I, Tonya's Allison Janney Supports an Emotional Tonya Harding at DWTS: Athletes Premiere
Janney, 58, extended her support to the former Olympic ice skater from the ballroom for the live season 26 premiere on Monday, when she was seen blowing kisses to the DWTS competitor at the end of her dance. Mckenna Grace, who played young Harding in I, Tonya, and the film’s screenwriter Steven Rogers were also in attendance with Janney.
“It was truly amazing,” Harding told reporters of having their support after the show. “I asked them to come and they said, ‘Yes absolutely.’ So I was just like, ‘Yes! They can be here for my new beginning that was made from a fresh start from them.'”
Harding, 47, and pro partner Sasha Farber received overall positive reviews from judges Carrie Ann Inaba, Len Goodman and Bruno Tonioli, who together awarded the duo a 23/30 for their foxtrot.
“You are a beautiful dancer. You have something so powerful,” said Inaba. “There’s an eloquence. There’s a depth to your performance. The mind, body, music connection that you just displayed blew me away.”
Goodman also gave positive feedback to Harding: “I thought it was a charming dance. Beautiful fluid movement, great mix of steps in hold and out of hold. You shouldn’t be weepy — you should be happy because that was a lovely performance.”
“I feel like a princess,” Harding, who was visibly emotional after her dance, told co-host Erin Andrews.
In her DWTS video package, Harding shared: “People hear Tonya Harding and they think a million different things: two-time U.S. champion, world silver medalist, two-time Olympian, the first American woman to do the triple axel in competition. I was the best figure skater in the world and then I had it taken away from me. It wasn’t just my career — it was my life.”
“I wasn’t allowed to compete, to perform on shows. You have people looking at you like you’re nothing,” she shared. “You start to believe that you are nothing. I just wanted to do what I was good at and that was skating.”
Of why she decided to compete on DWTS, Harding told Farber, “I got banned in ’94 from skating, but nobody can tell me I can’t dance” and added, “Being able to be on Dancing with the Stars, I get to perform again.”
“My skating ability will translate. I’m not really sure how much because we all know I wasn’t very graceful,” she admitted. “I want people to see that I deserve to be here. I don’t want to fail again,” said Harding, who held back tears.
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Though Harding was in jeopardy of being sent home, it was retired baseball player Johnny Damon and Olympic snowboarder Jamie Anderson who were ultimately eliminated.
“I just thank God for having me make it through to the second round, and I hope we’re ready to go,” Harding said. “I don’t want to go through that again. That was really scary. I was like, ‘No, not already!'”
Next week, Harding said her husband Joseph Jens Price will be rooting her on from the audience — but not her 7-year-old son, Gordon.
“We chose to keep my son out of the public eye for his safety,” she explained. “I’m sorry but this world can sometimes be cruel.”
Of her time on the show so far, Harding said that she hasn’t felt this alive since finding out that she was going to have her son.
“It was amazing,” Harding said, tearing up. “I showed America that I deserved to be here.”
Harding said it’s “so fabulous” how all of her fellow DWTS contestants are supportive of each other. “It’s not like the skating world was,” she said.
RELATED VIDEO: Tonya Harding Talks DWTS: ‘I’m Glad My Son Will Grow Up Knowing Mommy Is Not a Cheater’
In March, award-winning actress Janney took home the best supporting actress Oscar for her role as Harding’s allegedly abusive mother LaVona Golden, in I, Tonya, which followed the skater’s story before, during and after the 1994 attack on rival Nancy Kerrigan carried out by hitman hired by Harding’s ex-husband Jeff Gillooly. Margot Robbie played the infamous skater while Sebastian Stan takes on Gillooly.
The star previously told PEOPLE that Harding congratulated the actress on the Oscar nomination. “I got a lovely text from her this morning congratulating me saying, ‘You’re going to the big top, girl!’ Which was very sweet of her,” Janney recalled.
When preparing for the role, Janney and Rogers worked to track down Harding’s mother, the actress told Entertainment Weekly.
“He tried everywhere, everywhere led to a dead end,” Janney said. “Tonya wasn’t really interested in knowing where her mother was or didn’t really care.”
Janney admitted in an exclusive behind-the-scenes clip from the Blu-Ray/DVD release of the film that she was shocked to be playing LaVona, given how different she is from her other characters.
“Why did he think Allison Janney for this part?” she laughed.
“LaVona Harding is one of the cruelest people I’ve ever played. They weren’t living in the high life by any stretch and I think she saw her daughter as a way out of her life,” said Janney. “She saw endorsement deals, she saw escape. And she had a lot riding in this relationship with her daughter and she wanted her daughter to take her out of the trailer park.”
Dancing with the Stars: Athletes airs Mondays (8 p.m. ET) on ABC.