Seven-time Emmy Award winner Allison Janney is on the fast track to winning her first Academy Award for her role in I, Tonya. The versatile actress plays Tonya Harding’s estranged mother LaVona Fay Golden in the celebrated film written by Steven Rogers. We caught up with Janney to chat about everything from make up to finding humanity in Tonya Harding.
On her initial thoughts after reading the script for I, Tonya
When I read the script, I thought, “I love the script.” I love how it moved and told everyone’s point of view. It was brilliant, and funny, and dark, and perfect. I said, “How did you come up with that look?” Such a specific look with the bird! It is crazy. He [Rogers] said, “Hold on,” and sent me the clip [from the documentary]. Truth is stranger than fiction and I loved it. Everyone loved the script so much. We had no time to shoot it; we had 31 days and so many scenes. Everyone knew it was an impossible thing to do. Everyone had to be ready. We were going to do what had to be done to get it done.
On whether she met Tonya Harding’s mother before filming I, Tonya
I was sad we couldn’t find her so I could talk to her beforehand. I had so many questions to ask a woman like that—that behaves like that. A woman who is such a monster in Tonya and Jeff’s mind—that was the only thing they agreed on—that she is an awful woman. There’s got to be her side. She has got to believe that she was a great mother. Thank god we had the documentary footage.
On physically transforming into the character of Tonya Harding’s mother
The costume designer and hair and makeup—we all worked together to create her look. My favorite part—other than the wig, glasses, and smoking cigarettes—was that I didn’t feel like a very unattractive woman. I felt very, “I don’t care what anyone thinks.” To feel like that is kind of empowering. I am so not like that; I care too much about what people think of me. It was fun to play someone who didn’t care what anyone thought of them. It was my nightmare and dream. That old age makeup was three hours of makeup. I felt like I was in a Diane Arbus picture. I thought it was so cool and that helped me.
On how her experience as a figure skater influenced her portrayal in I, Tonya
Thankfully, I started out as a figure skater. I didn’t have a long career. I wasn’t very good. I was graceful, I had ballet. I just couldn’t do the acrobatics. I could do a double salchow. I know the commitment it takes for a mother. My mother was smart enough to have me wake her up at 5 a.m. to take me to the rink in the morning. And come back after school. And knowing that, it made me understand what Tonya’s mother had to do. Skating is a very expensive sport. I know what it took. It helped me understand her side. She must have come from an abusive family. Life didn’t go her way—every corner it didn’t go her way. She saw this opportunity for herself and her daughter to have a better life.
On finding humanity in Tonya Harding while working on the film
She’s the best skater—that’s what should count. I could understand that and I could get behind it and then just find her humanity imagining the pain she must have gone through as a human being. It doesn’t matter that she doesn’t have money or class, or wears purple nail polishes and skates to ZZ Top.