Amanda Seyfried on Breaking Away From ‘Mean Girls,’ Dancing to Lil Wayne, and Needing ‘Mamma Mia 3’ Before She’s 40

·15-min read

When Amanda Seyfried was first offered the role of Elizabeth Holmes in “The Dropout,” she wasn’t sure if she should take it. “I don’t think I’ve ever talked about this,” the actor told Variety after her Power of Women photo shoot, “but my one fear was that I was like, ‘Am I going to have a target on my back? How protected are we, as a show? Are there people who don’t want this to get made?’”

If that sounds too paranoid, you probably haven’t seen “The Dropout.” Hulu’s breakout limited series follows the spectacular rise and fall of Holmes, the founder of a billion-dollar blood testing company that was eventually revealed to be an elaborate fraud. And as the series details in its thrilling final episodes, Holmes and her partner Sunny Balwani (played by Naveen Andrews) made sure to suffocate any pushback with NDAs, private security, and outright threats. So, it’s safe to say that Seyfried’s initial concerns weren’t exactly misplaced.

More from Variety

“I’ve been talking about this show for so long, and I’m proud of it in terms of the art we created and our version of events,” she emphasizes. “But then sometimes there’s a moment of, ‘Ah, shit, let me not forget that these are real people.’”

Seyfried’s performance in her most physically challenging and fascinating role to date immediately launched her career to a whole new level. “It’s like a completely new world for me,” she says, sounding awed even over the phone on her way back up to her Catskills home. “I know it’s rare, and might not happen again. So it’s hard not to be grateful every step of the way.”

Just a couple of weeks after “The Dropout” aired its season finale, an exhausted but excited Seyfried spoke with Variety about landing this dream role, how the show’s perfectly awkward dance scenes act as “mating calls,” the staying power of cult favorites like “Jennifer’s Body,” and of course, the burning necessity of “Mamma Mia 3.”

What has it been like to see all the reactions to “The Dropout”?

I’ve never carried anything like this before, and now that it’s all done, it’s been amazing. People were invested! It impacted them as a journey, and they had feelings about it that they wanted to share. I’ve never felt the impact of something so viscerally. It feels like everyone I’ve talked to has seen it! So this is a very new thing for me, and it makes me feel proud.

Like, I know it’s good. I know I was working with some really smart people, and knew I was lucky to be a part of the creative team on this show — and then it turned out really well, too! So we have a product that I’m proud of, and I like my performance, and I also had a good time. It’s like a completely new world for me.

Watching week to week as people got invested, I was so curious about which moments were going to break out. Have you been surprised by any of the specific things that people have glommed on to?

People seem to really like the Errol Morris close-ups for the Theranos commercials, and the scream at the end, which is a whole visceral thing. Watching it back, it’s like, how can you not feel, for an instant, what she might be feeling? I’m really glad we ended on that. I wasn’t sure if it was going to be a scream; I thought maybe it’d be a silent kind of implosion.

Oh, and people were obsessed with the Walgreens guys, which of course I was as well. On that day, we had this big conference table and coloring books, and also those really good Copic watercolor markers — I have the full set, I’ve collected every single color — and were just, sitting around fucking coloring. For whatever reason, it was therapeutic and fun. And Alan Ruck came over and was just like, “You know how to draw? You just put the picture upside down.”

Sorry, that was just an extra little anecdote. But every moment that people are talking about, I just have a really positive and fucking hilarious memory behind it. It’s hard not to remember it like that.

And of course, the dancing, which was Liz Meriweather all the way. I’d never gotten to do anything like that, getting down into my most awkward parts. To be naked, in a way. It was just one of the best things I’ve ever gotten to do as an actor, to play into that stress and frustration. I feel like we should all just start dancing when we’re on set.

I definitely thought Elizabeth and Sunny dancing with the Elizabeth masks on would be the biggest breakout dancing moment, but at least in my corner of the internet the favorite one has absolutely been —

The Lil Wayne.

Yes! Was that choreographed at all, or is that just … what came out?

No, that was just, free-ballin’. Wait, no, “freestyling,” that’s the word. Yeah, I don’t know! I think at the point I’d been playing her for long enough that it was just, whatever came out.

I just found out recently that it was actually, like, a mating call. We couldn’t have sex scenes in the show because they’re real people and there were legal issues with that, so some of these dancing scenes were in lieu of sex scenes. But the Lil Wayne one was just my version of an apology where you put on their favorite song and say, “Sorry, tiger.” It’s not even sexual. It’s just a different brand altogether. I fucking really leaned into that as much and as literally as possible. I love that people love it, because I honestly was having a ball.

One thing that really makes this show stand out is that you play this character over almost 20 years of her life. How did that help you get inside her head? What were the advantages and challenges of that?

I mean, the challenge is always making me look younger. I saw a lot of the first versions of each episode before they did all the photoshopping, or whatever they do. Like, I’m 36 years old, I have some dents. But I saw myself playing 17 years-old in the car and was like, “Oh my god, they blurred my face out!” But a little bit of physicality can really go a long way. The hair and the makeup and the costume are all really important elements.

It was tough, but it was also like, “OK, I can do this. I was her age, let me just think about what I was like when I was 17.” There was just so much to empathize with at the beginning, because we’re all born innocent — I mean, that’s what I believe in. So, you really get to explore the consequences of her upbringing and her choices, and all the things she’s been through.

I think it tracked really well. I was able to keep really close to what she had experienced as an adolescent, especially that she claimed she was raped. You have to take that seriously. That shapes somebody, regardless of what happened. The specifics of it don’t fucking matter. That can make a crater in your world, depending on who’s around or if you’re getting the right help. Some people never overcome that shit. So it was important to remember that she’s had some trauma, and some circumstances both good and bad. It was so helpful to be able to grow with her in that way, even slightly. It went a long way for me.

By the end, it was hard for people to talk to me about the bad shit she was doing because I was still playing her, you know? I wanted to give the benefit of the doubt, because that was my responsibility as an actor playing the character. Once the show was done shooting, I was like, “OK, I gotta take a break. I’ve got to get myself away from this.” And then when the trial was wrapping up, I got back into it.

The timing of it all has been kind of wild. Did you hear about the jurors who got dismissed from the Balwani trial because they were watching “The Dropout”?

Yeah, isn’t that hilarious? Like, they could’ve lied, and they didn’t! To be part of a current event is so amazing.

What do you want to take from your experience of making “The Dropout” to your next job? What did it make you want to look for in the future?

I want to look for more character pieces. I think the reason this is the most fun I’ve ever had while acting is because pretending to be somebody else with a different way of speaking, expressing themselves, and even walking is so thrilling. It’s not like it, opens my world up and blows my mind. It’s just so fucking fun. I want to have more fun.

I think that people in the industry are also realizing that I can be cast as more than just versions of me. In the bigger picture, I want to prove that I can be trusted to play anybody. That’s what I think “The Dropout” is helping to carve out for me. Of course there’s me in Elizabeth, that’s never going to change. But the more Amanda can get lost, the more thrilling it is for me.

Looking back at what you’ve done, it seems like you’ve very consciously gone for very different parts. You started with “Mean Girls,” which is completely different from “Big Love,” which is completely different from “Chloe,” which is completely different from “Lovelace” etc. Is that something that you really tried to do?

Oh yeah, that was very intentional. I try to be as deliberate as possible and keep switching things up. When I think of what I want out of my career, I want longevity, right? So how do I do that? How do I design a path where that’s possible? What you do is, you do different things. You work with different types of people and different mediums. You keep people guessing. That’s the thing people have mentioned throughout my career is that it’s so diverse, and that’s because I did it on purpose.

I’ve made some decisions that have come back to haunt me, and that’s OK. But I’m happier that I didn’t do certain things because I would be stuck, you know? My big fear would be having to go to work and dreading it. I haven’t had that experience yet. I’m really lucky.

You said something in an interview about a decade ago that was really interesting: that you were frustrated to realize in your early career that a lot of studios “buy a blonde,” because that’s not what you felt like you were. Is that something you still feel? Or is that something you feel like you’ve kind of broken out of?

I said “buy a blonde”? Interesting. I think I know what I meant by that.

“Mean Girls” got me on the map, it really got my foot in the door. But getting pigeonholed was the thing you had to fight. Back in 2004, I had to be really careful to not just be “the pretty blonde.” So at the very beginning of my career, if I hadn’t done “Big Love,” I was going to be Karen Smith. All the auditions I had for my first pilot season were just, like, blonde girl friends. I wasn’t going to be the lead, because for whatever reason I didn’t fit into that. I don’t know what it was.

I remember for one movie — I can’t say the name — it was between me and some model for a kind of ancillary character. And I was like, “Oh God, it doesn’t matter who it is! And if it doesn’t matter, I don’t know if I want to be a part of it.” But at the same time, I wanted to work, and I wanted to work with the actors involved. Luckily, I then had opportunities that went a different way pretty quickly, and I’m grateful for that.

You said earlier that this is the first time it feels like people are watching and appreciating something you’ve starred in, in real time. When I told a couple of people that I was interviewing you, it was telling to see which projects of yours they most knew you from, and “Jennifer’s Body” was way up there.

Oh my God! Honestly, in terms of box office success, we didn’t see that. Whatever. For me, it was always about the experience of making it and being terrified of when it came out, because it felt like it always meant something. It had a cult following, and for good reason. Karyn Kusama is an amazing director. It was a fucking really badass story about best friends that was hilarious, and dark, and smart. It was unique! Sorry, but I have not ever read another script or seen another movie that feels like “Jennifer’s Body.” It was art. I’m really proud of the job I did, and the fun we had.

It’s so nice to be celebrated for it. Even if it’s years later, it doesn’t fucking matter. I think it was a great movie, so it feels really good that people are still talking about it. To be a part of anything that’s stayed is cool. Like, when I was working with Paul Schrader [on “First Reformed”], I was like, “This is going to be a film class. People are going to study this movie for years and years.” I knew that before I even shot it.

And then you have something like “Mamma Mia,” which is just … the longevity of that franchise must be surreal.

I mean, what a stroke of luck to be in that. I’m just in love with those people. I can’t tell you how memorable it was to reconnect [for 2014’s “Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again”] with Colin [Firth], Stellan [Skarsgård], Pierce [Brosnan], Christine [Baranski] and Julie [Walter] after I’d just had my first kid. It was like, I’m a grown up now! I was 21 when I first worked with them, so to work with them as an adult and have them see that, it was beautiful.

I hope we do another one, but you know, no one’s talking to me. I know if you ask any of the others they’ll be like, “Sure, but it’s not going to happen.” But then that’s what we said about the second one, and it was better than the first one! It’s just so fun, even though people were like, “Oh, is ‘Mamma Mia 2’ going to be, like, ‘The King Kong Song’?”

“The King Kong Song”! What a pull. Is that what you’d want to sing if it came down to “Mamma Mia 3”?

Nooooo. Definitely not, no. I would want to sing “Chiquitita,” because that should come back after it didn’t in the second one. You know, how many times can you do “Dancing Queen”? Maybe unlimited, but also, maybe not!

But look, sorry, if you’re a fan of the second one, you’re gonna be a fan of the third one regardless of the story. I don’t want to wait another 10 years! We should do it before I’m 40. I’ll have two kids and still be married to Skye. We’ll go back to Greece and sing more songs, and Meryl will be a ghost because she’s dead. Or maybe she comes back as Donna’s twin sister or something. She would have to do it.

And now you’ve raised the bar by bringing in Cher, and how could you not bring her back?!

Cher! Oh my gosh, yeah, she’d be all over the third one. She had a lot of fun. What you see is what you get with her. She’s amazing. Just a warm, talented person who’s always stayed on the ground and been really gracious.

You don’t know what to expect when you meet someone like that. I recently met Madonna too, and there’s just like, an aura that surrounds them. But at the same time, when you sit across from somebody like that and have a conversation, you see that there’s still a very well rounded human being there. It seems like with that kind of fame and schedule that they would just be floating in the air, but they’re not. You don’t want to meet your idols — but when you do and you’re pleasantly surprised, it’s everything. It just goes so far.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Best of Variety

Sign up for Variety’s Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Click here to read the full article.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting