ON SET Deborah Lamia Denaver + I, Tonya

How did you come to work on I,Tonya?
It was a fluke! I was supposed to start Avengers in January; I do Scarlett Johansson as the Black Widow character. My part was pushed, so I just happened to have that bit of time open. To be honest, I have no idea how they even got my name. I didn’t know anyone there and I actually kept saying no to the project. As for the budget and  timeframe, I knew it was going to be almost impossible to pull off, but I ended up making a deal and going forward with it. At the time, no one I knew was available and those that were I could not make the rates work. I was recommended by Jamie Kelman to Vincent Van Dyke who agreed to work through the holidays to help prep and get it ready. He brought in Thom Floutz to help do the makeup test and we just went for it!

What did the makeup design for I, Tonya entail?
It took a lot of research to prepare for this film to duplicate the exact events. The story was documented so well, that we wanted people to be able to relate to what they were seeing. We also wanted the new audiences — the younger moviegoers — to be able to relate to the look of the film. We played with it a little bit as we wanted everyone to be able to enjoy the story and not just those that were familiar with it. When we could, we did exactly what was documented. In other words, if she had pink lipstick and pink nails in the scene, we would have pink nails and pink lipstick. However the character was documented, we duplicated especially coordinating with the costumes and the hair. There was a little bit of artistic license in certain scenes for dramatic effects, but it was pretty spot on to what was in our research.

How large was your makeup team?
There were always three of us splitting up the work accordingly but there were days of five plus background help. It all depended on the ice-skating scenes and where we were at the time. My department consisted of myself, my key Teresa Vest and my co-key Bill Myer. The prosthetic application was Thom Floutz and Andre Freitas. The prosthetic maker/designer was Vincent Van Dyke. And of course, on our big days, much local help!

What were the keys to transforming Margot Robbie into Tonya Harding?
My best friend was highlight and shadow. There was no other way to do this makeup without actually trying to change the shape of her face using paint and powder. We did not have the budget to carry prosthetics throughout the film. I would’ve loved to have given her a nose and a chin, but we had to fake it and paint it as best we could. One of my very first films in the union was Pretty Woman. I was assistant to Bob Mills — an amazing artist who has since retired — his painting skills were unbelievable. He taught me how to paint without actually seeing the makeup. When he was finished, the skin was flawless. So basically, it was his techniques that I pulled out of the box to help create these characters. I would start off by bleaching Margot’s brows, then filling them in to lose the arch in her natural brow, then bringing them closer into the center and dropping down the sides on the outer corners. I would widen her nose using highlight to create a flatter bridge. I would actually draw shading on her jawline to lengthen and bring the chin forward. These techniques were subtle yet very effective.

How many looks were created?
There were too many changes to count. All the characters started young and aged as time passed to tell the story over a forty year span. We started fresh-faced and utilized braces and bleached brows, adding hairs to change shape and highlight to create a fuller face on young Tonya. As we duplicated all the skating performances and rehearsals, Margot’s makeup, hair, and nails would be per the real Tonya Harding frame by frame, photograph by photograph. It was important to live in the moment as the characters aged by utilizing all the proper makeup colors and hairstyles. In the interview scenes, we utilized prosthetics, mouth plumpers, baldpates, hairpieces, and stretch and stipple. At different times throughout the story, we would use eye bags, nose, chin, plumpers and Pros-Aide pieces. We also had different sized neck prosthetics, as in the boxing scene, to change Margot’s body shape to make her look stronger and tougher.
In addition to her entire face, we did her neck and hands. For the interview of Tonya, Margot was in full prosthetic makeup incorporating stretch and stipple around eyes,
adding prosthetic cheeks, chin, nose and full wrap-around neck piece.

What method did you use to age Allison Janney as LaVona Golden?
Her aging was full stretch and stipple, as our budget was small, but it was very effective.

What are the biggest challenges when transforming actors into real-life characters that have been so well documented?
It’s always a challenge to make the audience believe in the characters. As makeup artists, it’s our job to help give the actors the tools to visually create what they need to step into these characters. Key products you couldn’t have transformed Margot

Robbie into Tonya Harding without?
Love William Tuttle Special Highlight; it’s old school but stands up to the test of time, MAKE UP FOR EVER shading and contour kits, and MAC Strobe Cream!

Words Shannon Levy
Photos Courtesy of NEON/30WEST