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Margot Robbie Will Play Tonya Harding. Here’s a Brief History of This Legendary Role.

Margot Robbie at the 2016 Oscars.

Jean-Baptiste Lacroix/AFP/Getty Images

Margot Robbie will be playing Tonya Harding in a film called, naturally, I, Tonya, the website Deadline reported Monday. The script, by Kate & Leopold writer Steven Rogers, has no director attached yet, but, per Deadline, Robbie is building the project around herself. If I, Tonya gets made, Robbie will join a long line of actresses who have played the disgraced figure skater on stage and screen. Here are just a few of the legendary performances that defined one of the toughest roles any actor can face:

Melanie Hutsell, Saturday Night Live, 1994:

The first actor to take on the role of America’s Lady Macbeth was naturally going to be on Saturday Night Live, and Melanie Hutsell was up to the challenge. In her first appearance, Hutsell’s Tonya doesn’t speak, she just attacks John Wayne Bobbitt (Mike Myers) with a pipe. It’s a very kinetic performance, but not, perhaps, the most nuanced. About a month later, she took the character further in the clip above, appearing on a talk show hosted by the Menendez brothers’ lawyer Leslie Abramson (Julia Sweeney). Hutsell holds the distinction of being the only actress to portray a fictional Tonya Harding with both Golden Globe nominee Patrick Stewart and real-life Harding nemesis Nancy Kerrigan.

Tina Yothers, Spunk: The Tonya Harding Story, 1994:

This Comedy Central short aired during the actual 1994 Olympics, giving Yothers little time to prepare for the role, and unfortunately, it shows. Although Spunk: The Tonya Harding Story is undeniably historically important—Yothers makes the first attempt to craft a sympathetic Tonya Harding—it holds little for modern viewers. Still, it’s one of the many performances Robbie will need to draw inspiration from for I, Tonya.

Alexandra Powers, Tonya & Nancy: The Inside Story, 1994:

It wouldn’t be fair to judge a performance based on an incomplete YouTube clip with sound synchronization issues—much less one dubbed in Hungarian—but some conclusions can be drawn from the historical record. When this made-for-TV quickie premiered on NBC, Tom Shales called it “a pitiful and monumentally tedious account of that big news story all America is sick to death of.” Little did he know America’s love affair with Tonya Harding had just begun.

Amy Poehler, Saturday Night Live, 2002:

Harding’s appearance on Weekend Update was occasioned by her bout with Paula Jones on Fox’s Celebrity Boxing. But it isn’t Poehler’s best impersonation by a long shot; she leans hard on white trash stereotypes and never really captures her elusive subject. Where is the heart?

Jennifer Hutchins, Infamous, 2004:

Jennifer Hutchins in 2000.


No footage seems be available online of Jennifer Hutchins’ portrayal of the notorious ice skater, but the segment of E’s celebrity crime docudrama dedicated to Tonya Harding’s story was called “Nancy Kerrigan,” which probably tips the show’s hand. The same episode also featured the stories of Dennis Rodman and David Spade, so there’s no telling how many amazing performances are waiting to be rediscovered. Film archivists take note.

Various actors, Tonya & Nancy: The Opera, 2006:

Novelist Elizabeth Searle was the first to see that the operatic story of Tonya Harding might best be approached through an actual opera. Tonya & Nancy: The Opera, with a libretto by Searle and music by Abigail Al Doory Cross, premiered in 2006 in Boston. Since then, a number of actors have put on the fatal skates in productions across the country. It is the first opera in which the chorus sings a repeated refrain of “Gillooly,” and it will probably also be the last.

Tracy McDowell: Tonya & Nancy: The Rock Opera, 2015:

Two years after Tonya & Nancy: The Opera, Searle reinvented the show as a rock opera, with music by Michael Teoli. For its 2008 premiere in Portland, Oregon, the book was by Searle and Don Horn; for a 2011 production, Searle rewrote the book solo. Most recently, actress Tracy McDowell played Harding at the 2015 New York Musical Festival. Above, she dives deep into the skater’s troubled past with a performance of “Watch Your Back.” It’s advice any actor tackling the storied role of Tonya Harding would do well to take.