Michael Showalter interview: ‘The Dropout’ director
Michael Showalter is one of the busiest directors in the industry, lending his expertise to three different shows this TV season — Showtime comedy “I Love That for You,” Hulu’s buzzy miniseries “The Dropout” and the Apple TV+ limited series “The Shrink Next Door.” While all three tell stories centered on wildly different characters, one lying about having cancer to save her job, another a disgraced biotech mogul and a third about an inappropriate psychiatrist, they do share some common DNA. “Good people doing bad things in a sense,” observes Showalter in an exclusive new interview for Gold Derby. “Well-intentioned people who are trying to do the right thing but whose shortcomings get the best of them.” Watch the full video chat above.
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For “I Love That for You,” starring Vanessa Bayer as a home shopping network host who lies about her childhood cancer coming back, Showalter bonded with the creative team in their blending of broad comedy and more emotional dramatic beats. While the premise may be a tricky one for some viewers, the director thrives in the show’s bittersweet tone. “Life is often absurd in that it is so heartbreaking and difficult for everybody,” he says, “that it’s sort of like you have to just find a way to make light of it somehow, against all odds.”
“The Dropout” also blends various tones in its telling of the story of Elizabeth Holmes and how she deceived investors about the viability of her blood-testing technology. The series delves into the psychology of the former CEO, with Amanda Seyfried burrowing deep into her character to try and understand her. “Even if your character is doing bad things or is doing the wrong thing,” explains Showalter, “you have to… try to find a way to empathize without condoning.” While Holmes remains an enigmatic figure to many, the director hoped to give us a glimpse into her motivations on a moment-to-moment basis rather than make a definitive statement about her one way or the other.
As for “The Shrink Next Door,” which stars Will Ferrell as a middle-aged man whose psychologist (Paul Rudd) gradually takes over his life, Showalter found much to explore about the human tendency to be manipulated by others. “Those sort of psychological minefields that I think people seem really prone to falling into are really interesting to me,” he states. While Ferrell and Rudd are more well-known for their comedic stylings, both actors turn in largely dramatic performances in the limited series. “They’re both incredible,” the director praises. “We just had a lot of conversations about what it was for each character what each character was getting out of this relationship, and why they stuck with it for so long.”
Showalter is also coming off a big year at the Oscars, having directed the biopic “The Eyes of Tammy Faye.” Centering on quirky televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker, the film resulted in an Oscar for Jessica Chastain and the makeup and hair team earlier this year. “I was beyond overjoyed and proud,” the director admits, of the film’s awards success. “She really gave every single fiber of her being into that character and you see it and you feel it.”