Margot Robbie Thrilled About Her Role as Tonya Harding

Margot Robbie was thrilled at the Los Angeles premiere of her latest film, I, Tonya, not because it was her big moment to shine – but because she got to share the night with the real-life Tonya Harding.

The Australian star, 27, beamed as she stood on the red carpet with the ice skating legend, whom she portrays in the new film.

While Margot Robbie may not be able to skate as well as Tonya Harding, the two women have one thing in common: young female fans.

Played by Robbie in the darkly comic biopic I, Tonya (in theaters Friday in New York and Los Angeles, expanding in January), Harding navigates ups and downs in her controversial figure-skating career, but wears a huge smile when a girl approaches saying she wants to be a skater like her.

It reminds Robbie, 27, of a time after Suicide Squadopened last year and a friend texted her a picture of a youngster on a New York subway car reading a comic featuring Harley Quinn, Robbie’s colorful Squad anti-heroine.

She may not be changing it yet, but Robbie is carving her niche with transformative roles like Harley, Tonya and Queen Elizabeth I (in Mary, Queen of Scots, expected Nov. 2, 2018) and her LuckyChap Entertainment production company (co-founded with husband Tom Ackerley).

Not that she worries about all that when she’s wearing braces as awkward 15-year-old Tonya or weathering a breakdown at the 1994 Winter Olympics as embattled 23-year-old Tonya.) “When I’m on set, I forget the whole world’s going to see what we’re doing,” Robbie says.

The challenge of I, Tonya wasn’t just in transforming Australian beautyMargot Robbie into five-foot-one figure skater Tonya Harding, or even in portraying her from ages 4 to 44, with many, many bad hairstyles in between. With an $11 million budget and a 31-day shooting schedule, I, Tonya was never going to be an eight-hours-a-day-in-the-makeup-chair kind of movie. Some days Robbie would shoot eight or nine scenes, swapping out wigs and wardrobe in 20 minutes between setups. Makeup-department head Deborah LaMia Denaver, a previous Oscar nominee for her work on Ghosts of Mississippi, was, for the most part, unable to equip her star with expensive prosthetics or age makeup. So, she got creative.

“Margot’s eyes smile, they’re built that way,” Denaver said of the 27-year-old star, who also produced the film. “I took the corners of her eyes and used lash adhesive and just pulled them down to give them a little bit of a droop like Tonya had. Same thing with her mouth. I not only made her lips narrower but I dragged down the corners of her mouth.”

The majority of Robbie’s makeup transformation is in subtle details like that, with freckles or braces or Tonya’s signature black eyeliner complementing the actress’s committed, fierce performance. The wigs, created by hairstylist Adruitha Lee, who won an Oscar for another small-budget film, Dallas Buyers Club, completed the effect. Robbie is not a dead ringer for Harding—“It’s not a look-alike film, that’s not what it’s about,” as Denaver put it. “We wanted to make it feel like we were telling that true story. I really think we got the essence of Tonya.”

The Australian actress is receiving huge praise for her portrayal as the polarizing ice skater and it seems the sparkly skater aesthetic has influenced the actress’s off-screen style.

“Every time I put something on I’m like, ‘Does it look like I’m trying to dress like an ice skater?’ That means I would have avoided sequins forever and I’m just not willing to do that,” she told PEOPLE of her red carpet looks at the Gotham Awards in late November.

In October, the actress admitted to PEOPLE that playing a famous ’90s figure skater (with some seriously memorable costumes) inspired her style in real life.

“It started with scrunchies and then it like kind of spread to the rest of my wardrobe,” she said. “All of a sudden I was like, ‘I dress ’90s every day; what is this?’”

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Margot Robbie Thrilled About Her Role as Tonya Harding

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