Amanda Seyfried suits up as Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes in The Dropout first look
How did Elizabeth Holmes, the world's youngest self-made female billionaire, lose it all in the blink of an eye? Hulu's new limited series The Dropout seeks to answer just that, and EW has the exclusive first look.
Amanda Seyfried plays Holmes, the disgraced CEO of the ill-fated Theranos — the biotech company she founded in 2003 which shuttered in scandal in 2018 after failing to deliver on a promise that any and all blood tests could be done with a single drop of blood. Based on the ABC News podcast of the same name, The Dropout is an unbelievable tale of ambition and fame gone terribly wrong.
Showrunner and executive produer Liz Meriwether says she first became interested in Holmes' story after reading a Vanity Fair piece on her, which immediately made her go "down a rabbit hole of wanting to know everything about the story and her and what had happened."
"I think that the biggest question for me was always just her, and sort of what was going on in her head and who she is, and why she made the decision she made," says Meriwether. "That was the thing that kept drawing me back to the story, and it's almost a mystery for me of just trying to uncover who she is."
There was a surprising personal connection to the material, too. "My way into the story was my experience running New Girl when I was 29, and just suddenly getting kind of thrown into the deep end of being a leader, and really not knowing what I was doing," she says with a laugh. "I felt really connected personally to that part of the story and what it means to be a young woman and a leader and the strange challenges of that. That aspect of the story, again, I felt like kind of hadn't been fully explored."
In addition to Seyfried, the show also stars Naveen Andrews as Sunny Balwani, Holmes' much older ex-boyfriend and business partner. Guest stars include William H. Macy, Laurie Metcalf, Sam Waterston, Dylan Minnette, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Alan Ruck, Elizabeth Marvel, LisaGay Hamilton, Michaela Watkins, and more.
With so many actors playing real people, there could be a tendency to rely on wigs and prosthetics, but Meriwether says she didn't have any interest in doing that. "I have an aversion to wigs and prosthetics a bit," explains the showrunner, "just because I do feel like it can become a little bit of a distraction, honestly, from the story. And a little bit of a game where it's like, how much can we make these actors look like they're real people? I think the focus should be sort of on the essence of the person or the spirit of the person."
Currently, Holmes is on trial for 11 counts of fraud related to claims she made to patients and investors about the company. Her defense team rested their case just last week. Due to the ongoing legal battle, Meriwether was not able to speak with Holmes for the show, but she was able to spend time with other key players involved in the story — all of whom are portrayed onscreen and will be familiar to fans of the podcast. Filming the series as the trial was going on also presented other challenges.
"[We were] doing rewrites on the fly while I was getting exhibits and text messages and new information [from the trial]. It was definitely sort of a crazy situation," Meriwether says. Ultimately though, the showrunner feels like it worked to their advantage. "There was a couple of moments where I thought, 'Oh, I wish we could kind of go back and sort of tweak some things.' But in the end, I think actually a lot of the new information that came out we sort of already had baked into the story. So that was great," she admits.
In doing this research, Meriwether says it was important to her that the show didn't focus on picking a side per se or getting into a binary take on good vs. bad. "I do feel like this story has a lot of gray areas, and I think particularly right now, there's a lot of desire to kind of have things be black and white and right and wrong," she says. "And I do think the story is really interesting because of those gray areas."
Michael Showalter (The Eyes of Tammy Faye, The Big Sick) is set to direct multiple episodes and will also serve as an executive producer along with his Semi-Formal Productions producing partner Jordana Mollick. Additional executive producers include Liz Heldens, Liz Hannah, Katherine Pope, Rebecca Jarvis, Victoria Thompson, and Taylor Dunn.
The Dropout will have 8 total episodes, with the first three debuting on Hulu on Thursday, March 3, 2022, followed by one episode per week after that.
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