Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Janney Thought Film Acclaim Eluded Her -- Then Came 'I Tonya'; by Lindsey Bahr

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Janney Thought Film Acclaim Eluded Her -- Then Came 'I Tonya'; by Lindsey Bahr

Article excerpt

Byline: The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES -- The Academy Awards seem like formality when it comes to the best supporting actress category this year.

Since the world devoured Allison Janney's brilliantly acidic performance as Tonya Harding's abusive mother in "I, Tonya," she has won nearly every major award she's been up for, including a BAFTA, a Screen Actors Guild award, a Golden Globe and a Critics' Choice prize.

Perhaps the only surprising fact is that this is the first Oscar nomination ever for the 58-year-old actress, who has seven Emmy and Screen Actors Guild Awards to her name (and two Tony nominations). Though she has been in Oscar-winning movies such as "Juno" and "The Help," the attention for those films did not revolve around her.

"I kind of thought maybe this moment had eluded me in my career, that I just wasn't getting the kind of roles in films that were giving me, getting me recognition," Janney reflected recently at the Oscars nominees' luncheon.

And it's all thanks to her longtime friend, screenwriter Steven Rogers, who had the idea to seek out the life rights to Tonya Harding's story. He had two demands for whoever was going to help get the movie made: First, no one was allowed to rewrite him. Second, Janney was to play LaVona Golden. He'd known Janney for decades, since he met her at New York's Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theater when he was only 17 (she's just a few years older than him), and had written parts for her before. But it hadn't worked out yet.

"I said, I want it in writing or it's a deal breaker.' I said it before she had even read the script or even said she would do it," Rogers said. "But I knew. I was like, This time I'm finally going to get her.'"

It might not seem like the most flattering thing to have your good friend think of you as the chain-smoking, bitter, abusive and overall controversial matriarch to the most infamous figure skater in history, who tells her young daughter to "skate wet" after she pees her pants on the ice, and regularly hits her. But Janney was thrilled.

"I've played a lot of mothers in my life," Janney, who stars as a recovering alcoholic on the CBS sitcom "Mom," said late last year. "But never anyone to the degree that this one was messed up."

Rogers, who used accounts of Tonya Harding and her ex-husband Jeff Gillooly to inform the screenplay and story, never actually met LaVona Golden while he was writing the script. Harding told him that she didn't know if her mother was dead or alive (she is alive and continues to deny abuse allegations).

Thus the character in "I, Tonya" is based on an amalgamation of interviews, documentary footage from 1986 (in which LaVona conducts her interview with a bird on her shoulder), stories from Harding and Gillooly and some artistic license. …

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