The Dropout: What is fact and what is fiction in Disney Plus’s new Elizabeth Holmes series?

Fact-based drama is adapted from a hit true crime podcast of the same name

Louis Chilton
Monday 11 April 2022 05:29 BST
The Dropout Trailer

True Crime stories have slowly but surely been taking over pop culture – encompassing everything from podcasts to TV series.

In the case of The Dropout, it’s taken the form of both.

The hit documentary podcast, focusing on the rise and fall of Elizabeth Holmes and her multi-billion-dollar health tech company Theranos, has now been adapted into an eight-episode miniseries starring Amanda Seyfried.

Holmes became the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire after her company claimed to have invented a means of enacting full blood tests using a single drop of blood.

The promise led to Theranos being valued at $9bn dollars. However, Holmes was charged with defrauding investors and, in 2018, was indicted on 11 counts of felony fraud.

ABC News journalist Rebecca Jarvis documented the case in a podcast called The Dropout, which released its first season in early 2019.

The new series is adapted from the podcast, with Jarvis serving as an executive producer alongside the podcast’s producers Taylor Dunn and Victoria Thompson.

The first three episodes of The Dropout are available to stream now on Hulu in the US and Disney Plus in the UK.

Amanda Seyfriend in ‘The Dropout'

Here’s a breakdown of the true story behind the series, and what the series has gotten right so far.

Holmes’s Childhood

While the series only gives us a short window into Holmes’s childhood, the key points are based in fact.

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She did indeed attempt to design a time machine at the age of seven, as the series claims. She is said to have told relatives as a young child that she wanted to be a billionaire when she grew up.

As shown in the series, Holmes’s father did work for Enron in a senior position. It is also true that her dad lost his job when the company went bankrupt, amid a scandal surrounding accounting fraud.

The Enron scandal became one of the highest-profile corporate fraud cases in US history.

Holmes’s time at college

As shown in the first episode of the series, Holmes did attend Stanford, studying chemical engineering.

Another detail The Dropout correctly included was that she became a “president’s scholar” – a distinction which granted her $3,000 in aid of a research project.

Amanda Seyfried as Elizabeth Holmes in the Hulu series ‘The Dropout'

It was also true that Holmes claimed she was sexually assaulted while at Stanford, and reported the alleged incident to police at the time.

Holmes testified about the alleged rape while taking the witness stand at her fraud trial, telling the court that the incident had deeply affected her.

"I was questioning what – how I was going to be able to process that experience and what I wanted to do with my life," she said. "And I decided that I was going to build a life by building this company."

Holmes’s passions

Many of the aspects of Holmes’s personality that we see in the series are ripped directly from real life, including her affinity for drinking “green juice” ablend of spinach, parsley, wheatgrass, and celery.

She was also a documented fan of the late Apple founder Steve Jobs – another real-life detail that plays into the series.

Holmes’s voice

Holmes’s distinctive deep voice is perhaps one of the only parts of the series that is less verifiably rooted in truth.

In the third episode of the series, Holmes is seen adopting the voice as a complete affectation, conditioning herself to speak in a lower register.

The real Elizabeth Holmes, photographed in 2015

There has never been any definitive confirmation that Holmes’s famously deep voice is not her real one. However, the voice has prompted plenty of speculation, with commenters sharing videos and audio clips in which she appears to slip up and lets her “real voice” through momentarily.

Several people who knew her early in her life have also claimed that she used to speak in a much higher register. So while there is a bit of artistic licence being taken here, The Dropout is still dramatising what is widely believed to be the case.

The Yoda quote

One of the most memorable moments in the first three episodes sees the reveal of a gigantic quote from the Star Wars character Yoda printed on the wall of the Theranos lobby.

This was really something that Holmes arranged: as in the series, the real-life Theranos building was home to a giant mural quoting the diminutive Jedi Master’s words: “Do or do not. There is no try.”

Naveen Andrews as Sunny Balwani, left, and Amanda Seyfried as Elizabeth Holmes

What happened next?

While the first three episodes have included some flash forwards to Holmes’s criminal trial, many of the story’s biggest developments are still yet to come.

For a full breakdown of the Theranos scandal, click here.

New episodes of The Dropout arrive on Hulu in the US and Disney Plus in the UK every Wednesday.

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