Three years ago, Tonya Harding was leading the screenwriter Steven Rogers back to his Oregon cabin when he offered her his little finger.
Rogers had flown to Oregon from Los Angeles on his own to meet the discredited figure skater, hoping it would allow him to buy his life rights for a script. Best known for romantic comedies such as Hope Floats and Kate & Leopold, Rogers was looking to reinvent himself, and, as it happened, the project he was pursuing could restore Harding's reputation in the process.
Rogers was fascinated by Harding's perspective on the 1994 attack Nancy Kerrigan – and the way the media modeled her as the villain in her figure skating fairy tale – after seeing ] Nanette Burstein ESPN Documentary, The price of gold. He soon called the contact number on Harding's official website, only to get to Motel 6 instead.
Eventually, Rogers tracked down Harding and flew to meet her. As agreed, Harding chose Rogers. But since the handle on the passenger side of his truck was broken, he had to open the door. She took him to a nearby restaurant, where Rogers asked her about her life, keeping her from telling the same story that she had been saying by heart for two decades. Although Harding told Rogers that he had trouble trusting people, he got along well enough with the writer to introduce him to his husband and son on the same day.
But let's go back to the little finger. On the way home, Harding asked Rogers if she would have control over the script he planned to write. Rogers said no. But the possibility of finally getting his story (whatever the way Rogers spun it) to go out into the world was worth betting on.
"Are we going to do this?" Harding asked.
"If I can get the rights to life," I think so, "Rogers replied.
She offered him her little finger, as if that strengthened the plan.
" I was looking at her as if she were a woman of 43 years. "" Rogers says Vanity Fair. "But I could not leave her hanging, I had to."
Then they swore in the truck. But Rogers, who had been burned by Hollywood himself – as anyone in the business has done in more than 10 minutes – could not help but add: "You know this is not binding, right?"
sitting outside the Novel Cafe in Santa Monica, where Rogers wrote I, Tonya, the writer explains the jump he made when contacting Harding and his ex-husband Jeff Gillooly, who pleaded guilty to racketeering in the saga of figure skating after death and was sentenced to two years in prison.
"I had never interviewed anyone, although I did not tell Tonya, nobody was paying me Sometimes I think my mind has a mind of its own." I look back, and it's surreal that I really did: I located Tonya and I located Jeff and somehow I got in and got them to agree to let me interview them. "
" Their stories were so contradictory, "recalls Rogers.
While listening to opposing perspectives in the same event might have confused other writers, the differences really crystallized I, Tonya for him. "I thought, that's my ticket, I'll put all the prospects in there and let the audience decide what's what."
The result is exciting, sometimes hilarious, literal, he said, he said, which throws light on Harding's abusive upbringing. and first marriage, and rewrites the 1994 figure skating scandal in a new light, showing how Kerrigan, with her impeccable wardrobe and Disney princess look, became the noble victim of the fairy tale, while Tonya, who left The school for figure skating and costume made by hand by his mother, was identified as a villain even before the incident.
"I did not want to write a conventional biopic," explains Rogers. "I felt that the story was funny, crazy and tragic, and all those things, and I wanted the script to be so, I felt that the characters in real life were reduced to one thing [in the 1994 news cycle] and I wanted I, Tonya be more nuanced than that, I felt that all the characters were very rebellious and had a wrong mind, which I thought was an interesting combination, so I wanted the script to reflect it. you can not do it in a script, like split screen and voice-overs, and in a moment the character of Allison Janney [Harding’s mother] [Harding’s mother] criticizes the script ".
Rogers wrote the script in specification to be able to maintain some control over the project and produce it himself outside the studio system.
"Like the characters in I, Tonya, was known as a single thing" Rogers says of his career. "What I never thought was fair, I've been lucky enough to make movies, but many times they're very diluted versions of what I wrote, I was known as the guy who writes romantic comedy, but that's not all I am, obviously." .
During the three-year process of bringing this story to the screen, Rogers says the most complicated aspect was securing the rights to life of Harding and Gillooly.
"Jeff did not want to take any money," says Rogers, explaining that Harding's ex-husband still feels guilty for orchestrating the chain of events that resulted in the US Figure Skating Association. UU He forbade Harding for life. "She said she would never have thought about calling a death threat [on Kerrigan] and she was a great skater and they threw her out, and he does not want to take advantage of her."
"He took [Harding]] a while because he does not have much money, and he wanted someone [negotiate] to do it for free," says Rogers. Once he finally secured the rights to life, the screenwriter flew back to Oregon and interviewed Harding and Gillooly more intensely, recording more memories of both that were surprisingly, comically opposed to each other.
"For me, that's what the film is about – the things we tell ourselves to be able to live with ourselves, and how we change the narrative, and then we want that to be the narrative. documentary style, because they're all trying to change the narrative, you know? "
The Harding-Kerrigan event coincided with the start of the 24-hour news cycle, and the media fed the audience with their own narrative, with Harding as the villain and Kerrigan the princess, which even Rogers bought at that time.
"In that sense, it's a warning story," explains Rogers. "I just wanted everyone who hates in the comments section, who hates so randomly, to realize that it's about people, it's not just anecdotes … I'm not saying that Tonya is the hero or nobody is the villain All I really wanted to say is that they are human, and there is more to the story than you think. "
"It's a funny story, a tragic story, a crazy story, it's true, depending on your point of view," says Rogers, explaining that there was only one issue that Harding and Gillooly agreed on: the mother from Harding, LaVona, which appears portrayed in Yo, Tonya as verbally and emotionally abusive to Tonya.
"I did not interview LaVona real, because Tonya did not know if she was alive or dead," says Rogers, who wrote the role of her lifelong friend Allison Janney. "As soon as there was heat in the script, I said," Allison Janney is playing the part I wrote to her, and I want it in writing or it's a deciding factor. "I kind of said that before Allison agreed to do paper ".
When he finally introduced Janney to the paper, he said: "I wrote this part for you, you will have a bold haircut, you will have these big glasses, you will have a fur coat and a bird on your shoulder." Janney's response: "Great."
Rogers also sent the script to Harding. read. I only had one note: "There were too many curses."
Margot Robbie became immediately interested in the script, and met with Rogers about playing Harding and producing the film through his production company LuckyChap. The screenwriter notes that when he told Robbie about his interviews with Harding, "his eyes had this intense focus all of a sudden," the same intense focus that Harding had in his eyes when he spoke of the triple axel. (To this day, Harding is one of eight women who successfully achieved triple axel in international competitions, because the producers could not find a double body capable of physically landing in the chamber, the triple axel in . ] Yo, Tonya was recreated with special effects.) "I just thought," Wow, that's another signal. "
Craig Gillespie ( Lars and the real girl ) joined Yo, Tonya who according to Rogers had a budget of $ 11 million – and his scenes of 260 and something in 31 days. "Because we did not have a lot of money, it made us feel bad, and I think that disjointed quality reflects the characters," says Rogers.
When Harding saw the film for the first time, the former figure skater laughed and cried. "There were things that he did not like," says Rogers. "Mostly, things that were told from Jeff's point of view, but she sent me an email twice, thanking me."
The most important frame of the film for Harding comes to an end, once she finishes her skating career and has been excluded from skating in the US. UU In fact, it has nothing to do with skating at all. It is a final presentation card, once the fate of all the key characters has been revealed, which simply says: "Tonya wants you to know she is a good mother".
Speaking of how that letter came about, Rogers says that Harding asked during his interviews, "How do you want people to remember you?"
"She said, 'I want people to know that I'm a good mother,'" she says. "She broke the cycle of violence and became the mother she never had, which is really moving towards me, here is a girl who was always looking for love in her life, and a family And I think she finally got it"