COVER STORY

Margot Robbie Sides with Tonya Harding “100 Percent:” ‘She Was a Misfit’

Margot Robbie may be headed towards her first Oscar nod for playing Tonya Harding, a character, she admits in W’s November cover story, she relished playing.


Photographs by Craig McDean, Styled by Melanie Ward

When Margot Robbie read the script for I, Tonya, a biopic of the notorious ice skater Tonya Harding, she assumed the story was complete fiction. “I thought the writer was so quirky and crazy to come up with this stuff,” she told me, still looking a bit astonished by the strange twists in Harding’s life. (In 1994, the skater was famously implicated in a plot to take down her nemesis Nancy Kerrigan after a man attacked Kerrigan with a baton.) We were on location for the W shoot in Snug Harbor, a bucolic Staten Island enclave founded in the early 1800s as a haven for old sailors. There was something appealingly run-down and shabby about the setting, but Robbie, who is 27, is a glow-y girl: With blond hair and an engaged manner, she can’t help but shine.

Which is why it is so remarkable that Robbie was able to completely disappear into Harding’s decidedly darker persona. A self-described redneck from Oregon, Harding was the antithesis of the traditional superstar figure skater. She was rough and flashy, and her skating was powerful and athletic rather than graceful and balletic. Harding’s ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, and her bodyguard, Shawn Eckardt, were ultimately charged with criminal conspiracy to commit assault. While Kerrigan recovered from her injuries in time to compete in the ’94 Olympics, the incident propelled Harding to tabloid infamy and effectively ended her skating career.

“I was 4 years old and living in Australia at the time,” Robbie said. “The news did reach Australia, but I didn’t know about it.”

Riveted by the script, Robbie immediately agreed to star in and produce the film—despite that fact that she had never figure skated in her life. “I did four months of training, five days a week, four hours a day,” she recalled. “On Christmas Eve, I was at the rink. And now I actually really miss it. I kept my ice skates—but I said goodbye to a whole world of pain that I didn’t realize came along with figure skating.”

Not only did Robbie have to be believable on the ice, she also had to take on the even more difficult challenge of assuming Harding’s accent and physique. “Once I put on the wig, which altered my hairline, and bleached my eyebrows, I started to see Tonya,” Robbie said. “The hardest part was losing my natural laugh. It needed to be Tonya’s laugh. I couldn’t do a triple axel like Tonya, but I was able to master her laugh.”

Margot Robbie Plays It Cool on W Magazine’s Newest Cover

Margot Robbie wears a Calvin Klein 205W39NYC shirt. Read the complete interview here.

Photographs by Craig McDean, Styled by Melanie Ward

Margot Robbie wears a Gucci jacket; Zadig & Voltaire shirt; Chloé pants; Converse shoes; her own ring.

Photographs by Craig McDean, Styled by Melanie Ward

Céline jacket, pants, and boots; Linder shirt. Beauty note: Get into scrubs with Neutrogena Hydro Boost Exfoliating Cleanser.

Photographs by Craig McDean, Styled by Melanie Ward

Gucci shirt; Rag & Bone pants. Beauty note: You’ll want to roll up your 
sleeves thanks to Calvin Klein Deep Euphoria Body Lotion.

Photographs by Craig McDean, Styled by Melanie Ward

Isabel Marant jacket and pants; Joseph shirt; Louis Vuitton boots.

Photographs by Craig McDean, Styled by Melanie Ward

Dondup coat and pants; Acne Studios shirt; Golden Goose Deluxe Brand boots; her own ring. Beauty note: For a spotless complexion, try Lancôme Advanced Génifique Sensitive Serum.

Photographs by Craig McDean, Styled by Melanie Ward

Nili Lotan jumpsuit; Gucci shirt. Beauty note: Keep strands supple with Pantene Pro-V Sheer Volume Foam Conditioner.

Photographs by Craig McDean, Styled by Melanie Ward

Nili Lotan jumpsuit; Gucci shirt; Louis Vuitton boots.

Photographs by Craig McDean, Styled by Melanie Ward

“Margot Robbie wears a Nili Lotan jumpsuit; Gucci shirt; Louis Vuitton shoes.”

Photographs by Craig McDean, Styled by Melanie Ward; Hair by Duffy at Streeters; makeup by Mark Carrasquillo for Nars at Streeters; manicure by Megumi Yamamoto for Chanel at Susan Price NYC. Set design by Piers Hanmer. retouching by Dtouch NY; Executive producer: Sarah MAxwell at Prodn; Producer: Zara Walsh; Digital technician: Nicholas Ong; Photography assistants: Nick Brinley, Maru Teppei, Peter Duong, Will TAkahashi; fashion assistants: Fiona Green, Lucas Swanson, Ashleigh Murphy; Production Manager: Tyler STrawhecker; Production assistants: Taryn Kelly, Darin BUrch, Mitch Baker, Brian Batista
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Harding’s life, by her own account, was violent: In the film, her mother (played brilliantly by Allison Janney) physically abuses her, as does Gillooly (played by Sebastian Stan). “I worried that after some of the fight scenes we would never win the audience back,” Robbie told me. “When we screened the film at the Toronto International Film Festival, the whole audience gasped when Gillooly hit her. But six minutes later, he did something kind, and the audience went, ‘Ahhh!’ ”

Robbie paused. “That was interesting to me, and explains something about the insidious nature of domestic violence: The audience forgave him so quickly. So how could you blame Tonya for going back to him?”

Before filming began, Robbie and her director, Craig Gillespie, flew to Portland, Oregon, to meet Harding in person. “I wanted there to be a clear distinction between the ‘real’ Tonya and the one I would be playing,” Robbie explained, adding that she had already made up her mind as to how she would approach the character. “I didn’t want to sugarcoat her,” she said. I asked Robbie whether or not she believes Harding was innocent. “In the beginning, I wasn’t really sure. There were things that didn’t add up. Facts were muddled.” She smiled. “But the more I became Tonya, the more I saw things from her point of view. I’m on her side 100 percent. 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.”

20 of Margot Robbie’s Best Hair & Makeup Moments: From Short Hair to Brown Hair

Robbie gets colorful at the London premiere of Goodbye Christopher Robin pairing her wet waves with a vibrant golden yellow smokey eye and a soft pink lip.

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Opting for a sleek, side-parted bob with a subtle shimmery smokey eye, Margot attends the I, Tonya premiere during the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival.

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At the Marie Claire’s Image Maker Awards 2017, Robbie rocks the ultimate beachy waves with a navy blue smoky eye.

Photo by Getty.

At the 2016 Costume Institute Gala, Robbie wore her long, blonde locks in loose waves with radiant skin.

Photo by Getty.

At the 88th Annual Academy Awards in 2016, Robbie wore her shoulder-length loose waves with a subtle smoky eye and a nude lip.

Photo by Getty.

At the Suicide Squad London premiere in 2016, Robbie wore her hair in a boho chic, middle-parted loose braid.

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At the Los Angeles premiere of Focus in 2015, Margot Robbie’s short hair is swept back in a sleek do with a light contour on the cheekbones.

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Robbie paired her blonde blob with a matte red lip and bold brows in 2015.

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In 2015,, Robbie wore her bright blonde locks in middle-parted beachy waves with luminous skin.

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Looking radiant at the 71st Annual Golden Globe Awards in 2014, Robbie looked timeless with her hair in an elegant up do.

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Margot Robbie’s brown hair falls in soft curls in 2014.

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AT the 19th Annual Critics’ Choice Movie Awards in 2014, the Australian beauty wore her shoulder-length locks in tousled waves with a sleek, jade green cat eye.

Photo by Getty.

With her auburn red locks and a luminous glow, Robbie attended the One For The Boys charity ball in 2014.

Photo by Getty.

At the 3rd annual Australians in Film Awards in 2014, Robbie wore her hair in a chic, minimal French braided up do with a satin nude lip.

Photo by Getty.

Opting for an edgier look at the awarding of the 2014 Hugo Boss Prize event, Robbie wores a sleek, side-parted pony with a vibrant red lip.

Photo by Getty.

Wearing her hair in a playful French braid with a glossy, pink lip, Robbie attended the world premiere of About Time in London in 2013.

Photo by Getty.

Attending the The Wolf Of Wall Street New York premiere, Robbie wore her shoulder-length locks swept over in tousled curls with a dark smokey eye.

Photo by Getty.

At the 2011 Australians In Film Breakthrough Awards, Robbie debuted her brunette locks in a sleek low pony with a glossy, mauve lip.

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At the My Week With Marilyn New York premiere, Robbie kept her look simple wearing her tousled bob with a glossy nude lip.

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Arriving at the Australian Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards 2009, actress Margot Robbie looked retro with her blonde locks swept back with a chic white headband.

Photo by Getty.
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Lynn Hirschberg: Tonya Harding went on to become a boxer. Did you have to learn that sport too?

Margot Robbie: No. I’d already done heaps of boxing training to play Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad. So the boxing wasn’t an issue. I had done a lot of stunts in that film, and I thought, I can pick up things fairly quickly with the right training—I should have this ice-skating thing down in no time. I didn’t realize how extremely difficult it is. There’s no padding when you hit the ice. Our choreographer was never sympathetic. When I fell, she was like, “Come on, get up. Let’s go!” One time I had a huge fall, and she said, “That was a real skater fall, and you can have a minute.” I was so proud, with tears streaming down my face.

Did you enjoy wearing Tonya’s trashy skating costumes?

We replicated every single one. A lot of people have nostalgia for that Tonya Harding period. She sewed her own costumes! And during filming, I sewed the bow on my costume. We had all the actual footage—you couldn’t invent this stuff. In an interview, Tonya’s mom, LaVona, wore a fur coat with an actual bird sitting on her shoulder. If we proposed that idea, people would say, “That’s ridiculous.” But that’s what they actually wore.

Did you go out on Halloween last year? Did you see all of the Harley Quinns?

Yes! A lot of my friends dressed up as Harley Quinn for Halloween. When they started texting me, “What did the tattoo on your right thigh say?” I really thought they were taking the piss. I was like, “Ha ha.” But they wrote back, “No, seriously, we are dressing as Harley for Halloween!” And so many guys dressed up as her, too, which is my favorite thing. Every Halloween I dress as a guy character because they are always the most fun. From Day One, I never got the Halloween slutty costumes. I went out as Jason from Friday the 13th, with my jumpsuit and machete. I was in New York that year, and it was snowing. I thought, Surely, everybody is going to cover up. But every other woman was in lingerie. My favorite costume, though, was James Franco’s character in Spring Breakers. I did my hair in cornrows, put on a Hawaiian shirt and a gold grill on my teeth. I nailed it! I’ve always dressed up as guy characters, so to think that guys are now trying to take on Harley because she’s the coolest and the craziest—that’s pretty awesome.

You have another film, Goodbye Christopher Robin, about A.A. Milne, the creator of Winnie the Pooh. You are much more like a villain in that film than you are in I, Tonya.

My character in Christopher Robin is not meant to be the bad guy, but she does have some less than redeemable qualities. I play Christopher’s mom, Daphne Milne, a very glamorous, aristocratic English woman in the 1930s. If she were living today, she’d be working in fashion. A CEO of a fashion house or something. She’s a hustler. But then she was the wife of an author. So she kept her husband on track, and they built this little Winnie the Pooh empire. Inadvertently, she ends up ruining her son’s childhood.

Daphne and Tonya could not be more dissimilar!

I understand them both, but I miss Tonya more. Some characters, like Daphne, I can let go of very quickly. But not Tonya. I’m still not done with her. I found it hard to shake her off.

Margot Robbie Is Coming Into Her Own on the Red Carpet

Margot Robbie in Gucci in New York, New York, July 2016.

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Margot Robbie in Gucci at the Golden Globes in Beverly Hills, California, January 2014.

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Margot Robbie in a Blumarine jumpsuit and Alexander McQueen coat at a special screening of Focus in London, England, February 2015.

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Margot Robbie in Saint Laurent at the 87th annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California, February 2015.

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Margot Robbie in Christian Dior at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party in Beverly Hills, California, February 2015.

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Margot Robbie front row at Givenchy in New York, New York, September 2015.

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Margot Robbie in Tom Ford at the 88th annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California, February 2016.

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Margot Robbie in Calvin Klein at the Met Gala for “Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology” in New York, May 2016.

FilmMagic

Margot Robbie in Gucci at the premiere of The Legend of Tarzan in Hollywood, California, June 2016.

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Margot Robbie in Proenza Schouler at a photocall for The Legend of Tarzan in London, England, July 2016.

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Margot Robbie in Miu Miu at the European premiere of The Legend of Tarzan in London, England, July 2016.

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Margot Robbie at the photo call for Peter Rabbit at The London Hotel on February 2, 2018 in West Hollywood, California.

Margot Robbie at the world premiere of Goodbye Christopher Robin at Odeon Leicester Square on September 20, 2017 in London, England.

Margot Robbie at the Chanel Haute Couture Fall/Winter 2019 2020 show as part of Paris Fashion Week on July 02, 2019 in Paris, France.

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Margot Robbie at the European Premiere of Mary Queen of Scots at Cineworld Leicester Square on December 10, 2018 in London, England.

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Margot Robbie at the 90th Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood & Highland Center on March 4, 2018 in Hollywood, California.

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Margot Robbie at the EE British Academy Film Awards (BAFTAs) held at Royal Albert Hall on February 18, 2018 in London, England.

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CANNES, FRANCE – MAY 21: Margot Robbie attends the screening of “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood” during the 72nd annual Cannes Film Festival on May 21, 2019 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Mike Marsland/WireImage)

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Margot Robbie at the 2018 Vanity Fair Oscar Party on March 4, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California.

Margot Robbie at The 75th Annual Golden Globe Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 7, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California.

Margot Robbie at the Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood photo call in London at The Corinthia Hotel on July 31, 2019 in London, England.

Margot Robbie at the Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood UK premiere at the Odeon Luxe Leicester Square on July 30, 2019 in London, England.

Margot Robbie at the 77th Annual Golden Globe Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 05, 2020 in Beverly Hills, California.

Margot Robbie at the Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation Of One Harley Quinn World Premiere at the BFI IMAX on January 29, 2020 in London, England.

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Related: If I, Tonya Proves Anything, It’s That Margot Robbie Could Be Headed Towards Her First Oscar Nomination

Watch: Margot Robbie Auditions for Marlon Brando’s Role in “On the Waterfront”