There are a few tried-and-true techniques in the movie industry that can all but guarantee an actor starts down the road to award season. One could embody a real life character, preferably one who is tormented or a the very least suffered some sort of tragedy, like Natalie Portman in Jackie.
They could learn an impressive new skill that proves their dedication like Miles Teller's drums in Whiplash or Emma Stone's tap-dancing in La La Land. You could undergo a dramatic and very unflattering transformation on par with Charlize Theron in Monster.
You could be Meryl Streep in literally anything Meryl Street has done.
This season, Margot Robbie has done all of that. (Except for the Meryl stuff).
The actress, who up until this point has been a fantastic actress relegated to parts like Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad or Jane in Tarzan, takes on the role of a lifetime as the infamous Tonya Harding in I, Tonya. The flick, which has been getting rave reviews and early Oscar buzz aplenty ever since it debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival, is a darkly hilarious, carefully-told biopic.
It portrays Harding's rough upbringing from a variety of points-of-view, like that of her brash, surly and often abusive mother (played spectacularly by Allison Janney, quite possibly the only actor in the world who could make a grown woman shouting four-letter-words at four-year-old ice skaters funny enough to make an entire theater erupt in laughter), her on-and-off husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan in a role that should certainly help him soar past his Avengers gigs) and Tonya herself.
While the opening scenes introduce the audience to the backward world they're about to step into with a young Tonya (a "soft four," as Janney described her age) auditioning at the skating rink and training alongside girls twice her age and with twice her poise.
The bulk of the story revolves around exactly what you came for: The Incident. (And yes, that's really what they call it.) It details Harding's overblown rivalry with Nancy Kerrigan, her husband Jeff's desperation to give her a leg up in the competition and the mind-boggling yet totally hilarious of Shawn Eckardt, the friend who supposedly orchestrated the entire attack.
In an effort to prepare the audience for the absurdities to come, the flick flashes a warning on the screen: "Based on irony-free, wildly contradictory interviews."
The first thing you should know about Margot Robbie in I, Tonya is that she looks insane. In a good way. She embodies Tonya so deeply, to say nothing of the physical transformation she went through (there are braces at one point, a wardrobe straight out of a Halloween costume and hair that needs to be seen to be believed). As Sebastian Stan told E! News at the TIFF premiere, it was truly bizarre.
"It really clicked for me when I was watching Tonya's interviews on YouTube," he said of Robbie's makeunder. "They're almost identical. There is a scene at Lillehammer where her skate wasn't working and I saw Margot do that and I go, oh my God, that's Tonya right there."
Another thing you should know about Margot Robbie in I, Tonya is that she really did learn to skate. Sure, a body double is doing that triple axel, but she performs a lot more of the moves than you would expect. Janney, who herself was a competitive skater as a child, praised her commitment to the training, saying "Margot is incredible for what she accomplished."
Stan did the same, pointing out that during the lead-up to filming and on set, she got hurt quite a bit. "She was very brave about the skating," he added.
(Robbie, for her part, took the modest route, admitting only, "I think I'm pretty decent now.")
Lastly, you should know that Margot Robbie is phenomenal in I, Tonya. From the American accent to the inner torment of a girl raised on the wrong side of the tracks and forced into a world she would never truly be accepted in, she nailed all of it. A lot of the pre-award season praise that's being sent the movie's way is directed towards her—and rightfully so.
To review this movie is to constantly be scribbling lines that Robbie delivers searingly well. "Nancy gets hit one time and the whole world sh--ts," she says while flailing a cigarette.
"I was the second most-known person behind Bill Clinton," she announces in the most impossibly sincere tone ever.
"It was like being abused again, only this time it was by you," she says softly, in a heartbreaking appraisal of her treatment by the media.
Of course, even better than getting the role of a lifetime is creating the role of a lifetime for yourself: Robbie produced the film alongside her husband Tom Ackerley. She worked with the screenwriter, who put together the script after the aforementioned interviews with Harding in Portland (you know, the non-ironic ones), as well as the director to keep the tone, which described as wanting to be tragic, sad, funny and bizarre all at once.
"There's an added responsibility to portraying a real person," she said of the process. "And I didn't want to upset anyone. I also wanted to do their story justice and not shy away from anything. I was a bit nervous."
And that, ladies and gentleman, is modesty.