It’s tempting to imagine what WeWork co-founder Adam Neumann would say to Theranos fraudster Elizabeth Holmes, given their similar public falls from grace. But short of that, we at least had the chance to listen to a conversation between the two actors who played them in recent limited series. Upon sitting down, Jared Leto (Apple TV+’s “WeCrashed”) and Amanda Seyfried (Hulu’s “The Dropout”) reveal they both approached their characters as layered humans — not mustache-twirling villains. They also had to find their real-life inspirations’ distinct voices, which was no small feat. Watch the full conversation above from Variety’s “Actors on Actors,” presented by Apple TV+.
JARED LETO: Thank you for being here. I’m glad I didn’t show up and you weren’t sitting here. That would’ve been awkward.
AMANDA SEYFRIED: I thought about that as a joke. And then I thought that would be mean because you don’t know me at all. The thing that connects us is that you gave Elizabeth Holmes a Woman of the Year Award. And I just want to know what that was like. Do you remember?
LETO: Yeah, of course I do. I had heard her speak in Palo Alto. She was great onstage. She was incredibly smart, funny — and then I met her after that, and I liked her a lot. But no indication that things weren’t great in her life and at the company. And then I gave her an award. And now I’m here with you. We stayed in touch after that and talked a few times, but my experience with her was always quite lovely. Not everyone is one thing. No one is one thing. Did you want to meet her?
SEYFRIED: Yeah, of course.
LETO: She contact you?
SEYFRIED: No. We weren’t allowed to. She was in litigation, and Disney was very clear about what we could and could not put in the show. And I wasn’t privy to any of that, because I didn’t come on until the last minute. Kate McKinnon stepped out, and then they were looking for somebody else.
LETO: I kind of had a similar situation, where I wasn’t allowed to meet. But I did anyway.
SEYFRIED: Why were you told you couldn’t meet Adam?
LETO: The question was floated early on, and I didn’t get a definitive response. I think the blanket approach that they were taking was that the Neumanns weren’t involved with our project. It was a piece that celebrated their success, but also some of the biggest failures. But I was too curious. I thought that I would regret it. We had a top-secret meeting. Nobody knew it was happening. I met his wife, Rebekah, and they have a lovely family. It was a nice experience on my end.
SEYFRIED: Are you still in touch with Elizabeth?
LETO: No. You want to pass your number along or something? I could …
SEYFRIED: No, no, no. It’s not the time.
LETO: What better time than the present?
SEYFRIED: I know. I actually do care.
LETO: What would you say if you ran into her in New York?
SEYFRIED: “Hi. Wow. Hello …” I don’t know. I would want to spend some time with her, and know that I probably shouldn’t, because I have in some way affected her legal experience. Right now, Sunny Balwani is in court, and her sentencing may or may not depend on Sunny’s sentencing. And so, it’s really messy.
LETO: You think she’s watched the show?
SEYFRIED: I know Elizabeth was told not to watch it, but I cannot imagine a world where she didn’t peek.
LETO: How do you think you’re going to feel when she’s sentenced? It’s a wild thing to think about, huh?
SEYFRIED: I have thought a lot about the sentencing. We tried to figure her out from a place of compassion and worthiness. I know whatever she’s sentenced with, it’s what she deserves. And I also know, in my gut, that there’s a space for her outside of this whole Theranos thing, outside of prison — if she goes to prison. Then she’ll get out and she’ll invent something new that’ll work. I don’t know if I’m the only person who feels that way. I’d love to see her take responsibility in a very vocal way, which she has not. If she can just take accountability and move on. Yeah, she lied a lot. She’s a mother. She has her whole life ahead of her. She’s my age. I like to think I’m still young, you know what I mean?
LETO: You are.
SEYFRIED: It’s interesting, because we don’t do television. You did it a long time ago [with “My So-Called Life”].
LETO: When I did television, I barely spoke in the project that I did. I think I was in probably two minutes of every episode.
SEYFRIED: And you were a child?
LETO: Yeah, it was a distant memory. I was 22. But this, it never felt any different than any film I’ve ever made.
SEYFRIED: Right. Process is similar. Is this the longest you’ve ever had a character?
LETO: Yeah, it was the longest and the most amount of material I’ve ever had in my life. Selfishly, I loved it.
SEYFRIED: What’s Adam’s accent? He’s Israeli? How long did it take you to feel confident with the voice?
LETO: I had come from Rome — I was doing “House of Gucci,” and I had a pretty strong Italian accent. And then I went right to New York, and a few weeks later, we were shooting. So I had very little time. I actually tried to go straight to Tel Aviv, and I couldn’t get in, because of COVID.
SEYFRIED: Oh, OK.
LETO: I just dove in as deep as I could. I surrounded myself with a team of Israelis, and I had a great actor, a woman named Neta, in Israel. We would Zoom every day. I had the voices around me, so that helped a lot.
SEYFRIED: It goes in your muscles almost, right? When you hear it enough?
LETO: Yeah. I think so. It just becomes habit. It’s really retraining your mouth to make certain shapes. I was really worried that I was going to keep slipping into Italian, and I think it’s a testament to how strong the character was that that wasn’t the hardest part. So how soon did you start digging into that? Because it’s a great voice that Elizabeth has.
SEYFRIED: I was very committed to the fact that I was never going to get it exactly right. And that it was OK because it was my version. It was not an accent, but it’s not an affectation either. I speak much higher, a little bit above average for a female. And, to be transparent, some of her speaking when it’s very deep was ADR — after the fact. I coughed a lot, because I had COVID a couple hundred times.
LETO: Well, that’s the beautiful thing. You know, Marlon Brando was infamous for looping almost everything that he did in later years.
SEYFRIED: That’s a whole other art in itself. When you have that physical performance, trying to match that with something more enhanced.
LETO: Did you have your own hair, everything?
SEYFRIED: I had a piece. But then we took it off when I finally got to bleach my hair. I don’t like wigs, because they’re hot and uncomfortable. How do you feel about prosthetics and massive hair and makeup transformations?
LETO: I mean, it’s a tool. I’m of the thinking that you just follow the character, and you do what’s needed to deliver. But there are those moments during preparation, during rehearsal, where you’re like, “Oh, this is never going to work.” You call the director and you’re like, “I’m sorry. You’re going to have to fire me.” But that’s part of it. It’s just the trial and error. We found it was really hard to do subtle. Even having the contact lenses, we must have gone through 10 different pairs, because you’ve probably done this. You need to find the right tone and maybe his eyes are darker, but then they look dead on camera because it’s plastic — it’s not a real eye. So it’s always a negotiation.
SEYFRIED: It’s a lot to wear contacts for that long.
LETO: It is. I learned to do it myself, because for some reason, my eyes are really hard to get them in and out of.
LETO: Which is weird, because you have very large eyes and my eyes are pretty large too. You would think the larger the eye, the easier the contact.
SEYFRIED: You have, like, searing blue eyes.
LETO: But you have searing blue eyes.
SEYFRIED: Green eyes. Are they blue? Why does everyone call me blue?
LETO: Well, because they’re blue.
SEYFRIED: They’re green. My eyes are green on my license.
LETO: OK. Then it must be true.