Amanda Seyfried Doesn’t Believe For A Second Elizabeth Holmes Avoided Watching ‘The Dropout’ [Inteview]

Dec 30, 2022

It seems like Elizabeth Holmes is still a little stuck in Amanda Seyfried‘s head. During a conversation about her Emmy nominated performance as the convicted Theranos founder, Seyfriend said she’s had moments during her current gig, the Apple TV+ limited series “The Crowded Room,” where she’s felt Holmes “poking through.” Considering how long Seyfriend played the role for the eight-episode series, that’s not a surprise.
READ MORE: Emmy nominee Elizabeth Meriwether says ‘The Dropout’ “scared the pants” off her [Interview]
“The Dropout” was nominated for six nominations including Outstanding Limited or Anthology Series, Writing in that category (Elizabeth Meriwether), and Directing in said category (Michael Showalter). The Searchlight Television and 20th Television series chronicled Holmes’ journey from Stanford dropout to celebrated start-up billionaire to her dramatic downfall. Seyfried, who was coming off her first Oscar nomination for “Mank,” didn’t connect with Holmes before filming the project. And considering Holmes’ trial was going on during production that was a pretty smart idea. That being said, Seyfried did have a connection to Holmes’ world
“A few people kind of know her. Actually, a producer friend who’s friends with the guy who’s friends with her,” Seyfried says. “But anyway, he was very forthright about his connection to me and with me, the correspondence that we had, with Elizabeth. And he’s also a friend of hers. And so he never did anything that she didn’t know about. And I really respected that she understood that he had correspondence with me and he was helpful in a way, in a lot of ways.”
That individual says Holmes made it clear she wouldn’t be watching the mini-series, but Seyfried doesn’t “believe that for a second.”
“I think anybody, I don’t care how wrong it would feel, how could you not be curious enough to just take a peek? And at the end of the day, I wasn’t making this for her. Many reasons, but not for her,” Seyfreid says. “And I don’t really care how much she watched it. My gut says that of course, she tuned in for a minute. Of course. How could you not?”
Following our conversation, which was edited for clarity, Seyfried remarked that she’s interested in heading to Broadway. She made her Off-Broadway debut in Neil LaBute’s “The Way We Get By” in 2015. At the time, she considered it the most challenging role of her life. After “Mank” and “The Dropout” she’s ready for more challenges.
The Playlist: Congratulations on your Emmy nomination.
Amanda Seyfried: Thanks. It’s been unexpected. We’re a little whirlwind here.
What was your reaction the morning of the nominations?
Where was I? Well, I don’t know. There’s enough chatter in Hollywood that you think pretty much what’s going to happen and then things change and evolve. And so I’ve only ever been in that position once recently, so it’s very new, but I remember not being so sure with the Oscar nom, because it’s hard to not conflate the two a little bit because it’s such a new experience for me. And I’ve been in this business for so long that I’ve seen how things work and stuff. And it had gotten so much good, positive attention that it’s not that I was expecting it, but I wasn’t as surprised. The Oscar nom was such a surprise and I really didn’t know. And I know I had been doing a lot of campaigning leading up to it, but you never know. And with this I felt like, oh, like fuck, yeah it happened. It happened. I got nominated for a f**king Emmy for something that I’m really proud of. And that’s where most people, most actors, most creatives would love to be. But it’s also for the most part, we don’t expect that kind of stuff to happen. So, yeah, that’s great.
People always ask, “Did this role scare you?” And I’m sure you have fear about doing every role. But was this something that you were more concerned about than other projects?
Yes and no. I mean, yes, I was concerned because she’s such a known person, she’s iconic. There are parts of her that if I don’t get right, the shows just won’t work. So much of the show, the show’s success, or the show’s existence relies on me and the audience to believe in me. And I played two other real-life people before, but this is different because she’s so contemporary, she’s so in the news now, and we are the same age, essentially that the responsibility was just so great. And also we were trying to go inside of her. And I mean to me, that’s the only reason to make a biopic about anybody, is to get a new perspective, which is what the most successful ones have done. And we’re seeing a lot of them. And this needed to stand out in some way, this needed to feel real, this needed to feel important and there needed to be a reason to make it. And so with that, it was hard. But at the same time, it was one of those things where I was just like, “Oh, this is going to be a game changer for me in terms of what I get to do as an actor.” Because it felt like more of a character acting piece than anything in my life. And I realized that it’s something I have more fun doing. It was the most fun I’ve ever had as somebody because it was so far from how I am. So much further away from Amanda than anything else has been. And that’s fun. And that’s why I think, “Oh, I guess I got to do more of this if I want to have this much fun.”
You do, yeah.
I do. I don’t know how, so I will say it was really hard, and I didn’t expect, this really hard, to play a role more like myself that is fictional, which is what I’m doing right now. I’m working on a show where I’m playing a version of myself. And it was so much harder to get back into that from being Elizabeth. And I will say I had moments in the beginning of this show where I kind of feel Elizabeth poking through and I’m like, “No, no, no, no, no.” I got so used to it and I got so attached to it. It’s very bizarre, I’ve never had that experience.
Was it because “The Dropout” was eight hours of you in this role?
I guess so. It was four months, that’s the longest I’d ever played somebody. And it was actually the most preparation I’ve ever had to do. I mean, hundreds of hours of watching her speak and move, but mostly speak and listen. Hundreds. I’ve never been so focused on something in my life. The challenge was great and I rose to it and I’d never done that before. And I don’t think I ever felt like I had to, I felt like I had to with this. And I think that also makes the difference. I look at certain peers whose processes are very, very, very intense and more thorough than mine are, and to each their own. But I always learn from that. And I’m always in awe of these actors that I really respect and I think many of them do great work because they’re so disciplined. And I realize now that I’ve been lacking that level of discipline. And I knew because, your first question, I knew how big of a responsibility this was. And for everybody involved, I needed to up my game. so I feel like my process was a little bit more channeled into what might these people I respect do. And now I’m like, “Oh, okay. I see.” I just need to up my game. I can do it. Why don’t I? Okay, great. Let’s go with that.
You mentioned the hours that you spent watching her, and how she talked. And obviously, that was so important to nail down because of how she used to speak, I don’t know if she would speak that way in public now…
I think, yeah. I think that she stuck with that.
But you’re reading the script, you’re reading the story. Did you have to make a decision regarding whether Elizabeth really believes her company’s machines are working? Was that something you had to decide in playing her?
Yeah, absolutely. You have to believe in your character. Whether they’re a serial killer or they’re just very conflicted, struggling whatever it is. Whatever your character’s experiencing you have to experience it along with them. And to a point, I mean, I’m not a method actor and I would never be able to do that. But I committed to supporting her, to believing her. And also it’s not that I will look back now and say, “God, she’s a liar.” I would never say that. I would just say it was a complicated situation and she made really bad choices for reasons that I think I understand, I have compassion for her because I’m an actor, I am playing her, that’s my job. My actual job is to suspend my beliefs and try to imagine what they were thinking when they were doing it. And at times, like in the beginning of the show, maybe even defending her a little. For the sake of the show, I have to do it for the sake of the show. So, it’s not denial. It’s just avoiding my own feelings and trying to get into her head.
I was talking to the showrunner, Elizabeth Meriwether about how there was an idea originally for it to end with Elizabeth Holmes’ trip to Burning Man right when the company was collapsing. It was so bizarre that she was doing some of these things. Plus, the trial was going on while you were shooting. Did that inform your performance all?
[The trial] was when things got a little bit tricky for me because that was halfway through filming and we’d already started filming the choices, the bad choices. So, I will say I was a little bit lost. Because I don’t bring my work home with me, but I also knew that we’re literally shooting the scenes where she’s choosing to lie to the Walgreens execs and that actually happened. So, you’re facing the reality at work and how many excuses can you make for somebody? But I still was able to do that and make sense of it. I mean it definitely made sense, there’s no excuse, but it made sense to me. But when the text messages were coming out, well more specifically it was awkward and it felt like, we are doing a fictional version of things. It’s a TV show based on events. So when real-life crowbars its way in regardless, like with the text messages and maybe using them in the episodes we haven’t shot, it gets tricky. Because you’re reminded of how incredibly bizarre this whole thing is and how bizarrely they behaved with each other, with other people. And you’re reminded of the things that you don’t like about these people so often through these text messages that it was actually really hard to toe the line there for me.
But by the end I was like, “Who is this person? What was she doing? Like what?” Even at the things that we imagined, the dancing, the eroticism there and the intimacy. It just felt when I was reading these text messages that I was watching them have sex. That’s how it felt. It felt so intimate and these things that you think are private are being ingested by everybody. The press, Hollywood, it was too close to home for this stuff.
And then I had to remember there was some guilt there too, because I’m like, “I get to go home to my kids. I’m not going to jail. I’m not going to trial. I’m not infamous. I’m just playing her during the day for the sake of a TV show.” I mean, I didn’t want to make her life worse, but I knew I wasn’t helping make her life any better. I actually think in hindsight it might have swayed some people to have some compassion for her. But I mean, if we didn’t do it, nobody else was going to try to show her side of things. But yeah, the whole thing is really tricky, especially with the litigation factor. If she wasn’t a criminal and we were just talking about her life, if things had gone differently and we were making a story about the woman who in invented Theranos and it had actually worked, it would be a collaborative effort. It would be less complicated, so weird.
If Theranos worked she’d be an interesting figure like her hero, Steve Jobs, who was unique and different, but maybe had a negative side but also did a lot of good things.
Yeah an enigma with a pretty good story. This is just pretty dirty. When it really comes down to it, it’s dirty. And we got into her head as much as we could for the sake of argument. I think this such a unique experience because Liz Meriwether really is in an enigma. She was able to write something that was so human and also in the best and worst ways and for mass consumption. And it’s just really hard to do it this well and to be this confused afterwards.
I’m assuming we would all know if Elizabeth had ever reached out to you or to anyone to respond to your performance. I’m assuming she didn’t.
But have you heard from people in her world or her life or what they thought about the series or about your performance?
Yeah, I do have one connection, a friend of hers who’s also a friend of my friend’s son. A few people kind of know her. Actually, a producer friend who’s friends with the guy who’s friends with her. But anyway, he was very forthright about his connection to me and with me, the correspondence that we had, with Elizabeth. And he’s also a friend of hers. And so he never did anything that she didn’t know about. And I really respected that she understood that he had correspondence with me and he was helpful in a way, in a lot of ways.
She made it clear to him that she wasn’t going to be watching it. And I don’t believe that for a second. I think anybody, I don’t care how wrong it would feel, how could you not be curious enough to just take a peek? And at the end of the day, I wasn’t making this for her. Many reasons, but not for her. And I don’t really care how much she watched it. My gut says that of course, she tuned in for a minute. Of course. How could you not?
And I haven’t heard about anything since about how she’s felt about it. I just think it’s crazy that the Emmys are happening and this show was nominated so many times and for different things and she’s going to get sentenced soon.
And I think the whole world, the whole parallels, all the parallels that are happening are insane. It’s like it doesn’t stop, it’s her real life. So this is all the trial happening while we’re shooting it and [now] the sentencing is happening and Sunny’s trial happening while it’s out. And the issues with the jurors informing things that are happening in her life. Whereas everything she did informed the show and it being created. And then all of a sudden the actual show and the presence of the show is at the risk of informing what’s happening in her life and in Sunny’s life. And it’s the strange power of Hollywood. And so you have to remember we have a f**king responsibility to be truthful. There is a power there. And you want to fuck around with it, but you can’t. So you do what you can do and luckily Disney’s a massive corporation and they protected us and protected Liz and made sure we did it the right way and legally, and we did. And so I don’t think anybody feels bad about that. And I don’t think her sentencings have anything to do with our show. But I did find it interesting that Sunny’s trial was held up a little bit because they’re like, “Has anyone watched ‘The Dropout’?” And they’re like, “Yeah.” They’re like, “Bye.”
I mean that tells you what a big hit it was when that many potential jury members were watching it.
Well also, yeah, and because people are curious. So bizarre.
You were talking about the other show you were working on and playing more yourself. Is that “The Crowded Room”?
Yeah, “The Crowded Room.”
I don’t know how many episodes you’re in, but were you in the episodes directed by Kornél Mundruczó?
He’s one of my favorite filmmakers and this is his television project. What was that experience like? Or maybe you’re still shooting with him.
Oh yeah, we’re definitely still shooting. No Kornél actually just wrapped. I mean, God knows if he’s going to come back, TV is so bizarre. TV is crazy. It was just a lot of re-shoots and a lot of added days. I think we’re going over a month maybe. Just COVID all of this stuff. It’s hard, but yeah, he’s amazing. He’s visually stunning. And also it’s funny, there are TV directors, there are directors like Alan Taylor. I worked with him on “Big Love” and he’s going to direct an episode of this. I don’t think I’d get in trouble for saying that.
But anyway, he’s directing next week. He’s what I would say a TV director because he knows the world and then there are movie directors. And so all the directors on this except for Alan haven’t done TV before at all. And so it’s tricky. You have these people who are used to being the head of the ship [but now there is] the showrunner. So it’s more of a collaboration between the directors and the showrunners instead of just the director being the boss. And there’s Tom Holland who hasn’t done a TV show before. Me, I don’t remember “Big Love” much. It’s kind of cool to watch people create something that’s 10 hours long, but also share it with the directors and have the showrunner there and the writers. And it’s a different dance. It’s a completely different dance. And I think this show is really special and there are a lot of people in it, it’s really intense. And written by a genius, and directed by these incredible directors. Mona Fastvold and Brady Corbet are also directing episodes. I will say it’s been quite an undertaking and Tom Holland has taken the role of a lifetime and I’ve gotten to sit back and watch. I’m in every episode. But I don’t have the heavy lifting that I do in “The Dropout.” Partly the reason I took this job, there are many reasons, Tom, Akiva [Goldsman] Kornél, there are tons of reasons I took the job. But one of them is that I could sit back and relax a little bit and come in and out as opposed to every day having it all on my shoulders.
I’m really looking forward to it. It has a ton fo people working on it that I love. But thank you so much for taking the time. Congratulations on the Emmy and I hope you have a great time at the show.
Thanks. I will. I’m going to have my husband there. I went to the Oscars with my agent, which was amazing she’s my best friend, I’ve been working with her since I was 16. And I had to choose between my agent and my husband and he was like, “Take Abby, it’s important. You guys go.” And now I get to bring Tommy. So Tommy and I get to go together on our first trip to an award show. It’s a very big deal for us. And actually, we’re flying out here without the kids, which is kind of sad.
It’s a vacation!
I hate leaving them, but it’s for a really good reason. So it’s going to be very celebratory and thanks for talking to me about it. I could talk about “The Dropout” until I’m dead. It was special.
“The Dropout” is available on Hulu.

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