Art imitates life: Hulu's Theranos series pulls casting bait-and-switch

Elizabeth Holmes
Amanda Seyfried has been chosen to replace Kate McKinnon in The Dropout, Hulu’s upcoming series about Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes (DoD Photo By Glenn Fawcett)

It’s been years since the world was promised multiple onscreen dramatizations of the Theranos story and, despite those projects receiving plenty of hype via splashy headlines and big-name endorsements, all we’ve gotten in that time is months of stalling, repeated personnel change-ups, and whispers about whether the powers that be will ever actually deliver on their promises. Sound familiar?

The latest update in the saga is equally befitting of its subject material: In much the same way that Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes repeatedly claimed that her company had developed ground-breaking all-in-one blood testing technology, only to stealthily showcase something completely different in formal presentations and pilot projects, Hulu’s adaptation of the story has pulled something of a bait-and-switch in its casting.

After nearly two years attached to the project as its star and executive producer, Kate McKinnon of "Saturday Night Live" dropped out of "The Dropout" in February and has since been replaced as Holmes by Amanda Seyfried, Variety reports.

Meanwhile, "Lost" star Naveen Andrews has reportedly signed on to join the series as Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, who was not only president and COO of Theranos but also Holmes’ semi-secret boyfriend for more than a decade.

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"The Dropout" will be based on the 2019 ABC News podcast of the same name, which outlined Holmes’ path from leaving Stanford University during her sophomore year to starting a company eventually valued at $9 billion to being indicted on several counts of fraud after failing to deliver on the miracle blood-testing device that had garnered the startup its unicorn status.

Production on the series is expected to begin sometime this summer—just in time for Holmes and Balwani’s trial to finally begin after being pushed back multiple times. The trial was delayed first to give the defense more time to review the evidence, then due to COVID-19 and, most recently, because of Holmes’ pregnancy. (She is believed to have married hospitality heir Billy Evans in secret in 2019.)

Barring any further delays, the trial is scheduled to begin on August 31. Holmes and Balwani, both of whom have pleaded not guilty, face nearly a dozen counts of felony wire fraud. Prosecutors allege that the pair sought to defraud not only investors but also the doctors and patients who participated in pilot installations, all of whom were led to believe that Theranos had developed a countertop device that could run hundreds of diagnostic tests on only a few drops of blood.

If found guilty, Holmes and Balwani face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and would also be required to pay a $250,000 fine, plus restitution, for each count of fraud.