Why Does Elizabeth Holmes Talk Like That?

Limited series about real-life con-artists with sketchy voices (like Julia Garner starring in Netflix’s Inventing Anna) are all the rage right now. Amanda Seyfried will soon take a wildly-voiced turn as mega-grifting Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes in Hulu’s The Dropout, and as the trailer showcases, she’s definitely doing “the voice.”

That would be the bizarre baritone voice that Holmes apparently adopted and used for public appearances. That darn voice now attracts almost as much attention as the speculation over what Holmes’ prison sentence will be after her conviction on a string of charges for wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. All of this had to do with the very horrible false claims about Theranos’ blood testing lab services that Holmes surely knew produced inaccurate results, but yeah, why does she do that voice?

It’s the same voice that Holmes stuck with while taking the stand in her own defense, and one that she almost exclusively used in front of other people, including in a Charlie Rose interview, although scattered reports indicated that she occasionally slipped into a much higher-pitched voice (as reported in John Carreyrou’s Bad Blood book) with her family disputing to TMZ that no octave-fakery truly existed.

The Dropout trailer, however, includes apparent voice-rehearsing in a mirror, so it’s on the table. What gives? There’s no definitive answer from Holmes herself, but the predominant take is that this was a carefully crafted aspect of her image, along with the signature black turtleneck and ever-present red lipstick. The Cut spoke with psychology professor Jillian O’Connor, and here’s what she had to say about that voice:

“This whole [Holmes] situation, the image manipulation, dressing like Steve Jobs, trying to sound a particular way — it sounds like an awful lot went into facade… Some of the research we’ve worked on shows that when men and women deliberately lower their voices, it’s actually successful. They do sound more dominant. They do sound more likely to be someone who’s in a position of power.”

In other words, Holmes’ voice was almost certainly integral to her desire to be seen as a visionary, and it was part of her plan to dominate Silicon Valley. Expect to hear a whole lot of that baritone in the Hulu series, along with appearances by Naveen Andrews (as Sunny Balwani, Holmes’ ex-lover and former Theranos COO), William H. Macy, Alan Ruck, Laurie Metcalf, Sam Waterson, Anne Archer, and Stephen Fry.

The Dropout premieres March 3 on Hulu.