterly ridiculous." -TODAY

Did actress Margot Robbie do any of her own skating in I, Tonya?

While investigating the true story, we discovered that Margot Robbie did portions of her own skating, but the more complicated parts were done by experts. As for Tonya Harding's triple axel, there were only two women in the world doing it at the time of filming and they couldn't risk it since they would be competing in the 2018 Winter Olympics. Instead, the filmmakers used computer generation to pull off (or not pull off) the triple axel.

"I had only ever been on the ice in the capacity of playing ice hockey, 'cause I joined an ice hockey team when I first moved to America," says Robbie. "My hockey was pretty good, my ice skating was pretty terrible, but you have so much padding on that it doesn't really matter. This movie came around and I just was welcomed to a whole world of pain that I didn't realize coexisted with figure skating. I did probably four months of training, five days a week, a couple hours a day. ... It was at times kind of difficult." -W Magazine

Did Margot Robbie meet Tonya Harding before making the movie?

Yes. Fact-checking I, Tonya reveals that prior to filming, Margot Robbie flew to Portland, Oregon to meet Tonya Harding. However, Robbie says that she never wanted the character to be a carbon copy of Tonya. "I wanted there to be a clear distinction between the 'real' Tonya and the one I would be playing." Therefore, Tonya was not a consultant on the set. Margot Robbie met up with Tonya again when they showed her the movie right before it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. Tonya also attended the world premiere. Margot Robbie says that while there were parts Tonya liked and parts she didn't agree with, overall she thinks that Tonya is happy with the movie. -W Magazine

Tonya Harding and Margot Robbie at the I, Tonya premiere.

Does Nancy Kerrigan plan to see the I, Tonya movie?

During an Access Hollywood interview for her 2017 appearance on Dancing with the Stars, Nancy Kerrigan was asked if she plans to see the I, Tonya movie. "Oh, um, I've already lived through that," she said with a laugh.

Tonya Harding Triple Axel Video & Nancy Kerrigan Attack

Watch the videos below, which help to answer the question, how accurate is I, Tonya? See the real Nancy Kerrigan attack video, which closely mimics what's seen in the movie, and watch the Tonya Harding triple axel video to see her groundbreaking 1991 performance.

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