Saturday Night Live star Kate McKinnon hasn’t shied away from depicting controversial figures onscreen. Whether it be Justin Bieber or Theresa May, she has an award-worthy range of impressions under her belt, but she’s about to add some serious acting to her repertoire. Kate McKinnon is playing Elizabeth Holmes in a new Hulu series, and in case you missed why the tech fraudster has a claim to fame, I’m here to break down her story.
Deadline reported that McKinnon will star in and executive produce Hulu’s upcoming limited series The Dropout, based on ABC Radio’s podcast about Elizabeth Holmes and her failed Theranos technology. While McKinnon will play a role both onscreen and off, podcast producers Taylor Dunn and Victoria Thompson will also produce the series, which was preceded by a 20/20 episode earlier this year. Having appeared in primarily comedic projects, McKinnon’s foray into drama comes with the intensity only a real story could provide.
So, what did Holmes do to receive this kind of attention? Born in Washington, D.C. and raised in Houston, she went to Stanford University as a chemical engineering student. When she was a sophomore, she founded the company Real-Time Cures, later changed to Theranos, and developed a blood-testing device that could conduct several tests with only a few drops of one’s blood and reportedly sense conditions like cancer and high cholesterol. Having dropped out of college to run the business, Holmes raised money thanks to generous donors but reportedly accepted funds under the terms that she wouldn’t explain how her new technology worked.
Trouble hit the company when the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) charged Theranos founder and CEO Holmes and its former president Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani with “massive fraud” in 2018. A press release from the SEC read that the pair had reportedly raised “more than $700 million from investors through an elaborate, years-long fraud in which they exaggerated or made false statements about the company’s technology, business, and financial performance.”
The report also claimed that Theranos’ blood device could only perform a limited number of tests and that Holmes and Balwani falsely stated that the U.S. Department of Defense used their product at Afghanistan battlefields. The company also reportedly released false information about how much money it generated. Holmes and Balwani were formally charged with two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and nine counts of wire fraud. As of March 2019, the two had pleaded not guilty, and Mashable reports that prosecutors will have to prove that Holmes and Balwani fully intended to commit fraud, which could be challenging.
Ahead of a status hearing on April 22, Holmes and Balwani are both currently out on bail, but their worst-case scenarios are fairly grim. They each face a possible resolution of spending up to 20 years in prison and paying a fine of $250,000, but some aspects of their case have already been settled. Earlier this year, Homes agreed to pay a $500,000 fine to the SEC and not serve in an officer or director position at a public company for 10 years.
McKinnon will tackle Holmes’ fall from grace in six to 10 episodes of the Hulu series, continuing the streaming service’s streak of producing content based on true stories. Hulu’s The Act is currently captivating viewers with its breakdown of the Gypsy Rose Blanchard case, and while Holmes’ story isn’t as gruesome, it’s just as tantalizing.
There’s no news of The Dropout‘s production or release schedule yet, so start bingeing its podcast equivalent ASAP.