I, Tonya star Allison Janney: I had to find the humanity of a 'monster mum'

When US actress Allison Janney dressed up in a cheap fur coat, put a parakeet on her shoulder, and chain-smoked and swore through figure-skating movie I, Tonya, it was the stars coming into alignment for her.

Not only was the part of the hard-driving mother of US skater Tonya Harding written expressly for Janney, it took her back to a world she knows intimately.

Figure skating was Janney's childhood passion and although she does not perform any double axels in the movie, the role has already nabbed the former star of TV drama The West Wing her first Oscar nomination, for Best Supporting Actress.

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Janney has already won a Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild award for it.

"I had dreams of being an Olympic figure skater.

"I had a coach, I worked really hard and I trained early in the morning and after school and I was obsessed with it.

"I was quite graceful on the ice but I'm six feet tall and ultimately didn't think I was going to be able to do the jumps that were required to go to the Olympics," Janney, 58, said.

Opening here on Feb 1, dark comedy I, Tonya is based on the life of Harding (played by Margot Robbie) and the 1994 attack on her Olympic rival Nancy Kerrigan.

Kerrigan was clubbed in the thigh in an attack orchestrated by Harding's ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, that led to Harding being banned for life from the US Figure Skating Association.

Janney plays LaVona Harding, who bullies and beats her young daughter to reach the top of a sport.

"She is sort of a monster on the page and I had to find her humanity, and what she wanted in life.

"I think if you asked LaVona, she would say she gave her daughter an incredible upbringing and made her a champion," Janney said.


While Robbie and screenwriter Steven Rogers met the real-life Harding and Gillooly, Janney had little to go on to play LaVona except for a 1980s student documentary.

"I could see so much defensiveness in her and denial about not caring for her daughter...

"She sort of brushed it off in a way that made me think 'Wow. She does care,'" said Janney. - REUTERS