Amanda Seyfried on playing billionaire Elizabeth Holmes in 'The Dropout': 'People want to know why she did these things'.

Amanda Seyfried tells us about playing Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes in 'The Dropout'.
Amanda Seyfried tells us about playing Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes in 'The Dropout'. (Image credit: DIsney Plus)

Amanda Seyfried plays Elizabeth Holmes, the world’s youngest self-made billionaire who was recently convicted of criminal fraud. The whole sorry saga is shown in the eight-part Disney Plus and Hulu drama, The Dropout, which launches worldwide on Thursday, March 3, 2022.

In 2014, an article in Forbes magazine declared Elizabeth Holmes, Theranos CEO, to be the ‘world’s youngest self-made female billionaire’. At the age of just 34, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur was the brains behind a seemingly ground-breaking blood test that was set to revolutionize the diagnosis of diseases. A former college dropout, Holmes had taken the tech world by storm — with Wall Street rushing to invest in her company, Theranos, to the tune of a staggering $9billion. But behind the scenes, the product was in trouble as scientists struggled to make the technology match up to Holmes’ grandiose claims. In 2015, a reporter from the Wall Street Journal published a damning article that exposed the company’s lies. By 2018 Theranos had collapsed.

Alongside Amanda Seyfried — who's previously starred in Mamma Mia!, Mean Girls, Big Love and Mank — also look out for Lost star, Naveen Andrews, playing her former business partner and boyfriend, Sunny Balwani. William H. Macy (Fargo, Shameless) plays inventor Richard Fuisz and Succession’s Alan Ruck is Jay Rosen, part of the team at pharmacy giant Walgreens. Meanwhile, Stephen Fry is British biochemist, Ian Gibbons, who worked as chief scientist for Theranos and who took his own life after being demoted by Holmes for raising concerns about the company. In January 2022, Holmes was found guilty on four counts of fraud, each of which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. She will be sentenced later this year. 

Here, Amanda Seyfried tells WhatToWatch about the story behind The Dropout and her role in the Hulu and Disney Plus drama...

How did Amanda Seyfried transform into Elizabeth Holmes?

It's crazy we were shooting episodes while the Elizabeth Holmes trial was beginning.

Amanda Seyfried

Amanda Seyfried says: "Elizabeth Holmes was so convincing and able to lure investors in because she believed it herself. From a psychological point of view, if you want to believe something badly enough, then you can."

"Elizabeth is still such a mystery, but I think this is the only project that actually gives insight. It's a lot of guesswork — but guesswork based on a lot of facts. The whole point of making this is that you were letting us into a world that we weren't privy to before and people want to know why she did these things. People want to know motives."

Amanda says she avoided watching the many comedic spoofs of Elizabeth Holmes. "When you think about the turtleneck, the lips, the voice and the messy hair, that’s how you clothe yourself in Elizabeth Holmes if you're going to play her on Saturday Night Live. Personally, I don't remember seeing any Saturday Night Live sketches and I didn't search for any after I was cast. I guess I was lucky in that sense. You have to take all of the iconic pieces of Elizabeth Holmes and you have to throw them away for a minute because you can add those back into a fully-formed human being. Luckily, they didn't have any negative impacts for me. I don't think they would have anyway because I think I could just watch [an SNL sketch] and laugh because I was confident in my own relationship with the character that I was creating. I was making different choices for a different kind of show."

How capturing Elizabeth Holmes' voice was a challenge...

For Amanda one of the biggest challenges was capturing her character’s distinctive deep voice, which Holmes deliberately cultivated to give herself more gravitas. "That’s my job as an actor — mimicking and stuff like that,’ says Amanda. ‘But in terms of the depth of the voice, I had to work really hard to get there, because I speak at such a higher level than Holmes. It’s incredible to have the voice come in slowly and evolve over time in the story, because that’s what happened in real life. I mean, when the public met Elizabeth Holmes, she was already speaking very deeply, but now we get to see her as a kid where she has a pretty average tenor. And then you see the voice develop because that's the whole point of the show — you want to see where she came from, where she went and how she got there.

"I am a little worried about what viewers are going to say about the voice," she adds. ‘But at the end of the day, I’m an actor — I’m not her — and I did my best to try to capture the oddness of it."

"The Dropout' sees Amanda Seyfried playing fraudster Elizabeth Holmes.

Amanda Seyfried reveals how it all went wrong for fraudster Elizabeth Holmes in 'The Dropout'. (Image credit: Disney Plus)

Elizabeth Holmes is a very complex character. How did you prepare for the role?

Amanda Seyfried: "In the early conversations I had with [executive producer and showrunner] Elizabeth Meriwether and [executive producer and director] Michael Showalter, I discovered that Elizabeth is very devoted. You can't argue with that. For me, there are no labels. I didn't diagnose her. Instead, I came at it from a very human standpoint. I mean, the first thing I do as an actor playing somebody is to try and relate to them as much as possible — it was a little harder with Elizabeth Holmes, for sure. But, as I started to get to know her through the script — through Liz's brain and writing and through everything that I've seen — I soon came to a place of, almost, compassion. It was almost like falling in love with her. That is my job in the beginning — when you want to get around somebody you have to fall in love with them a little bit — that’s regardless of what they've done, or who they are. That’s where my process begins. I feel like a true devotion to something led Elizabeth to this, whether this true devotion was about becoming a billionaire or whether it was about saving people's lives. Whatever the goal, there was a lot going on for her and she was very devoted."

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Did you uncover why Elizabeth Holmes was so convincing? 

Amanda Seyfried: "I think it’s because she believed it all herself. I think we’re capable of crazy things. Our brains are miraculous. We can forget things, we can bury things and we can create things… and Elizabeth was incredible at creating things. She was also incredible at creating the story of Theranos and her invention. I mean, she could sell me sand if I ever met her. That was one of the reasons why I didn't want to meet her because I knew she had a way about her. 

I’m sure people must have questioned her ideas, especially engineers and people in healthcare and science. I’m sure medical students questioned it all, but Elizabeth would always deflect anything she didn't really know as something she did know — it felt like she doubled down. How could you not feel like she's sold you something, even if it's just an idea? She’s an incredible actor and she could’ve done a lot of good in that way. She definitely could have used her powers for good. Well, she did for a while — until it wasn't working."

The chemistry between Sunny and Elizabeth is palpable. How naturally did the relationship between the characters come to you?

Naveen Andrews as Sunny Balwani, former president and chief operating officer of Theranos

Amanda Seyfried as Elizabeth Holmes with Naveen Andrews playing her business partner and boyfriend Sunny Balwani in 'The Dropout'. (Image credit: Disney Plus)

Amanda Seyfried says: "It was pretty immediate that we got along, but we had some space in rehearsal to get to know each other. We're both very ourselves, almost to a fault — but I think that really works for us. We don't hide anything. but I think our passion for the project and our desperate need to understand our characters resulted in us both being 100% present. We were both really thrilled that we were getting to board this ship."

Did you have any concerns because 'The Dropout' is based on a true story?

Amanda Seyfried says: "The timing of the show has been bananas in so many ways. I mean, it's crazy that we were shooting episodes while the trial was beginning, so new information was always coming through to us. We felt like we were on the right track, but we were always wondering if we were actually on the right track and then new information would come out. Sometimes you're on set and you forget that the things you're saying were actually said by people and the things that are being done [on set] were actually done by people and that's someone who's actually being prosecuted for these things. There were a lot of feelings there."

*The Dropout premieres on Thursday, Mar. 3, 2022, on Hulu in the US and Star on Disney Plus in the UK. The first three episodes will be released at once, then the final five episodes will be aired weekly.

Nicholas Cannon
TV Content Director on TV Times, What's On TV and TV & Satellite Week

I'm a huge fan of television so I really have found the perfect job, as I've been writing about TV shows, films and interviewing major television, film and sports stars for over 25 years. I'm currently TV Content Director on What's On TV, TV Times, TV and Satellite Week magazines plus I previously worked on Woman and Woman's Own in the 1990s. Outside of work I swim every morning, support Charlton Athletic football club and get nostalgic about TV shows Cagney & Lacey, I Claudius, Dallas and Tenko. I'm totally on top of everything good coming up too.