Amanda Seyfried on Becoming Elizabeth Holmes in The Dropout

On Hulu’s The Dropout, Amanda Seyfried portrays Elizabeth Holmes. It is creator Elizabeth Meriwether’s nod to one of the most fascinating tidbits she learned while researching the former Theranos CEO, who managed to fooled Silicon Valley into thinking her biotech startup would revolutionize blood testing. An ex-Theranos employee spoke to the ABC News podcast. The Dropout Holmes was seen in Holmes’ car dancing to hip-hop music before she went to work. Holmes is adaptable. “I just sort of held on to that image,” Meriwether said in an interview over Zoom. “Her just rocking out by herself.”

Much has been written about Holmes’ questionable leadership during her tenure as CEO of the now-defunct Theranos. Holmes was convicted of multiple defrauding investors charges and wire fraud in January 2022. But there isn’t much intel on who the Stanford dropout-turned-disgraced founder of a multi-billion dollar startup was outside the office. Meriwether saw an opening to humanityize Holmes. The Dropout. “It felt like there was room for us to try and create a version of Elizabeth that people hadn’t seen or thought about,” she said.

It was that silly anecdote about Holmes dancing alone in her car that helped Meriwether envision an Elizabeth who “has trouble processing feelings in a normal way, so she physicalizes her emotions,” she said. “It’s why our Elizabeth processes her feelings not by screaming and crying, but through dance.” Critics of the eight-episode docudrama may write off Elizabeth’s cringeworthy dance moves as a writer’s room invention, a way to turn Holmes into a quirky girl boss. “But it’s not just a young woman dancing around to be cute,” Meriwether explained. “It’s actually a very cathartic emotional experience for her.”

Improvising Elizabeth’s awkward choreography was one of the most challenging acting exercises of Seyfried’s career. “It was the most I’ve ever moved in my life,” she said. “And it was not the way I would move, it’s the way Elizabeth would move.” After filming the scene in which Elizabeth dances around the Theranos office to Missy Elliott’s “We Run This,” she was in pain for two days. “It’s just fits and starts. The rhythm of it is all wrong, but it’s so cathartic,” she said of Elizabeth’s robotic dance style, which she based on footage of Holmes awkwardly busting a move. To understand The Dropout “you have to understand the importance of those moments for Elizabeth in which she’s feeling her feelings in this very beautiful, hilarious, heartbreaking kind of way,” she said. “Even if she doesn’t understand it herself.”

Seyfried found Elizabeth a whole-body experience. She mastered Holmes’ voice—a disconcertingly deep baritone that the Theranos founder reportedly created to appear more authoritative in the boardroom—by scrunching her face in ways she can’t even fully explain. “Someone recently asked me if I was wearing a chin prosthetic,” she said, which she considered “the best compliment” she could get as an actor. “They thought my face looked different enough that it couldn’t just be me.”

Yet it was a pair of shoes that ultimately helped Seyfried become Holmes’ facsimile. “The shiny patent leather pointy flats,” she said, which matched a pair Holmes would often wear around the office. They completely altered the way Seyfried moved. “I tucked my hips in and started walking with my hands behind my back, the way Elizabeth does,” she said. “I remember Naveen [Andrews, who plays Elizabeth’s boyfriend Sunny Balwani] was just like, ‘Whoa.’”

It’s hard to deny just how much Seyfried resembles Holmes when she puts on the Theranos founder’s signature black turtleneck, pulls her hair back in a messy bun, and swipes on a bit of red lipstick, but her performance is more than clever mimicry. “When you watch Amanda onscreen, you don’t feel like you’re watching this perfect imitation, you’re watching this full person,” Meriwether said. “Amanda’s performance is just an amazing blend of her bringing herself—her emotions, spirit, intelligence—to the character.”

Seyfried is not an actor that can disappear completely into any role. “Anyone who knows me is going to catch a glimpse of me onscreen in The Dropout,” she admits. But Meriwether’s writing allowed her to find humor and pathos in a character who apologizes to her boyfriend, who is nearly 20 years her senior, by performing an off-putting little dance to Lil Wayne’s “How To Love,” rather than saying she’s sorry. “Elizabeth is often funny and heartbreaking at the same time, which is really confusing for the audience,” Seyfried said. “It’s why I think people keep tuning in—their curiosity gets the best of them. They want to understand why Elizabeth is the way she is.”

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