The movie serves up a freewheeling portrait of Tonya Harding, but for the pivotal attack on her rival ice skater, Tatiana S. Riegel slowed the movie down to ramp up the tension.
The key sequence in I, Tonya, when Shane Stant, a thug for hire played by Ricky Russert, whacks Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver) is a stylistic departure from most of the rest of the movie, which stars Margot Robbie as disgraced figure skater Tonya Harding. Director Craig Gillespie mostly plays fast and loose, using documentary-style interviews with the principal characters and lots of voiceover, plus moments that break the fourth wall — but for the attack itself, he wanted a suspenseful sequence that plays out in real time.
“We take the time to walk with him through the arena past everyone, to build tension, suspense and to watch this guy do what he unbelievably did — not just go up and hit Nancy Kerrigan, but also his escape,” explains film editor Tatiana S. Riegel, an Oscar nominee for her work on the film, which also has won the American Cinema Editors’ Eddie Award for best-edited comedy feature. The challenge, she says, was creating that sense of real time: “It took some time for him to walk in, walk through the stadium, then to find her,” she says, noting that Stant wasn’t even sure what Kerrigan looked like. During the scene, he has to ask a spectator to point her out.
Then there’s his escape from the Cobo Arena in Detroit, when he encounters a locked glass door, which he proceeds to break with his head. “When we would screen it, people were always amazed that he hit his head on the glass,” Riegel says. “The absurdity is built in; what I really wanted to do was cut for reality and build the tension.”
In the end, some of the lead-up footage was cut. “They shot a bit more — he looks in, sees other skaters warming up. But it was too time-consuming and it deflated the scene,” Riegel explains. “We had to keep it short enough to keep it interesting, but long enough to build the tension.”
This story first appeared in the Feb. 14 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.