- The disgraced founder of Theranos, Elizabeth Holmes, is not interviewed in the HBO documentary, “The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley” (which premiered Monday night).
- Director Alex Gibney told Business Insider about the process of trying to get her to go on camera, including a five-hour dinner with her, and why it never ended up happening.
Though there’s a lot of footage of Elizabeth Holmes in Alex Gibney’s latest HBO documentary, “The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley,” which looks at the rise and fall of Holmes’ company Theranos, the director never interviewed her on camera. But it wasn’t for lack of trying.
The Oscar winner said that in looking at Theranos – the blood-testing startup that made Holmes a billionaire on paper, until questions about how the tech actually worked led to the company’s collapse – the first thing he did was reach out to Holmes and attempt to interview her. That was the start of a conversation that went on through most of the production of the doc and led nowhere.
The closest the production ever got to Holmes was a five-hour dinner one of the movie’s producers, Jessie Deeter, had with Holmes.
“Most of it I think was spent with Elizabeth trying to get information from Jesse about what it was we were doing,” Gibney told Business Insider.
But through Deeter’s account of that dinner, Gibney and his team also got a sense of Holmes’ mindset about the collapse of Theranos.
“It was clear that Elizabeth saw herself very much as the victim,” Gibney said. “That she was being scapegoated because she was a woman. That if this happened to a man nobody would have cared. I think that’s bull—-, but anyway, that was her point of view.”
This led to email exchanges between Gibney and Holmes that went on for months while he was making the movie. Gibney’s pitch to Holmes was to come on camera and speak her truth. In response, Holmes would only say that perhaps later she would agree to an interview, when “Theranos was back on its feet” (as Gibney said Holmes put it).
Gibney said at one point Holmes tried to portray Theranos’ fortunes improving as it received a $US100 million loan. But even after that she never granted an interview.
“The silence was deafening,” he said.
Gibney compared the interaction with Holmes to his time trying to interview WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for his 2013 documentary, “We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks.”
“I think it was the same amount of time, a five-hour meeting with Julian Assange that led to me not having access,” Gibney said. “And that ended up turning out being a huge boon because the story then refocused on Chelsea Manning, where it properly should have been.”
And without the Holmes interview, the whistleblowers Tyler Shultz and Erika Cheung, who brought down Theranos, make up a big chunk of “The Inventor.”
Gibney admitted he would have jumped through a lot of hoops to get Holmes on camera. But there comes a moment when it’s not worth it anymore.
“At some point you realise you’re being played,” he said. “Access is kind of a double-edged sword. People sometimes grant access in exchange for being treated favourably, so you have to be very careful. Sometimes you can tell a better story when you don’t have access.”
“The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley” is available to stream on HBO GO/NOW.
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