Exclusive Interview: I, TONYA Producers Bryan Unkeless and Tom Ackerley

I, Tonya starring Margot Robbie hits theaters nationwide on January 5. Monkeys Fighting Robots got a chance to sit down with the producers of the film, Bryan Unkeless, and Tom Ackerley to discuss how complicated it was to put together this dark emotional comedy.

Listen to the interview below:

MFR: What was your role as producer of I, Tonya?


Bryan Unkeless: As a producer, you’re dealing with the day to day issues and making sure that everything continues as smooth a course as possible. What was important for us as producers on this one was that the humor, and the energy, and the kind of outrageous spirit of the screenplay made its way up to the screen. Also, that some of the underlying ideas didn’t get diluted; the discussion about feminism, about class, about the media cycle. We want to make sure that made its way into the final product.

MFR: I, Tonya is being called a dark comedy, I think this is an injustice because this is an emotionally heavy film. What do you think?

Tom Ackerley: I think the tone of this movie is such a tightrope. And with Craig, we found the one in a million person that can walk that tightrope. It could very easily have gone off in either direction. And I think what we had that was so special with this movie and so honestly unique to movie making is between Bryan, myself, Margot, Steven the writer, and Craig, the director we all saw the movie in the same way. We never wanted to point the finger at these characters and the actors all understood that these characters were real people and the situations they find themselves in might be funny but ultimately it’s a real story we’re telling, and I think everyone understood that from the start.

MFR: I was blown away by how much abuse Margot Robbie took in the film as Tonya Harding, how hard is that on an actor?

Tom Ackerley: I think obviously Margot is the consummate professional and she comes at each scene being so well prepared and obviously we’re helped with the stunts and everything but we weren’t the kind of movie that could afford to spend hours perfecting those shots, and they really are as visceral and real as you see them. I think the challenge from Margot on this one, we had such a short shooting schedule she would have to jump from different emotions and different scenes instantly and I’ve never seen anyone do it the way she did it. I mean, in one day she would be ice skating, she would be playing 15-year-old Tony, she would be playing the forty-four-year-old Tony, and she would have to have these scenes of domestic violence all wrapped into one and take themselves through that journey. When you balance those different dialects and that different body and those different behavioral instincts, I think it must be such an emotional journey for her. And I think the way she did it as being the most prepared I think I’ve ever seen anyone be on the set and really come at every scene from an emotional grounding if that makes sense and it was a really remarkable thing to watch.

Bryan Unkeless
has 14 producing credits to his name including the Hunger Games franchise and most recently Netflix’s Bright, and if currently working on Bright 2.

Tom Ackerley has been a Second Unit Director and or Assistant Director on 13 films, and now has transitioned to the producer role.


I, Tonya stars Margot Robbie, Allison Janney, Sebastian Stan, Julianne Nicholson, Paul Walter Hauser, and Bobby Cannavale. The film is direct by Craig Gillespie from Steven Rogers script.

About the film:
Based on the unbelievable, but true events, I, TONYA is a darkly comedic tale of American figure skater, Tonya Harding, and one of the most sensational scandals in sports history. Though Harding was the first American woman to complete a triple axel in competition, her legacy was forever defined by her association with an infamous, ill-conceived, and even more poorly executed attack on fellow Olympic competitor Nancy Kerrigan. Featuring an iconic turn by Margot Robbie as the fiery Harding, a mustachioed Sebastian Stan as her impetuous ex-husband Jeff Gillooly, and a tour-de-force performance from Allison Janney as her acid-tongued mother, LaVona Golden, Craig Gillespie’s I, TONYA is an absurd, irreverent, and piercing portrayal of Harding’s life and career in all of its unchecked––and checkered––glory.

I, Tonya is in theaters now.

Matthew Sardo
Matthew Sardo
As the founder of Monkeys Fighting Robots, I'm currently training for my next job as an astronaut cowboy. Reformed hockey goon, comic book store owner, video store clerk, an extra in 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon,' 'Welcome Back Freshman,' and for one special day, I was a Ghostbuster.