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Margot Robbie skates her way to the Oscars

Film & TV

Australian actress Margot Robbie has scored an Oscar nomination for ‘I, Tonya’ – but her ambitious plan to play Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding appeared headed for disaster when she first began preparing for the role.

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The 27-year-old grew up on Queensland’s Gold Coast, where white sandy beaches and surf, not ice skating rinks, were plentiful.

“No, I didn’t grow up on the ice,” Robbie says, laughing.

The fact she received a best actress nomination on Tuesday (Wednesday AEDT) for her performance in I, Tonya is testament not only to her acting talent, but also her athletic skill and drive.

It also confirms Robbie’s place as one of Hollywood’s elite, with the Australian competing against 21-time Oscar nominee and three-time winner Meryl Streep (for The Post), Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water) and Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird) at the March 4 Academy Awards.

I, Tonya director and fellow Australian Craig Gillespie admitted to initially having a few doubts about how many shots of stunt doubles and visual effects he would have to use to cover up Robbie’s lack of ice-skating experience.

Harding, a two-time Olympian, had a controversial past but she was also a phenomenal athlete who was the first American to execute a triple axel in competition.

Asked to score Robbie’s ability as an ice skater when she first took on the role, with a 10 perfection and a zero woeful, Gillespie did not hold back.

“She was a minus two,” he says.

Just five months before shooting was scheduled to begin, Gillespie sent Robbie and skating choreographer Sarah Kawahara examples of the routines he planned to use in the film.

Robbie and Kawahara then hid away and trained.

“Margot was very secretive about it and I kept saying, ‘How’s it going with the skating?’ and she said ‘Good. Good’,” Gillespie said.

“Then after about two months she texted me, ‘Hey, I’m on my outside edges’. I was like, ‘That doesn’t sound like you have gotten very far’. She said, ‘No, we’re getting there’.

“She was relentless on working on it and even when she was down in Australia right before we shot, she tracked down ice-skating rinks at Christmas and went every day while she was supposed to be on vacation.”

Gillespie said Robbie had become so skilled, most of the ice-skating scenes audiences see on screen is Robbie, not a stunt double or CGI.

Robbie was also a producer on I, Tonya, so would have received a second Oscars nod if it had been named a best picture nominee. However, it missed out in this category, with the nominations going to Call Me By Your NameDarkest HourDunkirkGet OutLady BirdPhantom ThreadThe PostThe Shape of Water, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

Overall, the Academy Awards nomination ceremony brought mixed news for Australia, with Australian editor Lee Smith also receiving a nomination for his work on World War II epic Dunkirk, but actors including Hugh Jackman, for The Greatest Showman, missing out.

The big winner was The Shape of Water with 13 nominations, while Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri received nine and Dunkirk followed with seven.

The Academy, criticised by the #OscarsSoWhite campaign and a lack of female directing nominees in past years, has increased its minority and female membership.

Greta Gerwig, for Lady Bird, and Jordan Peele, for Get Out, received directing nominations.

Aussie filmmaking couple Sean Meehan and Sam McGarry, after surviving several cuts by the Academy in recent weeks and making the top 10 from 165 eligible films, missed out on being included as one of the final five nominees in the live action short film category for their 14-minute movie Lost Face.

There were plenty of surprise nominations and snubs, with Judi Dench, for Victoria & Abdul, and Michelle Williams, for All the Money in the World, failing to make the talent loaded best actress category.

Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri is the best picture favourite, with The Shape of Water, after its huge nomination haul, the biggest challenger.

Darkest Hour‘s Gary Oldman is the favourite for best actor. He’s up against Timothee Chalamet (Call Me by Your Name); Daniel Day-Lewis (Phantom Thread); Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out); and Denzel Washington (Roman J. Israel, Esq).

James Franco, a winner of a Golden Globe just weeks ago, was shut out of nominations for best director and lead actor for The Disaster Artist. It appears he is a casualty of accusations by women of inappropriate behaviour.

The supporting actress category is headed by Robbie’s I, Tonya co-star Allison Janney. The other supporting actress nominees are: Mary J. Blige (Mudbound); Lesley Manville (Phantom Thread); Laurie Metcalf (Lady Bird); and Octavia Spencer (The Shape of Water).

The directing nominees are: Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk); Peele (Get Out); Gerwig (Lady Bird); Paul Thomas Anderson (Phantom Thread); and del Toro (The Shape of Water).


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