'The Dropout': Inside Amanda Seyfried's Recreation of Elizabeth Holmes' Distinct Voice and Style (Exclusive)

Seyfried portrays the Theranos founder who was convicted of fraud in the Hulu true-crime miniseries 'The Dropout.'

Following her Oscar-nominated turn as actress Marion Davies in Mank, Amanda Seyfried delivers another award-worthy performance thanks to her portrayal of disgraced Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes, who was convicted of fraud, in Hulu’s true-crime miniseries, The Dropout. Most notably, the 36-year-old actress recreates her real-life counterpart’s distinct baritone voice and signature style, which included a black turtleneck sweater accessorized with a green juice smoothie. 

The key, Seyfried and showrunner Elizabeth Meriwether tell ET, was to make sure the actress’ portrayal was not to make a joke of Holmes, which has already been done countless times by comedic performers, including Saturday Night Live star Chloe Fineman. In fact, when it came to the voice, it was something Seyfried was able to develop over time, just as the socially awkward 19-year-old Stanford dropout had to as she came into her own as the founder of a healthcare technology startup in the male-dominated Silicon Valley. 

“I had a little freedom because her voice developed over time, and because it wasn’t super natural for her, it wasn’t very natural for me,” Seyfried says. “I could get away with, you know, falling out of it and inconsistencies that actually worked. So there wasn’t as much pressure in that respect.” But it did take “lots of hours” of practice, using tricks with breathing and shaping her mouth, as well as watching tapes of Holmes’ deposition to get her voice, which was already naturally higher, to Holmes’ lower register. “I was working really hard because, obviously, it was important,” she says, noting, “I know [the tapes] word for word.”  


The evolution of Holmes’ voice and when she adopts a look modeled after her idol, Apple founder Steve Jobs, is seen over the course of the first three episodes, which debut on Thursday, March 3. Opening with a frazzled Holmes during a deposition with lawyers after the fallout over the company’s fraudulent claims about its revolutionary blood-sampling technology, the episodes then jump back to her childhood and high school days while showing how she slowly changed over time. 

Those anecdotes come from the ABC News podcast, which the series is adapted from. “It made me wonder about who she was before Stanford and if learning about the full picture of her life added to the understanding of her story,” Meriwether says. “And I felt like it did.” 

It’s not until she hits a breaking point during the early days of Theranos that sees the literal creation of the Holmes people now know. During one scene, in episode three (“Green Juice”) written by Hilary Bettis, Holmes is in her closet, staring at herself in the mirror as she tests out different variations of her voice as she pretends to speak to investors. 

“It was important to me to make the transformation into an entire episode,” Meriwether says. “I didn’t want to start with her already in [her element]. I wanted to show what that evolution was. And I felt like that transformation was really based on the pressures and the emotions that were going on in the company at that time.”


She adds that showcasing that transformation was important “because I felt like she has become a bit of a caricature in the national imagination. I think [her image] has gotten a little bit removed from what was actually going on in the company at that time. And I really wanted the show to explore for a young woman, what would push them to transform in that way.”

Those scripts were ultimately what helped Seyfried unlock who Holmes is and then channel her onscreen. “I came at it very much as an actor playing her. Then I went to a place of like, ‘OK, I want to get to know this woman. I really want to know what’s going on,’” the actress says. 

By the end of episode three, a newly confident and resolved Holmes, clad in her familiar outfit, has emerged. And it’s when Seyfried truly becomes another person altogether. For those on set, it was stunning to see. “I found it so stunning because it wasn’t an impersonation,” says Elizabeth Marvel, who portrays Holmes’ mother, Noel. “It was definitely her own unique creation, but it was perfect.”


“I’m not surprised that she was able to pull off such a huge transformation,” says Camryn Mi-Young Kim, who plays Theranos employee Erika Cheung. “But when she first opened her mouth, I had to take a moment and be like, ‘OK. I’m not talking to Amanda, I’m talking to Elizabeth right now.’”

“This is the role of a lifetime,” adds Michaela Watkins, who appears later as Theranos legal counsel Linda Tanner, adding, "If it came to me, I don’t think I could do it.”

Meriwether was also blown away by Seyfried’s portrayal. “I just felt like, ‘I can’t see the seams.’ Like, I can’t see how she did it,” the showrunner says, adding that when Seyfried was cast in the role after Kate McKinnon  dropped out to star in Joe vs. Carole, the series finally came together. “I was just so happy to have her.” 

“It’s a really tricky tone. I mean, there’s some comedy in the series, but it's definitely never satirical and the characters are not caricatures,” Meriwether continues. “And so, it was so important to find an actress who understood that and wanted to perform the character without judgment. And she just really understood that.” 

She concludes, “I mostly just felt like, ‘OK, we have a show now. I can tell the story I want to tell and it’s because of her.’”

The first three episodes of The Dropout premiere March 3 on Hulu, with new episodes debuting weekly on Thursdays.

Reporting by Lauren Zima and Stacy Lambe