The Hidden Meaning Behind Margot Robbie's Makeup In I, Tonya

Photo: Courtesy of Neon Films.
In theory, dressing up as a '90s figure skater sounds easy enough: pull your hair into a scrunchie, pile on the blush, and don't hold back on the body glitter. But if you're Margot Robbie channeling former Olympian Tonya Harding, the stakes are higher — and so are the hours in the makeup chair.
"Margot is so striking that when you put certain makeup on her, all of a sudden she looked like a fashion model as opposed to a skater from that time period," the film's makeup artist Deborah La Mia Denaver tells Refinery29. To effectively transform her into the famous athlete, she had to pull out all the stops — like bleaching Robbie's brows, staying true to the makeup Harding would have worn at the time (which was all purposefully from the drugstore), and even resorting to cosmetic glue. Read more about her jaw-dropping transformation, below.
The Real Source Of Inspiration
On one hand, Denaver wanted to create looks that tell the story as factually as possible: "A lot of the research came from Tonya's videos, stills, and anything else we could find," she explains. "We went frame by frame, duplicating what she wore — be it hair, nails, lipstick." But at the same time, the team also wanted to make a film that today's moviegoers would enjoy, regardless of whether they were familiar with its history. "I have two sons and one of them was like, 'Who is Tonya Harding?' and I think it was important to keep that in mind. We got kind of lucky because the [90s] look is coming back, so people today are more familiar with it."
Photo: Courtesy of Neon Films.
Robbie's Challenging Make-under
For Robbie to portray a young athlete in her teens and early twenties, they had to downplay her natural features. "Tonya wore a lot black eyeliner — a smudgy, smoky eye — but that only enhanced Margot’s beauty," Denaver says. "So we had to step back from that and make it look fresher and a little more innocent." She also skipped foundation ("I wanted her natural skin tone show," she adds) and used just mascara to keep her look true to the character.
But some things required more work — like her brows. "Margot's are very arched and perfect, but Tonya had no discipline with her brows," Denaver says. "They were wild and crazy, and she never tweezed or plucked or refined them in any way. So once a week, I bleached Margot's out as far as I could take them to try and fade that arch, and then filled in hairs, made them longer, and tried to drag them down."
This act of "dragging down" Robbie's facial features was key to making her look more like Harding, whose lips and eyes are naturally more turned down than Robbie's. "It's something I had to fight constantly with Margot, because all of hers go upward and smile at you. At one point I actually had to glue down the corner of her eyes with a lash adhesive glue to give them a droopy position. I also drew little lines around her mouth to sort of pull it down."
Photo: Courtesy of Neon Films.
Why She Only Used Drugstore Products From The '90s
One of the most important themes in recreating each of Harding's looks was staying true to her authentic story. "If you step back into a character's life, the best way to achieve that is to try to duplicate what [makeup] they would have used," Denaver says. "She didn’t have the money to spend $45 on a makeup product, so I wanted to portray that."
Instead, Denaver turned to items she herself used during that time period to create Harding's bold eyeshadow, blush, and lip looks. They were all from the drugstore, including staples like Maybelline, Covergirl, and Revlon. "We mostly curled Margot's lashes, but when she was [playing Tonya] younger, I applied just a little Maybelline Great Lash Mascara to the center to make them pop and look more wide-eyed." She also went through boxes of press-on nails (especially the Press-On Nails by Lee, "which were true to the period").
"At one point, I went around Atlanta and bought every package of press-on nails I could possibly find," she says. "We shot the film over a short period of time, so sometimes we had to do five or six different nail changes in one day. I'd have to take off the red and put on the French tips, then take off the French tips and put on the pink — we were continually like, 'Who’s got the nails?!'"
To read more about Robbie's hair transformation for I, Tonya, click here.

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