‘The Dropout’ Star Naveen Andrews on How the Script Evolved to Keep up With Real-Life Theranos Trial

The actor tells TheWrap that revelations from the trial affected their portrayal of Elizabeth Holmes and Sunny Balwani


Hulu’s new series “The Dropout” tells the true story of Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes, and how she built — and subsequently lost — a billion dollar company, all on a lie. And, according to series co-star Naveen Andrews, real-time updates in Holmes’s trial did affect the show as it was being made.

Andrews stars as Sunny Balwani, Holmes’s longtime boyfriend (now ex), and former president and COO of Theranos. Balwani joined the company in 2009, but he met Holmes while they were both in China in the early 2000s for a summer program. He was 37 at the time; Holmes was 18.

Going into the series, Andrews and Amanda Seyfried, who stars as Holmes, immediately leaned into the potential power dynamic that the age gap created. Their instincts were later solidified as text messages between Holmes and Balwani were submitted as evidence during Holmes’s trial that backed up her claims that Balwani was abusive. Andrews referred to the trial’s unfolding as “the play within the play.”

“When, I think, texts were released into the public domain as the trial was progressing, the writing would change,” Andrews told TheWrap. “Which turned out to be a good thing. Because Amanda and I, very early on when we first started, probably day one, made a decision about what kind of relationship we believed it to be in terms of the level of intimacy and the depth of it. You know, how into each other they were. And in terms of what happened later on, with what was revealed in those texts, maybe we were in the right ballpark.”

Among the texts were messages from 2015, in which Balwani wrote “I have molded you,” and “I am sorry for last night. I will get better.” In April of that year, Balwani sent a message to Holmes saying “You are speaking with everyone in your giddy voice – excessive use of ‘awesome,’” which gets almost a direct nod in “The Dropout.”

Andrews continued, “So it actually worked to our advantage to be honest, because, you know, sometimes you have to take a gamble, yeah? You don’t really know. You weren’t bloody there, you know what I mean?”

Andrews notes that though he and Seyfriend had lots of conversations about their on-screen portrayal of the relationship, this particular aspect of their characters was almost an unspoken understanding.

“Well, I think instinctively, we felt, you know, sometimes even without discussing, it would just — without wanting to sound mysterious, or evil or pretentious — sometimes things will just happen naturally, which is the best thing of all. You don’t really want to be talking about it, you want to be able to do it,” Andrews explained. “You want things to ideally just happen without too much effort. And that happened, I’m pleased to say.”

He continued, “But I think there was an understanding. Both of us instinctively felt that if the relationship is unbalanced — you know, again, this is just how we approached it — if there’s that imbalance, then it opens the door for certain kind of toxic behaviors that one partner can use to undermine the other. And that was also quite interesting, I thought.”

The first three episodes of “The Dropout” are now available to stream on Hulu.