It takes a lot to play a world class athlete in Hollywood, let alone one who has been a mainstay in pop culture for decades. For Margot Robbie, becoming Tonya Harding for her new film I, Tonya required more than just a little training. Before I, Tonya, Margot Robbie could not ice skate, so playing the Olympic athlete required a lot of behind-the-scenes training, four months' worth to be exact. Robbie essentially had to learn from scratch, so it won't surprise any athlete to learn that even a rigorous five-days-a-week training schedule wasn't enough to turn her into Harding.
Harding's professional ice skating career ended in disgrace after she was implicated in the plot to sabotage her skating teammate and rival Nancy Kerrigan, but before the scandal she was largely considered one of the best in the world. In 1991, she was ranked first in the country, winning the U.S. Championships, after landing the first triple axel in competition. Needless to say, she was no novice. Olympic athletes don't just pop up overnight, they are trained over a lifetime. In fact, Harding's childhood commitment to the sport is heavily detailed in the film.
Robbie, however, didn't grow up ice skating. Other than a brief stint playing ice hockey, she was a newbie. "I grew up... in Australia! No, I don't know how to ice skate, we didn't do that," she said in a recent interview with Entertainment Tonight.
The hardest part of training and filming the ice skating for Robbie and director Craig Gillespie was when it came time to tackle Harding's signature move: the triple axel. When Harding landed the move in 1991 at the U.S. Championships, she immediately became a super star in the rink. She was just the second female ice skater ever to nail a triple axel in competition, and, according to a The New York Times, she had been practicing the move for seven years. No amount of training could have prepared Robbie to even attempt such a trick on the ice. "Even if I had 10 years to practice, I could never do a triple axel. I needed help," Robbie told reporters at the Toronto International Film Festival, via Popsugar.
At first, Robbie and Gillespie assumed they would be able to find an ice skating double for the actor to shoot the particularly difficult move. But, according to Vanity Fair, after being told that only a handful of women had ever even performed the move in competition, making finding a skating double that could pass for Harding near impossible, they resorted to visual effects. "I don't think I ever really appreciated [her talent] until we were figuring out how we were going to shoot the triple axel in the film," Robbie told the magazine. So, Robbie didn't emerge from filming I, Tonya with Olympic-level ice skating skills, but she did get some Olympic-worthy advice from Harding herself. "She was like, 'Just do sit ups.' So many sit ups," Robbie told People.
Robbie wasn't the only one who had to learn how to ice skate as Harding for I, Tonya. Mckenna Grace, who plays young Harding in the film, also had to learn to skate for the role. "Physically, it was the most challenging role I've ever done before because I had to learn to ice skate, and I've never done ice skating before," Grace said in an interview with The Boston Globe. "I'd fall and I was all beaten up but I had to get up and keep trying."
At the end of the day, all of Grace and Robbie's hard work in the rink paid off. I, Tonya is already generating some Oscar buzz, and if all goes well, Robbie should be skating off into awards season come 2018.