The Dropout Takes the Stage on Disney+

A new miniseries tracks the rise and fall of disgraced Silicon Valley CEO Elizabeth Holmes

A new miniseries tracks the rise and fall of disgraced Silicon Valley CEO Elizabeth Holmes

It was a device that was meant to revolutionize the diagnosis and treatment of illness. But instead, the “Edison” was a resounding failure, squandering the money of many VIPs and landing its inventor, wunderkind CEO Elizabeth Holmes, on trial for wire fraud.

How Holmes and the company she founded, Theranos, went from industry leader to infamy is told in the limited series The Dropout, which begins streaming Thursday on Hulu in the U.S. and Disney+ in Canada. It’s based on a podcast of the same name by Rebecca Jarvis (also an executive producer here) and stars Oscar-nominee Amanda Seyfried (Mank, Les Misérables) as Holmes—a Stanford dropout who became the world’s first self-made female billionaire on the strength of a vision she herself truly believed in.

The device Holmes envisioned was supposed to be able to test blood for numerous diseases using only a few drops, producing results in minutes compared to the days it takes from a standard lab. Best of all, it was small and affordable, so anyone could own one.

The trouble was it rarely worked, a fact Holmes kept from the high-profile investors she was recruiting, which included U.S. presidents, government officials and titans of industry. Eventually, the truth came out, Holmes was arrested, brought to trial and this past January was convicted of defrauding investors. Her meteoric rise and fall was complete.

In addition to Seyfried, the series also stars Lost alum Naveen Andrews as Holmes’ lover/business partner Sunny Balwani, along with Laurie Metcalf, William H. Macy, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Kate Burton and Sam Waterston, among others.

Michael Showalter (The Big Sick), who serves as exec producer and director, digested everything he could about the case—including the podcast, a book, several articles and a documentary. He considers Holmes’ story a case of genuinely good intentions that failed to hit the mark—her “fake it till you make it” approach ending in the worst possible way.

“I think that… she wanted to create this technology… She just sort of skipped over the part where you have to, like, do the work, and her fatal flaw seems to be accepting failure,” he explains. “I think she couldn’t accept that she wasn’t succeeding at this, and that the narrative that was being created around her and by her seemed to be bigger than her willingness to step away or take stock of the situation and… realize this isn’t working.”

Crafting the show’s version of Holmes falls largely to Seyfried, whom Showalter praises for being “an incredible actor and an incredible collaborator,” as well as a real trooper who endured severe seasickness to film one particularly humorous scene on a yacht.

“We would get her off the floor to quickly shoot a take and then she would immediately go back to lying down because she was in so much agony,” he recalls. “But [she persevered because] it was really important.” 

The Dropout debuts Thursday, March 3rd on Disney+