Awards Daily chats with The Dropout director Francesca Gregorini, nominated for Outstanding Directing for a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie for her episode “Iron Sisters.”
The Emmy-nominated Dropout episode “Iron Sisters” opens with Elizabeth Holmes (Amanda Seyfried) directly addressing the camera for an Errol Morris ad, her piercing blue eyes almost hypnotic. Director Francesca Gregorini admits that she asked for more takes than she needed just to watch Seyfried in action.
“Amanda is just brilliant as an actor—period,” says Gregorini. “This character really was her moment to shine, and she was just phenomenal. Someone like her, who’s literally at the top of her game, you stand back and watch her deliver. Of course there’s direction given here and there to get different takes and different modulations on things, but the fun part with her is that I really had what I needed so quickly, and it was so fun to watch her work. I’d pretend, ‘We don’t have it quite yet!’ so I could enjoy her doing her craft. She’s just a rare bird and a pleasure to work with. She gives you so much and yet she has that restraint that the real Elizabeth Holmes had, where you can’t quite get to the center of her.”
Interspersed throughout the episode, the outtakes in the Errol Morris ad offer a glimpse inside of Holmes’s head as you see the facade start to break down. Throughout “Iron Sisters,” these cracks get wider, especially with the introduction of Erika Cheung (Camryn Mi-young Kim), the young Berkeley graduation who ends up bringing down Holmes.
“Shout out to Camryn—this was her first acting role ever. So it was so exciting to work with the likes of Amanda, William H. Macy, and Laurie Metcalfe on one hand—super-seasoned pros—and Camryn—she stands toe to toe with them. If you think about it, Erika herself is potentially a young Elizabeth Holmes. They have a lot of the same attributes. They’re ambitious, they’re driven, they’re determined—and they’re brave both in their own right. Ultimately, for all of us with the power and talent that we have, it’s really how we choose to use it. Erika chose to step up, facing the potential demise of her own burgeoning career, just to do what’s right. Speaking truth to power is a very important theme in our world today. I love her, I love this character, and I think it’s interesting that it was another woman to bring down this woman.”
Even if Holmes’s former neighbor, Richard Fuisz (William H. Macy), wanted to be the man to do it. While Fuisz is clearly correct in his inkling that Holmes is a fake, his rage stems from a bit of misogyny. Would he have the same crusade against a man?
“As a woman myself, I think there was definitely some misogyny happening there. It’s threatening. There’s that extra element of threat for whatever reason. I do think he was so overtaken by it—he lost his marriage over it. We somewhat redeem his character by his friendship with Phyllis (Laurie Metcalfe); we start to have some compassion for him, but certainly the seed of it had an element of misogyny to it. But one hopes that in his journey he figured out some personal stuff himself.”
Another whistleblower, Tyler Schultz (played by Dylan Minette), believes in Elizabeth until he attends her birthday party and has an intense confrontation with the Theranos CEO. While Seyfried usually plays Holmes as in control of her lies, here she becomes almost angry when addressing Schultz.
“That’s one of my favorite scenes in the episode, because Elizabeth realizes that things are getting a little too close to home. It’s almost like she lowers her mask to show Tyler the real her and the real danger that he’s potentially in. She does it as a way to threaten him. [Tyler’s grandfather] George Schultz is the keys to her kingdom; that’s how all the members of the board have come on board. She takes that calculated risk in lowering the mask and showing him, ‘You don’t want to fuck with me.’ I think that’s when he realizes, ‘Oh my god, Erika is right.’ It really shows his character and what he does with that. A smaller man, a weaker man, would have backed away from this, whereas he takes that information and backs his friend and says, ‘I’m all in, too. Let’s do this together.'”
One lingering question that gets brought up in the episode is one that everyone asks themselves about this particular case: Why does everyone believe Holmes to begin with? Fuisz says it’s because she’s “pretty and blonde.”
“She had ambition and drive and determination. She had so many great attributes that you do need for success, and of course it was helpful that she was so young and pretty and blonde. All those things played into it. George Schultz drank the Kool-Aid, but so many people drank the Kool-Aid. It speaks to some extent the power of media. The media blew her up into this juggernaut. She was this little flame and they were the gasoline on that flame. This episode deals with media and perception of a person and the cult of personality.”
The Dropout is streaming on Hulu.