‘The Dropout’ Star Amanda Seyfried Talks First Emmy Nom and Her Relationship to Elizabeth Holmes

Amanda Seyfried has had a career-changing two years. The movie star has long been one of Hollywood’s most versatile actresses, from her roles in franchises like Mamma Mia! and her scene-stealing supporting performances in comedies like Mean Girls to her nuanced, subtle work in art house fare like First Reformed. But in 2021, with her portrayal of Hollywood starlet Marion Davies in David Fincher’s Mank, Seyfried earned her first Oscar nomination. And now, with Hulu’s The Dropout, Seyfried takes on her meatiest role yet (and has secured her first Emmy nomination), playing the charismatic, chameleonic and morally compromised Elizabeth Holmes.

Tackling Holmes was much less intimidating for Seyfried than taking on the role of Davies, she explains to THR. Seyfried had already binged a podcast about Holmes (the Hulu limited series is based on the ABC News podcast of the same name) and devoured Alex Gibney’s HBO documentary The Inventor. When the offer came to portray the disgraced founder and CEO of Theranos, it seemed like a no-brainer. The one major intimidating factor was, of course, Holmes’ signature low voice.

Seyfried spoke with THR about the process of perfecting Holmes’ timbre while working on her farm in upstate New York, how awards recognition is changing the opportunities she’s being given and the at-times tumultuous process of filming The Dropout.

It feels like you’re entering this new era of your career in terms of the recognition your work is receiving, especially fresh off your first Oscar nomination, for Mank.

This business is so fickle and bizarre. Awards are just a bizarre thing. It is circumstantial — David Fincher was like, “You can play Marion Davies.” And that opportunity went directly to me getting cast in The Dropout. I’ve been working a long, long time, without expectations. I work because I want to work. Longevity is important, right? But there’s always a hierarchy, that’s just the way it is in any industry. So you continue to do it, and then the good work gets recognized all of a sudden, because of whatever reason — I’ll take it. Then it becomes a snowball effect. But do I need it? No. Does it feel good? Did it help me get better roles? For sure. I’m really grateful. I’m getting incredible opportunities because of The Dropout.

How did the project come your way, and what were your first impressions?

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I got the script. I knew that Kate McKinnon was no longer part of it. My agent read it, she was like: “Holy shit. Do you want to play Elizabeth Holmes?” I was like, “Yeah. I binged that podcast, I watched The Inventor. For sure. That’s a perfect opportunity right there.” I talked to Katherine Pope, the producer, on the phone. I asked questions about where it’s going to be shot, how it’s going to be shot, what we were going to do. She gave me all the answers. I read the pilot script, and I read episode two, and I was like, “Oh my God, this is very, very well-written. Quality, thoughtful.” [The script] created a really nice balance between the Elizabeth Holmes I felt like I knew, and the Elizabeth Holmes that I wanted to know. And [creator and co-writer Elizabeth Meriwether] added sprinkles, incredible moments of humor. I was like, “I’m reading something that feels very doable for me.” It felt like — it wasn’t intimidating, like Marion Davies was intimidating for me. [With Marion], I was like, “Can I do this?” For this, I was like, “I can do this, this is perfect for me. It’s going to be hard. I need to do a lot of preparation. And I’m ready for that. I have the time and the energy. This is definitely what I want.” And that was it.

That’s so interesting, because she’s such a recognizable person with a distinct voice.

The voice was the one thing I was like, “If I fuck this up? It’s not going to be good for the show.” But it’s not that everything all hangs on one thing. There’s some heavy lifting, and it’s not how she moves, it’s how she speaks. I can do her mannerisms, I’ve watched her enough. I was already really familiar with her. It was really the voice where I was like, “I’m going to have to really work hard on that.” I would send videos to [director and executive producer] Michael Showalter every couple of days. I live on a farm, full-time. I’d be feeding the animals, working on it. In my car, speaking like her, saying things that she said in her TED Talk.

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Is that why it felt like a more natural fit than Davies, because you were already so familiar with her from bingeing the podcast?

Absolutely. Watching someone, and being able to mimic, is incredibly satisfying. And I didn’t have that with Marion, and also Elizabeth Holmes is contemporary. We’re essentially the same age, so it was a lot easier to relate to her in general. We were both on the dance team.

So, your first day on set, when they call “Action!”, you have to do the voice and inhabit this character — do you feel like it was just off to the races from there?

No, I had to find it. Find it with the costume, and the makeup, and the hair. Every department was essential. I needed the hair, I needed the frizz. I needed the nails. And the costume, the flat shoes. I went from when she was 17 to when she was 28, 29 … it covered a lot. And from the beginning, it felt more like I was playing an imagined version of her, because we don’t know much about her when she was in college. And it was great to go and evolve into that black turtleneck and red lipstick.

Was it filmed in order at all, or was it completely out of sequence?

No! It was horrible! Fuck TV! We did three blocks. We did the first four episodes, not in order. It was so difficult at times. But we were always having a lot of fun. I mean, nothing is ever in order. But that was the most out-of-order I’ve ever shot anything.

Seyfried (center) as Theranos founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes in Hulu’s limited series The Dropout.

Courtesy of Beth Dubber/Hulu

When you finished shooting, did you think, “OK, we’ve got something really special, I can’t wait for the world to see this”? Or were you not sure how it was going to come out as a finished product? Where was your head when you were done working?

Well, it was a bit of a cheat, because I was watching cuts days later with Michael Showalter. In the beginning, the first four episodes — he shot all of them. I was watching them cut together. So I knew the magic that was happening. I felt it, too. I was working with some really brilliant people — the writers, the directors, everybody was on their A-game. And we even lost our camera crew [who left when Showalter did, as sometimes happens] halfway through, which was devastating. I definitely had a moment where I was like, “What is this show?” Michael Showalter was done. Francesca Gregorini was coming in. I didn’t know her very well. I mean, I liked her from meeting her. But it felt like the next phase of this relationship with the show. And I’m like, “I feel supported in some way, but I also feel completely lost at sea,” because our camera crew quit halfway through, and I felt like I was losing people that were helping me create this. We’re all doing it together. And it felt like, “Wait, if you guys leave, then what happens?” And some fucking badass heroes come in, and they shoot it beautifully, and we get a new DP and it’s amazing. But it felt really scary. I’m putting so much work into this. I was seeing cut-together scenes, and we were also losing crewmembers. It’s a well-oiled machine and then all of a sudden: “Hi, what’s your name? OK, amazing. Thank you.” It can be really tricky. And I’m literally just talking about making movies. I know my job. I know what I do, and how things work. And then it felt like it stopped working for a minute.

That must have been so jarring. Have you heard from Elizabeth Holmes since the show came out? (Holmes is now awaiting sentencing for fraud-related charges, facing up to 20 years in prison.)

No. Now that her trial is over, if she were to call me up — which I don’t think will happen — we will be able to speak, I think. But there was so much litigation, the Disney lawyers were on top of us in terms of what we could and could not say. So I couldn’t be in touch with her, and I think it probably wouldn’t have been helpful for either of us.

Are there any TV performances you especially enjoyed this year?

Kaitlyn Dever [in Dopesick]. Holy shit. I would be lucky to be in a room with her one day. Colin Firth [in The Staircase]. Colin is un-fucking-canny. I know he’s a great actor. I’ve worked with him. Emmy [Rossum] in Angelyne. We haven’t worked together yet, but she’s a peer — we’ve both been working since we were younger. I’ve always thought she was incredibly gifted and I’m excited to work with her [on an upcoming project].

Do you have someone you’re planning to take as your date to the Emmys?

I am taking my husband [Thomas Sadoski]. If I could take my dog with me, like Glenn Close did, I would, but I can’t. No, I’m going to take Thomas. He couldn’t go to the Oscars. [But] here’s the problem: It looks like he has a premiere [for the upcoming Devotion at the Toronto International Film Festival] the same night as the Emmys. We found out a while back, and we were like, “Obviously, you’re coming to the Emmys,” but I feel bad, because it’s a big war movie. I think it’s coming out at Thanksgiving. So he’ll just go to another premiere.

Interview edited for length and clarity.

This story first appeared in a July stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.