Naveen Andrews plays Elizabeth Holmes' boyfriend in 'The Dropout'
DAVID FOLKENFLIK, HOST:
The modern-day Icarus tale of Theranos has been widely chronicled. Elizabeth Holmes promised new technology could diagnose hundreds of diseases from a drop or two of blood. The reality - the tech did not work. Now Hulu has a new miniseries creatively portraying what happened at Theranos called "The Dropout." It stars Amanda Seyfried as Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes, who this year was found guilty of fraud, and Naveen Andrews as Sunny Balwani, Holmes's former boyfriend and deputy. His trial just started.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE DROPOUT")
NAVEEN ANDREWS: (As Sunny Balwani) There's no one there.
AMANDA SEYFRIED: (As Elizabeth Holmes) I thought I heard somebody.
ANDREWS: (As Sunny Balwani) I'm a secret.
SEYFRIED: (As Elizabeth Holmes) Just at work. I told my parents about you.
ANDREWS: (As Sunny Balwani) I like being a secret.
SEYFRIED: (As Elizabeth Holmes) Really?
ANDREWS: (As Sunny Balwani) Just don't keep secrets from me.
FOLKENFLIK: Andrews spoke to us about "The Dropout" and the imagination and interpretation involved in depicting Balwani as a dramatic character. I started by asking Andrews what he thought was distinctive about their portrayal.
ANDREWS: I think what distinguishes our story is the fact that I feel the idea was a good idea at the outset. Their intentions, I think, were good. And I guess we get to see what happens when they move into uncharted territory, when money, wealth, power become involved and what that does to them as human beings.
FOLKENFLIK: You raise an interesting point. Your interpretation is that they believed in the mission of what they were doing. What kinds of assumptions, what kinds of decisions did you and Amanda Seyfried reach in order to figure out how to play their relationship and what they did at that company?
ANDREWS: We had to make a decision fairly early on from our first day of filming together about the depth and the intensity of their relationship. You know, what was it that actually bound them together? And we were in this strange situation where events were happening to the characters we were playing in real time as regards to the trial. And, you know, you'd be, like, shooting a scene and then running over to find out what had happened in the trial, which is a - yeah, a unique and very odd position to be in. But it worked to our advantage in that texts were released between the pair that Liz Meriwether incorporated into the text.
FOLKENFLIK: Elizabeth Meriwether - she's the showrunner for "The Dropout."
ANDREWS: And I think we breathed a collective sigh of relief when we realized that we might have been in the right ballpark in terms of those decisions that we made because it's a gamble when you're doing that.
FOLKENFLIK: During the trial, the actual trial, the real-life Elizabeth Holmes alleged that Sunny Balwani had been abusive to her, which he has publicly denied. How did the show deal with those allegations?
ANDREWS: I think we accepted that Sunny would have his day in court, and those allegations would be addressed, if at all, by Sunny himself. But I think anyone who's seen the show will be aware that there's a certain - well, if a relationship is imbalanced, the door is open for all sorts of toxic behaviors that could be practiced by one partner on another. And these things can switch, you know? It's a kind of dance that these people do. And I think you can see that in the show. absolutely.
FOLKENFLIK: Elizabeth Holmes graced the covers of many magazines. There's so much information out there about her, much less about Balwani. What did you know about him, and how did you use that to build a performance of, you know, a textured character?
ANDREWS: Well, the one thing I could empathize with personally was the fact that he was born in the Sindh province of what is now Pakistan, to be born a Hindu in a country that suddenly regards you as other than and the sense of displacement, having to move to India, a sense of rootlessness, a questioning of one's identity - I felt I could get into that.
FOLKENFLIK: Did you feel that similar sense of displacement? Was that something that spoke to something in you?
ANDREWS: Yes, absolutely. I mean, obviously, I was born in Europe. I was born in London. So the way I think is European. And he was born in the subcontinent. And I know from my family in India that way of thinking and being is completely different. So there had to be a shift. But I felt that there was a deep insecurity behind what he presented publicly, and, you know, both of them were quite presentational.
FOLKENFLIK: You've described him in some ways as a Lady Macbeth figure.
FOLKENFLIK: Why does he evoke that?
ANDREWS: Because it seemed to me that he was desperately in love with her, besotted even. And it became a - if there was a romantic aspect to the story, it was how far will you go for the person that you love? You know, what are you prepared to do? And it seemed to me that he kind of went all the way. The stakes were very high. And just in his support of her, it's almost unwavering, unquestioning. There was very little room for doubt or even self-doubt. I think maybe that came at the end.
FOLKENFLIK: How invested are you in the story of Sunny Balwani? Are you going to - how closely are you going to be following his trial that's coming up in coming weeks?
ANDREWS: Well, both Amanda and I felt, rightly or wrongly, that we've become emotionally invested in these people. I can't pretend that I'm not going to be watching this trial avidly, and that comes from having to inhabit these characters - no other reason. But just because of having to sort of dwell in that universe of - it's so restrictive and tight and like you can't breathe. It's stifling. So just to have that break after you've finished filming, and you can think about, you know, those broader questions, you think to yourself, how credulous are people? That's what this seems to be about. Fake it till you make it - I think it's more than that. It's like how credulous we are as human beings.
FOLKENFLIK: Naveen Andrews is the co-star of the Hulu series "The Dropout." Naveen Andrews, thanks so much for your time.
ANDREWS: Thank you for having me.
FOLKENFLIK: We reached out to Sunny Balwani's attorney for comment on "The Dropout." He did not respond.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.