There’s nothing like a based-on-a-true-story mini-series to renew interest in some of the most infamous (and shocking) cases the world has seen. The most recent one that has us glued to our screens? Hulu’s The Dropout.
Based on the fraudster and disgraced CEO, Elizabeth Holmes, the series tells the story of her medical device company, Theranos, during its rise to fame, and monumental fall from grace.
In January 2022, Holmes was found guilty of one count of conspiracy and three counts of wire fraud after launching the company which claimed it could diagnose illnesses far earlier than blood tests, ultimately fast-tracking treatment and bettering survival rates and lowering medical costs using a product called Edison Device. The problem here? None of this was true.
Before the fraudulent activity was exposed, Theranos reached a peak of $9 billion in its worth. But an expose by The Wall Street Journal and a full federal investigation unravelled the truth.
Of course, Holmes wasn’t the only one involved in the business’ rise to notoriety—a number of other people joined her quest to revolutionise the medical industry, others on the outside actively damned it—many of these people are portrayed in The Dropout.
Below, we take a closer look at the cast of The Dropout next to the real-life people they play.
Amanda Seyfried plays Elizabeth Holmes
With a wardrobe of roll necks, red lipsticks, and a slicked back blonde ‘do, Seyfried was already well armed with the basics to play Elizabeth Holmes. But it’s Seyfried’s uncanny portrayal on-screen that really seals the deal on-screen—the actor told marie claire Australia for our April cover story that she practiced Holmes’ infamous low voice and her lines on animals.
“I would film videos of myself as I practised and the first video I have is of me feeding the animals in the summer. I’m wearing a tee and shorts and I set up my camera at the back of the tractor and did a TED talk about selling hay to the horses. I know it sounds ridiculous, but the morning feed is my alone time away from the kids, so I really have to utilise it,” she told us.
Naveen Andrews plays Sunny Balwani
Balwani was apointed as COO of Theranos in 2009. In the role, he worked closely with Holmes on the development of the business. They were also in a relationship, but they kept it under wraps. Balwani is currently standing trial for the same charges as Holmes in the US.
Andrews, who you might recognise from hit series, Lost, has said of Balwani and Holmes: “We get to see what happens when they move into uncharted territory, when money, wealth, power become involved and what that does to them as human beings.”
Bill Irwin plays Channing Robertson
Robertson was a Stanford professor who taught Holmes before she dropped out and started Theranos. He later joined the board of the company, leading to his role as co-leader of its technology advisory board in 2017—very shortly afterwards, Theranos’ shortcomings would be exposed and the company came crashing down.
Bill Irwin is best known for his work in Interstellar, The Gilded Age and Oscar-winning film, Rachel Getting Married.
Laurie Metcalf plays Phyllis Gardner
Gardner is a clinical pharmacologist renowned for being one of the first people to see through Elizabeth Holmes’ web of deceit. She first met Holmes as a 19-year-old student when she pitched the idea for a device that could detect and treat infectious diseases. Gardner was critical of the proposal, but Holmes was unperturbed by her feedback and went on to create Theranos.
Metcalf is best known for her roles in ABC sitcom series, Roseanne, in 2017’s Lady Bird and a haunting portrayal as the killer in 1997’s Scream 2.
Stephen Fry plays Ian Gibbons
Ian Gibbons, pictured in this article, was a well-respected scientist who’d garnered more than 30 years experience in diagnostic and therapeutic products. In 2005, he became the chief scientist at Theranos. It’s understood he was often frustrated by the Edison device’s shortcomings, and per Vanity Fair, he wanted to try “every possible direction and exhaust every option,” to make it work.
In 2013, Gibbons was found unconscious by his wife after taking a combination of medication and alcohol—barely a week later, he died in hospital from liver failure.
Fry is a well-known British actor famed for his roles in Blackadder, V For Vendetta and The Hobbit.