We Took a Moment to Question the Nature of Reality With The Dropout’s William H. Macy

The post We Took a Moment to Question the Nature of Reality With The Dropout’s William H. Macy appeared first on Consequence.

The Dropout is a true-crime story that happened right in front of our eyes, as a young woman named Elizabeth Holmes (played in the Hulu series by Amanda Seyfried) became a Silicon Valley darling with her concept for a blood-testing device that could revolutionize the health care industry — if it worked, that is.

One of the first people to decry Holmes as a fraud was Richard Fuisz (William H. Macy), a family friend of the Holmes who took offense at his neighbor’s daughter getting involved in medical technology — his field of expertise — without consulting him. His investigation into Holmes’ work ended up being key to the reveal that her company was raising a billion dollars of funding for fraudulent devices, even while his obsession with exposing Holmes as a fraud coincided with the end of his marriage.

For this press day, conducted via Zoom (that’s relevant to later), Macy was taking a break from filming the upcoming film Maybe I Do in Montclair, New Jersey. For that role, he has a full head of hair and a tidy mustache going, which is a far cry from his look in The Dropout, in which he plays Fuisz with a receding-to-the-point-of-nonexistence hairline and scruffy goatee.

In the interview below, transcribed and edited for clarity, Macy explains why he thought it was important to commit to that degree of transformation (which he says was “brand new territory” for him, requiring two hours in the makeup chair every day). We also, in the time allotted, spoke in a more abstract sense about the kind of world that allowed Elizabeth Holmes to get away with what she did.

As he puts it, “It’s all showbiz.”

How’s it going with you today, sir?

Very well. Thank you for asking. I’m in New Jersey and making a film. All is well.

Excellent. It’s a mustache-requiring film, I’m guessing?

Well, I got the mustache, let’s hope it’s required. The wife says, “I like the mustache,” so that’s all I need to know.

There you go. I imagine a certain point, you get a certain amount of control over whether or not the mustache happens.

You’d think I’d have more control over that, but I don’t know. Truthfully, I really was attracted to playing Richard Fuisz because he doesn’t look like me at all. As a matter of fact, it’s brand new territory for me and I felt it was important to try to do a little bit of a lookalike.

I think a lot of actors did and I thought it answered a lot of questions, you know. Elizabeth Holmes was so blonde and beautiful and thin, and she dressed in black and she had ultimate confidence and wicked intelligence. And I think for a guy like Richard, he looked at her and he went [disgusted noise].

How extensive was it? How many hours were you in the chair?

It’s a lot, it was two hours easily. And another 45 minutes to take it off. It’s not fun. I’m not gonna lie to you. But they did a magnificent job. When you put on those ball caps, there’s always a line where the bald cap begins and you end and you can’t see it in that thing. It’s just genius work that they did.

Taking a step back a bit, why was it important to be as close to him as possible, physically?

I think generally speaking, it’s not important because it’s a real story, but it’s a fictionalized account of that story. In this case, I thought it was important because I feel like I didn’t meet Richard. I didn’t talk to him. I did Google him. He’s a complicated guy. He’s a driven guy, smart as a whip.

Also I got this from Liz [Meriwether]’s script, that most of his life, he has felt like an outsider. So that’s why I thought I should look a little bit like him. Because you know, Hollywood and Silicon Valley, they’re kind of the same place now and everybody’s good-looking — I don’t know how they do it, but everybody’s good-looking. And I think for guys like me and Richard, you know, it’s, at some point you go, “Oh, get a life.”

Your character plays such an interesting role in that respect — you’re not even necessarily an audience surrogate, because there’s this whole other anger to how he reacts to every scenario.

Yes. I mean, as simple as it is, this is what I love about it — as complicated as he is, and as complicated as the story is at the end of the day, she lived in the neighborhood, [my character and his wife] knew her parents. And wthen she decided to build this medical device, which is what Richard did for a living and had made a fortune doing it, and she didn’t come ask for advice — he never forgave her for that,

From your perspective, is that an anger you can connect with?

I think wars have been started for less reason. I think it’s a truism of humanity that seemingly insignificant things can drive us to distraction. And this one seems so true to me.

Just because of how personal it is?

Yeah. It was personal for him. It cost him dearly. He dedicated his life to figuring out whether she was telling the truth or not. And to what end? I think he realized — he’s a smart guy and that’s what he did, medical devices. He smelled a rat and I think it offended him on some level.

I mean, that is the fascinating thing about the story is, you know, how much of it was played out in the public eye and how much it was built on this assumption that, you know, of course the device worked.

I know if there’s a cautionary tale in this it’s that in America these days, it’s all showbiz. It’s all showbiz. Politics is showbiz. Medicine is showbiz. The pandemic is showbiz. And I don’t know if it should be showbiz. I think we can’t lose our common sense. And I think that razzle-dazzle is blinding a lot of us. I mean, what’s a hedge fund? Really, what is a Bitcoin? I don’t get it. You can mine them. I mean, I read a book and I’m not, um, I don’t think it’s real.

I mean, you and I are talking to each other through a computer screen right now and it feels real to me — it feels like we’re having a nice conversation. But is it, you know, real?

It brings up another question too: Is everything new, are all the shiny new things — are they all good necessarily because it’s a technological breakthrough? I’m not sure. I mean, there’s a lot of computer stuff and there’s a lot of texting and a lot of messaging and all of that stuff, but not much is getting said.

There are a number of these true-life stories coming out right now, but unlike stories about making money off investors, the characters in The Dropout are playing with real peoples’ lives. How, how much was that on your mind while in these scenes?

It was the motivating factor for my character, but I think as an audience member, I think what makes this story amazing is the Greek tragedy part of it. She didn’t set out to defraud people. She set out to make people’s lives better to save lives, to alleviate misery. It was a good idea. So she went to Silicon Valley and opened an office and said, who wants to invest? And the titans of industry, the tops of government all said, take my money, please take my money.

Well, there’s a cautionary tale there somewhere because it didn’t work. And I think once you’ve been on the cover of Time magazine as the smartest woman in the world, it takes a very strong person to say, just kidding. I couldn’t make it. I’ll give you the money back.

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The Dropout (Hulu)

There’s something very Fargo in it, about the idea of getting in over your head and dealing with the consequences.

You are exactly right, but the exception is, I believe, and I don’t know if it’s important that I’m right or not, but I believe her intentions were good. I think she was a victim of American success in a weird way. And I have great sympathy for her, not succumbing to that.

That’s interesting, because that’s also a huge question here — who should we be sympathetic for in this story? Do you feel like your character has a sympathetic edge to him?

I do. It’s a Pyrrhic victory, certainly, because it costs him a great deal. But at the end of the day he exposed fraud and I think he can hold his head high for that. You know, I’m kind of old fashioned. I think you ultimately have to say, well, who’s writing the check and who’s cashing the check? Elizabeth sold us something that didn’t work. So she’s the bad guy, because that’s the way we keep score.

But she isn’t necessarily the ultimate villain?

Well, she was in this story, because she went to the dark side, you know. I mean she started off with good intentions, but you have to be honest, you can’t be selective about what you’re gonna tell the truth about. And she went to the dark side and kept accepting money — she might pay a dear price for that.

The first three episodes of The Dropout premiere Thursday, March 3rd on Hulu. Subsequent episodes will be released weekly.

We Took a Moment to Question the Nature of Reality With The Dropout’s William H. Macy
Liz Shannon Miller

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