Amanda Seyfried: ‘I feel respected; it’s not just a foothold – it’s a seat at the table’

·10 min read
Seyfried lives on a farm in Upstate New York with her husband, the actor Thomas Sadoski, and their children - Yulia Gorbachenko
Seyfried lives on a farm in Upstate New York with her husband, the actor Thomas Sadoski, and their children - Yulia Gorbachenko

Amanda Seyfried's life is comprised of two distinct parts. At work, she's one of the most sought-after actors of her generation and spends her days in full make-up and high fashion, shuttling between film sets, television appearances and photo shoots. At home, on a farm in Upstate New York, where she lives with her husband, the actor Thomas Sadoski, and their five-year-old daughter and one-year-old son, Seyfried can be found in sweatpants feeding goats, shovelling horse manure and driving around her nearly 30-acre property in an electric Ford pick-up truck.

It's an unusual collision of worlds but one that allows 36-year-old Seyfried and her children (whose names she doesn't choose to share) a sense of perspective that wouldn't have been possible if they'd put down roots in, say, Los Angeles - no matter how much sense that would have made for her career.

'Growing up with animals can teach you about life and death in a very literal, not as heartbreaking way,' she says. 'They have shorter lifespans and they pass away and it's natural. If you live on a farm and you have that many animals, you're going to lose a lot of them.'

How many creatures does she currently own? Seyfried narrows her eyes in concentration and starts counting on her fingers. 'We have five goats, two big horses in the paddock and four in the other paddock. Ten chickens, three ducks, a cat and a dog... and a tortoise. A lot.'

Seyfried is used to switching from sweatpants to haute-couture - Yulia Gorbachenko
Seyfried is used to switching from sweatpants to haute-couture - Yulia Gorbachenko

The dog, an Australian shepherd-Border collie mix by the name of Finn, has accompanied Seyfried to today's photo shoot at a Manhattan studio. When she leaves the room, he pads through the door behind her. When she ducks behind a screen to change out of the oversized shirt, tie, rolled-up trousers and intricate gold watch (Seyfried is an ambassador for Jaeger-LeCoultre) she was wearing for the shoot, and into grey Nike tracksuit bottoms and a black T-shirt, Finn follows, nuzzling at her leg for a cuddle.

We pick a quiet corner of the studio, Seyfried rubbing her eyes as she settles into the corner of a sofa. She doesn't know why she's tired, she says, because both of her children slept last night. Perhaps it's because she's balancing family life with the most demanding - and thrilling - year of her career to date? 'Yeah,' she says, laughing, running a hand through her hair. 'There's a lot happening.'

In case you missed it, Seyfried is the Emmy-winning star of one of the most talked-about television shows of the year. An eight-part drama series released in March, The Dropout tells the now infamous story of Elizabeth Holmes who, in 2003 at the age of 19, started a blood-testing company, Theranos, claiming that she could run more than 200 medical tests with a few drops of blood from a finger prick.

A decade later, the company was valued at about $9 billion and Holmes was considered to be one of Silicon Valley's first superstar female founders. After the skyrocketing rise, however, came the cataclysmic fall. In 2018, Theranos closed amid allegations that its technology did not work and was putting patients at risk. In January, Holmes was found guilty of fraud, and she is due to be sentenced later this month.

Seyfried won an Emmy for her role as Elizabeth Holmes in The Dropout - Yulia Gorbachenko
Seyfried won an Emmy for her role as Elizabeth Holmes in The Dropout - Yulia Gorbachenko

To prepare for the role, Seyfried studied Holmes's deposition tapes to the Securities and Exchange Commission (perfecting the part was 'all about the movement and the speaking', she says). So meticulous was her performance - the jutted jaw, the unnerving voice, the ruthless ambition - that she picked up this year's Best Actress Emmy for the performance. “It was really hard, but it was the best time of my life,” she said during her acceptance speech.

If becoming Holmes was a challenge, leaving the character behind has proved a surprising wrench. 'It was harder than I thought it was going to be,' she says now. 'I've never played somebody for that long, and I really liked mimicking somebody else. I would have loved to play her for longer. It just...' she pauses, and rests her head against the back of the sofa, reaching for the right words, 'made me feel alive. It was a jolt of something.'

I've never played somebody for that long, and I really liked mimicking somebody else. I would have loved to play her for longer, says Seyfried - Yulia Gorbachenko
I've never played somebody for that long, and I really liked mimicking somebody else. I would have loved to play her for longer, says Seyfried - Yulia Gorbachenko

Seyfried can't remember a time when she didn't want to act. The daughter of Ann Sander, an occupational therapist, and Jack Seyfried, a pharmacist, she grew up in suburban Pennsylvania as the younger of two girls. She recalls a supportive, ordinary childhood. 'Both my parents worked a lot. They both worked in the same hospital. It was suburbia, you know? We didn't travel - we didn't have enough money to.'

An anxious child who loved films, she has previously spoken of how she spent hours looking at herself in the mirror pretending to be Claire Danes in Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet. At age 11, she started modelling for children's clothing companies. By 15, she had crossed over into acting with roles in American soap operas As the World Turns and then All My Children.

We didn't travel - we didn't have enough money to, says Seyfried of her childhood - Yulia Gorbachenko
We didn't travel - we didn't have enough money to, says Seyfried of her childhood - Yulia Gorbachenko

Her breakthrough performance came in 2004 when she was cast in the wildly popular teen comedy film Mean Girls. Seyfried played a dimwitted but popular high-school student capable of predicting the weather with her breasts. The role turbo-charged her career but left her fearful of being typecast as the goofy sidekick. 'I just wanted to work and be taken seriously, which I wasn't for years because of the pigeonholing effect,' she says. 'Especially when you're a young woman in Hollywood and your first major role was the ditzy blonde. I fought that pigeonhole. I just didn't allow that to happen to me, but it wasn't without some work and some very challenging choices that I had to make.'

Seyfried is referring to her selection of roles but also, you sense, her personal life. During her 20s, she dated a string of high-profile leading men including Dominic Cooper (who was her co-star in Mamma Mia!, the big-screen adaptation of the smash-hit musical) and the actor Ryan Phillippe. When public interest in her romantic relationships spiked, she adjusted her behaviour to avoid photographers.

'I knew where to go to get papped and where not to go, so I just didn't go,' she says. 'I dated a few people and they would want to go here [where the paparazzi were]. I didn't go. I didn't go out at night very often.' She maintains that it's 'so easy' not to be photographed if you don't want to be. 'I live in a place where there are no paparazzi. I just don't do anything and that's been very deliberate.' As a result, photographs of her 'don't sell for very much'. 'I'm boring,' she shrugs. 'If I'm going to get photographed, it's going to be at a premiere or [walking into the late-night talk show] Jimmy Kimmel Live! or Good Morning America.'

Seyfried maintains that it is easy to avoid the paparazzi if you want to - Yulia Gorbachenko
Seyfried maintains that it is easy to avoid the paparazzi if you want to - Yulia Gorbachenko

This approach will, Seyfried hopes, guarantee career longevity. 'I'd rather be a character actor who's working until Betty White's age than someone who burns bright and is never heard from again.' White, a pioneer of early television and one of the stars of The Golden Girls, worked until her death last year at the age of 99, so Seyfried's got ambition. And so far, her plan seems to be working.

In 2020, she dazzled as the silent-movie siren Marion Davies in Mank, David Fincher's black-and-white rumination on 1930s Hollywood. The role was, at that point, the most critically acclaimed of her career and won her a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination. 'I feel that I've come to a place where I do feel respected in this business and that I have a foothold,' she says, her voice momentarily catching with emotion. 'But now it's not just a foothold, it's like a seat at the table. That's how I'm being treated and it's so great.'

Seyfried is affable, meandering in her answers, frank and fond of swearing. She also, though, emits a steely, cool-girl nonchalance that suggests she isn't someone to waste time doing things she doesn't want to. When I ask how she and Sadoski, who she met in 2015 when they appeared together in an off-Broadway play, navigate two acting careers alongside the demands of young children, she replies with a sigh that it is 'really f-king tough. If anyone tells you it's easy, they're lying.

'Both of our careers are as important as each other,' she continues. 'He and I both need to work for our sanity. Our kids need to see us work and be happy working.' So how do they do it? 'My kids have three parents,' she says, explaining that her mother lives with them. 'My mother is another parent.' She and Sadoski also have veto rights over each other's work. 'He reads every script that I'm considering and then we talk about it as a family. Does it work for us? Usually, my kids will go wherever I am, and Tommy, if he's working, he'll go off [on his own].'

Seyfried emits a steely, cool-girl nonchalance that suggests she isn't someone to waste time doing things she doesn't want to - Yulia Gorbachenko
Seyfried emits a steely, cool-girl nonchalance that suggests she isn't someone to waste time doing things she doesn't want to - Yulia Gorbachenko

We meet less than a week after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade, and in the midst of a summer punctuated by horrific mass shootings. How does it feel to be a parent of young children in America at this fraught moment? Seyfried leans back and exhales. 'It's really heavy and devastating. I also think I've compartmentalised it to a point where I'm just thinking it will be different when they're older. I think we have to tread through some murky s­hit for a while. I mean, this is revolution time.'

In an attempt to do her bit for the planet, Seyfried's just bought some solar panels for the farm. 'I worry about what it's going to be like for my great-grandchildren in terms of, will they suffocate? These idiot people in power... it is something we can fix eventually. This [the climate], we cannot fix so we gotta slow the f-k down.'

With all the work and chickens and children, there isn't much time to unwind, but in quiet moments, she reads, crochets and splurges on Marni sweaters. Even when she's having a scruffy day on the farm, she rarely takes off her Jaeger-LeCoultre watch. She wears a handful of models including the Rendez-Vous with the gold chain and the men's Master. 'It's insanely special and I get to wear them on a daily basis. I'm wearing my clothes for a long time so you put something like that on and it turns you into somebody.'

It is time to go. Seyfried has less than two hours to drive upstate to a charity event aimed at raising money for a local food bank. After that, she will return home to her children. From a fashion shoot to a community fundraiser and then back to the farm, all in a matter of hours. Seyfried's life is as frenetic as it is unpredictable. And that's just how she likes it.