This week, the cast of “I, Tonya” took New York by storm.
The film was nominated for three IFP Gotham Awards: Best Feature, Best Actress (Margot Robbie) and Gotham Audience Award. On Tuesday, the cast attended the film’s New York premiere at Village East Cinema. Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Paul Walter Hauser, Craig Gillespie (director), Steven Rogers (writer) and Tom Quinn, NEON (Founder, CEO) all walked the pink carpet. The evening was presented by CALVIN KLEIN, NEON and 30WEST. Check out our exclusive interview with one of the film’s stars Paul Walter Hauser:
How did you get involved with this project?
Paul Walter Hauser: You know what, this project came to me while I was shooting a pilot in Vancouver and I thought for sure they were going to give this to some big, famous actor and for some reason they settled on me and I had the time of my life making it.
What about the script resonated with you?
Paul Walter Hauser: It was so funny, even the tragic moments they handled it with some levity and a great sense of humor. I think it plays almost like a Christopher Guest film or a David O. Russell film or a Coen brothers film. It’s got a quirky sense of humor and it handles the tragic and dramatic stuff really well.
You usually do stand up comedy, this was a big departure from what you usually do. Talk about exploring different facets of acting.
Paul Walter Hauser: I come from a comedy background, stand up and improv and this is sort of an extension of that where I get to be funny but I’m really playing a role like anything else. I wasn’t trying to be funny I was just trying to be real. And the funny just comes from the page, the script is that good.
What about the story of Tonya most surprised you while doing this movie?
Paul Walter Hauser: I didn’t know she came from such a tragic, broken upbringing and that kind of broke my heart and explains some of why she couldn’t handle the fame and couldn’t handle that stage of the game. She was surrounded by acidic, selfish people. I think that’s also why she failed ultimately. It wasn’t her, it was who she kept company with.
How did you go about bringing Shawn Eckhardt to life?
Paul Walter Hauser: I did not get to meet the real Shawn Eckhardt, he passed away ten years ago unfortunately. But, you know there were some YouTube clips and there was some source material so I got to tap into that and kind of find my way into the character as best as I could.
It was incredible seeing the side by sides at the end with your performance and real footage of Shawn.
Paul Walter Hauser: Oh that’s great. Good. When I saw the film at the Toronto International Film Festival I hadn’t seen it yet and I saw they did that with the clips at the end in the credits and I thought that was so cool. It is fun to put them next to each other.
How was working with this awesome cast?
Paul Walter Hauser: It was a dream come true and that sounds like something you just spit out, you have to say when you’re doing this type of thing but I really mean it! Margot, Sebastian, Allison, Julianne, everybody, they care so much about what they do and then they’re also good people, so on and off screen it really felt like a family, it was awesome.
How much of skating did Margot actually do?
Paul Walter Hauser: Real skating? I think she did a good portion of the non trickery stuff. I don’t think she was doing the flippy stuff. When you see her on the ice just skating around the rink or setting up for the big moves that is definitely Margot.
Did you remember the story at all?
Paul Walter Hauser: I was born in 1986 so I was a little kid coming home from school. The after school programing in my home was Ricki Lake, Oprah Winfrey, little bit of local news, and that story was very prevalent so I remember it. But, many [probably] feel the same way as me, I don’t remember the details so our movie will give that final timeline of details which people are hoping to see.
Were you surprised how sympathetic it was? That was one of the best things about the film.
Paul Walter Hauser: Yeah. I think a film like this you go in expecting one thing and then you kind of meet yourself in the middle where you have to look at the humanity of somebody that you formerly put into this box and sort of made up your mind about. There’s a documentary on Netflix called Mitt, it’s a Mitt Romney documentary and I was never a fan of Mitt Romney but watching the film, what it does do is it humanizes him. Suddenly, whether you like him or not, you look at him different. I think our film does the same thing. You are going to look at all of these people in a totally new light.
Did you meet Tonya by any chance?
Paul Walter Hauser: I haven’t gotten to. I heard I am going to meet her at the LA premiere so I’m pretty geeked up about that.
How was working with the director?
Paul Walter Hauser: Craig Gillespie is so creative and so focused and does his homework. I think because he does so much homework and pre-production work that when he shows up he is kind of light and airy, and malleable and fluffy, and funny and cool. He made it a very easy set to collaborate on. He made everyone really comfortable.
Was there any improv or was it all in the script?
Paul Walter Hauser: Well, the script is flawless. It really is. I read it so many times even in the audition phase cause I just enjoyed reading it. But yeah, there are little moments, I won’t say which but there are little moments throughout the film where we were definitely playing around or doing a little bit of improvisation. I have an improv and stand up comedy background so I’m always throwing little bits in there, little things. Yeah.
How much did you actually have to eat?
Paul Walter Hauser: Not too much but when I ate, I definitely dove in. I definitely spared no expense licking my fingers, dipping my food into ranch dressing and condiments. I tried to make him pretty slobbish. I put on 25 to 30 pounds for the role. I’m still taking it off. It’s easier to put on then it is to take off but it was a fun role to play. I never met the guy but I hope I did him justice and I think those that haven’t seen the film yet, I think they are in for a real treat.
What do you hope people will take away from the film?
Paul Walter Hauser: I hope that people have a heart for Tonya and give her some credit for what she did and I hope that people judge celebrities less. I’m not a celebrity myself, I’m just breaking into this stuff, but being a celebrity has its own problems. This is before social media and all that garbage, so I can’t imagine what Tonya Harding would go through nowadays if this happened. It’d be plastered everywhere. It’d be insane.
Ricky Russert plays Shane Stant in the film.
You’re a young guy, did you actually know the story?
Ricky Russert: Yeah, actually I did. My sister followed the Olympics a lot, I was about 10 when it all took place, so yeah, I knew quite a bit. My sister was obsessed with Tonya Harding.
I liked that the movie turns the story kind of on its head and makes her more sympathetic than we were used to seeing her back in the day. Was that In your mind at all?
Ricky Russert: No, ’cause you don’t really know anything other than what the media has told you and obviously that was 27 years ago. So, you don’t really know the full details and anyone else’s side of the story so with the film and Steven’s writing you really dig into what Tonya’s side was and Jeff so you get a little bit of a different picture, a little further detail into her life growing up, which no one really knew much about.
The film hits theaters Dec. 8.