Finding Elizabeth Holmes’ Voice: Amanda Seyfried Talks About Her Portrayal in Hulu’s “The Dropout”

“The timing of this is just bananas in so many ways,” Amanda Seyfried said of the March 3rd release of The Dropout on Hulu. The first limited series from Searchlight Television tells the true story of Elizabeth Holmes, put into production as the former self-made billionaire was going to trial. “New information was always coming through to us, and we were always wondering if we were on the right track,” the actress explained during a TCA press conference. “It made it a lot more real. Like sometimes you're on set and you forget that the things that you're saying actually were said by people, and the things that are being done were actually being done by people, and that someone is actually being prosecuted for these things.”

 (Beth Dubber/Hulu)

(Beth Dubber/Hulu)

“It's just incredible in watching Amanda transform into her,” executive producer Elizabeth Meriwether revealed. “It was incredible because I was worried that I just didn’t want it to be at all a sketch or a satire. So what was incredible about what Amanda did was that she kept herself and she kept the emotional reality going while transforming into this character that I think just made it feel real, and you never get taken out of the story. There's so much emphasis on her voice in the public imagination. I was worried that that was going to kind of take the audience out of the story.”

Amanda Seyfried knew that capturing the essence of Elizabeth Holmes’ voice was going to be essential to her portrayal. “I had to work really hard to get there because I speak at such a higher level than she does naturally,” Amanda explained. “So even though she was deepening her voice more and more to what we all understand is for power's sake, to make an impact, I still couldn’t get all the way there. There were some different breathing tricks, but I don’t think I nailed it 100% but I think I did what I needed to do for the audience to come with us, and that was really my only concern. I am a little worried about what people are going to say about the voice but at the end of the day, I am an actor and I'm not her, and I did my best to capture the oddness of it.”

There’s a lot of pressure in playing a public figure that audiences will be familiar with. At the end of the day, Amanda Seyfried had to get to the essence of Elizabeth Holmes as a character and do her job to deliver the story as it was written. “She’s very devoted, you can’t argue that,” the actress shared. “There’s no labels. I didn’t diagnose her. I came at it from a very human standpoint. I mean the first thing I do as an actor playing somebody is that I try to relate to them as much as possible, and it was a little harder with Elizabeth Holmes, for sure. But as soon as I started to get to know her through the script, through Liz’s brain and her writing and through everything that I’ve seen and the way that she would react to things, like I just saw a lot of footage, I came from a very specific place in almost like compassion and kind of falling in love with her, and that is my job in the beginning. When you really want to get around somebody you kind of have to fall in love with them a little bit regardless of what they’ve done or who they are, and that’s where my process begins.”

Naveen Andres plays  Sunny Balwani, Theranos president and COO. “I also feel it’s imperative not to make any judgments about who you’re going to play,” the actor agreed. “Your own private feelings or judgments that you might make have nothing to do with what you’re trying to create, hopefully, and I tried to go for what motivated him emotionally really, as opposed to anything exterior, which is that partly I feel he was besotted with her. He was desperately in love with her, and how far would he go for love, which is almost romantic, in a way. And, yeah, it is interesting. It’s like from the footage, and what I read about him, and the fact that he was born in what is now Pakistan as a Hindu, what that does to somebody’s identity in terms of displacement, a kind of rootlessness, and I think he found everything with Elizabeth for himself, which put him in a very vulnerable position. I can look at his Twitter feed and make my own assumptions. I can think, well, if I had one-sixteenth of this man’s self-worth I might feel better about myself, but it’s like you can’t make judgments about a human being if you’re going to play them.”

“It’s not a true-crime series, it’s a mystery of who she is and just following that over eight episodes,” Elizabeth Meriwether summarized. “In order to really invest in that mystery, you have to really think of her as this fully formed human being.” The creators and actors were careful that both the story and performance never feel like a parody. “That's one of the things that drew me into the project was this young woman in a position of power not knowing what to do with that, and I connected to it… I really related to the experience of feeling like something about your body doesn’t fit the role that you're in and that you sort of have to change your body to fit this role. So I think that is why I dedicated an episode to it, because I felt like that particular episode is about her trying to change herself to fit the role of CEO and not having a lot of models of female CEOs and going to Steve Jobs and trying to just change herself to be what she thinks somebody powerful is.”

Don’t miss the first three episodes of The Dropout streaming only on Hulu beginning March 3rd. New episodes will release weekly on Thursdays.

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Alex Reif
Alex joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and has been a lifelong Disney fan. His main beats for LP are Disney-branded movies, TV shows, books, music and toys. He recently became a member of the Television Critics Association (TCA).