Hulu’s new limited series The Dropout, starring Amanda Seyfried as convicted fraudster Elizabeth Holmes, recounts the rapid rise and even faster fall of the disgraced Theranos founder. And among the many stranger-than-fiction elements of Holmes’ story, the show promises to address Holmes’ voice — a distinctive baritone, which many believe is faked.
Showrunner Elizabeth Meriwether has said that there will be an episode centered around Holmes’ voice, which the show paints as a byproduct of a “young woman in a position of power and not knowing what to do with that.” As Meriwether told the Television Critics Association, per Variety, “I really relate it to the experience of feeling like something about your body doesn’t fit the role that you’re in and that you sort of have to change your body to fit this role. So I think that is why I dedicated an episode to it, because I felt like that particular episode is about her trying to change herself to fit the role of CEO. And not having a lot of models of female CEOs and going to Steve Jobs and trying to just change herself to be what she thinks somebody powerful is.”
Below, what to know about Holmes’ voice, including how Seyfried channeled Holmes’ cadence.
Many believe Holmes’ voice was intentionally lowered.
John Carreyrou — who penned the Wall Street Journal exposé on Theranos, which he later expanded into the book Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup — believes that Holmes intentionally deepened her voice. In a 2018 interview with CBS anchor Norah O’Donnell, Carreyrou said: “One of the anecdotes in the book is that a new employee met with her in 2011, and it was at the end of a long day, and she was getting up from her chair and expressed excitement that he had joined the company. And she forgot to put on the baritone for a moment, and slipped into a more natural-sounding young woman’s voice. And at that point it dawned on him that [the voice] was a put-on.”
Carreyrou also speculates Holmes put on the voice to “be taken seriously” as a female tech executive in the male-dominated Silicon Valley. “In a way, I can understand that,” he said.
A 2005 NPR interview — in which Holmes briefly speaks in a higher register, before deepening her voice considerably — is often cited as evidence of Holmes faking her baritone. (Listen here.)
Holmes’ family told reporters that her voice is “naturally low.”
In 2019, TMZ reported that her voice is “real” — at least according to Holmes' kin. The article cites unnamed members of Holmes’ family, who claimed that “her voice is naturally low,” and that most people in their family “have low voices, including her grandmother.” They also addressed how Holmes’ voice occasionally appeared fluctuate, saying that she “will occasionally change her pitch to a higher octave — especially when she gets excited or passionate.”
Amanda Seyfried said she did her “best to try to capture the oddness” of Holmes’ voice.
During a panel with the Television Critics Association in Feb. 2022, Seyfried told the press she feels she didn’t quite nail Holmes’ signature baritone voice, but she came pretty close. “The shape of my mouth isn’t the same as hers, but I can make sounds somewhat or pretty close to what she did,” Seyfried said, per Variety. “But in terms of the depth of it, I had to work really hard to get there because I speak at such a higher level than she does naturally. So even though she was deepening her voice more and more to what we all understand is for power’s sake, to make an impact, I still couldn’t get all the way there.” The 36-year-old actor practiced “different breathing and tricks” in order to nail it.