Sebastian Stan Did Some 'Surreal' Research For His Role In I, Tonya

The story of Nancy Kerrigan being attacked after a figure skating practice was not an inherently funny one, at the time. The attack was orchestrated by Jeff Gilooly, the then-husband of figure skater Tonya Harding, who also had knowledge of the plan. Kerrigan was attacked by assailant Shane Stant in order to keep her from competing in the United States Figure Skating Championships and the Winter Olympics, though she managed to recover in time for the Olympics.

The story dominated the news cycle at the time. Harding and Gilooly became some of the most hated figures in America for their petty and vengeful attack on Kerrigan. Despite the dark nature of assaulting an athlete with intent to injure, some of the story's absurd details seemed perfect for film adaptation. "I, Tonya" tells the story with a dark humor and heavy use of unreliable narrators, the most prominent of whom are Harding and Gilooly themselves.

Upon reading the script, Sebastian Stan was immediately interested in the film, according to an interview he did with Variety. "My agent sent me the script to 'I, Tonya' last year," said the actor. "From an actor's perspective, the script was like finding gold. Not a lot of things like this come my way."

Along with his excitement was some uncertainty, as Stan had never portrayed a real person before. That's why, when he eventually got the opportunity to meet with the real Jeff Gilooly, he jumped on the opportunity.

A surreal dinner

Sebastian Stan has plenty of experience acting. He's able to become entirely different people for different films. But the fact that he'd be portraying a real human being was somewhat daunting to Stan, according to an interview.

"It was kind of a hard one, to be honest, because it was so controversial. He was such a hated character; he was such a hated person in real life.And in that aspect, it was really difficult– you start wondering whether that is something you could even do or you could even play."

But, ultimately, Stan felt the script was too good to pass on. The day he received the part, he was offered the opportunity to meet the real Jeff Gilooly. Having had little success researching the man's background, Stan accepted. The meeting between the two was odd and surreal, according to the Variety interview.

"Two weeks before shooting, I met with him. It was bizarre sitting across from the person you've been looking at and listening to. I had the tapes from his meeting with Steven and had been listening to him over and over again. It was surreal at first. We met at a restaurant and had dinner. He seemed apprehensive, he hadn't read the script and I think he was hesitant about revisiting it. At the same time, he was open and direct in talking about the experience and himself. I asked a lot of questions: 'How did you meet? How did you fall in love? Why the mustache?' He really didn't have an answer for that one, I don't think he gave it a lot of thought."

The interview paid off, as Stan did a great job portraying a man who was once one of the most hated in America with both real emotions and humor.