For makeup department head Deborah La Mia Denaver and hairstyling department head Adruitha Lee, I, Tonya represented several formidable challenges: recreating a lead character familiar to the general public, and aging that character—and others in the cast—through various life stages. In the case of this film, the central character was champion figure skater Tonya Harding, who is seen from childhood to her late-40s in the film.
Both Denaver and Lee maintained similar approaches to their craft in undertaking I, Tonya, starring Margot Robbie as Harding. “We didn’t exactly want her to look like Tonya Harding, but capture the essence of her, staying in the period and giving her that feel,” Denaver explained. “Once we gathered all our research and met, we all agreed on the work.”
As production was centered in Atlanta, Denaver was told she was able to choose her preferred prosthetic designer, but that she needed to use local craftspeople for the daily artists who would work on the film during principal photography. “I was recommended to Vincent Van Dyke,” said Denaver of her prosthetics creator. “Vincent made some beautiful pieces. The prosthetics, teeth and braces were the first few things we photographed. I was able to hire makeup artists Teresa Vest and Bill Myer, Local 706, both based in Los Angeles who moved to Atlanta.”
With prosthetics application by Tom Floutz, the first makeup tests were executed. “We saw the most we could push her in weight gain and age,” Denaver explained. “The studio wanted us to take it back 15%—we took it back 20-22%. She wore a full neck wrap, chin, nose, cheek pieces, and eyebags which we did with a little stretch and stipple as well. Margot has a very angular face. To duplicate the essence of Tonya Harding, I wanted to give her a rounder, fuller face.”
In Lee’s hair department, she coordinated a huge effort, not only with Robbie, but with the other principal actors as well, among them, Allison Janney, as Harding’s mother, and Sebastian Stan, as Harding’s boyfriend/husband Jeff Gillooly. “All the main characters had wigs, and the doubles too,” said Lee. “To nail the look, we had a lot of research to pull from. We were trying to come as close as we could.”
Eventually, production agreed to have custom wigs made for the film. “Justin Stafford made the wigs in Los Angeles,” Lee detailed. “The only custom pieces were for Margot and her doubles. The other wigs I had in my stock—pieces and things that I had bought. Anything that needed to be colored or permed, we made them. We were quite busy on the weekends doing that.” With only a week of prep, Lee and her key hairstylist, Mary Everett, handled the large majority of hair and wigs, typically during 16-hour days. “We’d have a two-hour pre-call,” Lee described. “By the time we were putting the wigs on the doubles, one of the other actresses would come in. It was constant. Within one day, I would have Robbie go from short hair to long hair two times. Lee concluded, “We loved it- it was so much fun working with an actress like Margot.”