How The Dropout’s Makeup Team Nailed Elizabeth Holmes’s Signature Look

by Emily Kirkpatrick
Originally Published: 

Amanda Seyfried as Elizabeth Holmes in black turtleneck and red lipstick
Courtesy of Hulu.
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Taking on the role of head makeup artist for The Dropout posed a totally unique challenge for Jorjee Douglass. The catch? She had to make it look like she didn’t know what she was doing. By now, Theranos founder and convicted fraudster Elizabeth Holmes’s perpetually smudged eyeliner, glopped-on mascara, and slightly askew red lipstick have all become the stuff of pop culture lore. But actually capturing the infamous Theranos founder’s haphazard hallmarks on screen for Hulu’s new miniseries, in which Amanda Seyfried plays Holmes, proved to be not quite as simple as just slapping on a full face of makeup in a hurry.

Douglass, along with her co-department head Gillian Whitlock, pored over photographs of Holmes from every era of her life, taking into consideration the cultural influences of where she was living and who she was hanging out with at the time, in an attempt to better understand the psychology behind how this very particular and intentional entrepreneur chose to make, or not make, herself up every day. Just before the first three episodes of The Dropout premiere on Hulu, W spoke with Douglass to find out more about the journey to transform Seyfried into a woman who will go down in Silicon Valley history books and how she achieved that very particular shade of Elizabeth Holmes red.

What first interested you about working on this project?

I saw the documentary and I was just fascinated by her. She has a very strong look and was really into exploiting how men see women, how they look at women. Like, “I’m going to put on a stereotypical face and you’re going to say yes to everything I need.” But I didn’t want to go into this having any feelings like she’s guilty or she’s not guilty. I have to remove the real person from the character.

Were you given any directives about how Amanda should look in the role?

No, but she was willing to go in deep! She told [hair department head] Vanessa Price that she could totally destroy and fry and bleach out her hair if she wanted to. [ed. note: Price echoed that “Amanda allowed me complete creative freedom” with her hair.] Her makeup just looked terrible. No one really asked me, “Can you make her makeup ugly? Can you make her makeup look frantic?” There were times when I went completely overboard. At times, it was really like, “Oh my god, I’m destroying my reputation as a makeup artist who knows how to do makeup!”

You had to figure out how to do controlled chaos.

I did. And It was actually much harder than I anticipated. I did 20th Century Women and with Greta Gerwig we got to really mess up her makeup. But doing that kind of bold, ’80s, punk makeup was so much different than this. Doing the makeup that we did on Greta Gerwig was more intentional, but doing this was like [Elizabeth is] just putting her makeup on, maybe not even in the mirror, who knows! Maybe she was just driving to the office. It’s just a different intention and, obviously, the execution is different.

Elizabeth Holmes seems to have a very specific relationship with makeup, like she’s using it more as a tool.

Somebody was hounding her forever and ever; her mom was always like, “You look better with makeup on, you look better with your hair lighter.” I think she ignored her all throughout college and high school and then, when she decided to finally use it, she was like, I’m not just going to use it as a tool, I’m using it as a weapon.

How would you describe her hair and makeup?

Manic. A manic mask because you’re covering up the real you, the fear.

Why do you think she chose that particular makeup look as her uniform?

I read it as either one of two things. Either that mask to stay safe within her real truth or that she is putting this on to say, ”Fuck you, I’m a woman, and you guys make it so hard for me and I want to represent every female out there that has been squashed in this industry.”

There is something almost aggressively feminine about that look. Was there a standout makeup moment for you in the series?

To me, it’s when she’s being interviewed on 20/20. She is trying to spin gold out of this thing, and she knows she’s not giving this interviewer the truth, so that’s when I really peaked her manic makeup. I made one side of her lip lopsided because I saw in the interview that’s how it was. The lights were sometimes so forgiving on set that on the monitor I noticed it didn’t look as lopsided as it was in interviews so I thought, “I guess I’ve got to go in there and make it even worse.” That was one of my standout moments, really messing up the shape of her lips and hoping that it read right.

What was the actual day-to-day process of transforming Amanda into Elizabeth?

Vanessa would prep her hair to get ready to put in this, like, wig topper that goes on top—that was the fried piece. But she’d pull back everything and then Amanda would come in to me and I would prep her skin. Depending on what shots we were doing, I would do this foundation that was lighter than her real color because Elizabeth Holmes often wore foundation that [was visible]. But I had to be very strategic about it because, if we were shooting outside, it wouldn’t really pick up. If her character was doing press, it would wash her out. So I couldn’t do it all the time because I knew it would look crazy, like a ghost. I could only do it when I knew it was going to read oh so subtly.

And then, because of the masks and Covid, I would use Lancome L’Absolu Rouge Drama Ink Liquid Lipstick in French Touch and French Bisous. And that pretty much stayed on throughout, it didn’t smear under her mask. I don’t know if it was just her being perfect, but I rarely had to touch it up. And then with her mascara and her eye shadow, it would just depend on what part of the day she was in. If she was going in to meet with one of the guys to get more money, she would pump up her eye makeup and wear her clumpy mascara—she almost always had on her clumpy mascara. Then sometimes we’d do blush, sometimes we wouldn’t. There were points where I wanted her to look so exhausted and sallow because she was sleeping in her office and she clearly was waking up and maybe she washed her face in the bathroom that day, maybe she just applied more makeup over it. Sometimes you see a lot of build up, and sometimes you see that she’s a fresh face trying to ask for more money.

And then to achieve the undone-ness of the makeup, you’re literally just messing it up?

Yeah, we would kind of just smear it out before she went to set. You know, like, do the worst job you can, put this mascara on, don’t poke her in the eye, then smash it a little bit into her face, and there you go!

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