There’s a powerful scene in the first five minutes of Apple TV+’s new, slick and stylish docudrama, WeCrashed, where Rebekah Neumann (played by Academy Award-winning actress Anne Hathaway) is placating her erratic husband, WeWork cofounder and CEO Adam Neumann (played by Academy Award-winning actor Jared Leto), before he faces a flank of black suits in a New York boardroom.
Removing her oversized, square-framed sunglasses, Rebekah combs Adam’s long, dark, Johnny Depp-esque hair behind his ears, before grabbing the sides of his face.
“You’re a supernova,” a stone-faced Rebekah says, her voice deep and authoritative.
The eight-episode limited series explores the extraordinary true story of American co-working start-up WeWork. Inspired by the rather juxtaposing concept of a “capitalist kibbutz”, Israeli-born Adam and his Oregon-raised buddy Miguel McKelvey launched the company in a single location in downtown New York City in 2010. Nine years later – and in 29 countries – WeWork’s worth was valued at an eye-popping USD $47 billion making it one of the most valuable private companies in the world. But Adam soon became a poster child for start-up excess, and his erratic, prophet-like behaviour and wild plans for expansion saw him burn through billions of investment dollars. With the path to profitability unclear and a botched IPO, the value of WeWork plummeted and, in 2019, Adam was ousted by his own board.
While Rebekah was known as Adam’s behind-the-scenes advisor and muse (and Adam the “maverick” “mogul” “unicorn” and “visionary”), WeCrashed creators Lee Eisenberg and Drew Crevello do a really great job at shining a light on how Long Island-born, Cornell University-educated Rebekah was actually the one arming Adam with the tools he needed at every stage of his tenure. You’ll notice Hathaway’s Rebekah pull out lines like, “fear is a choice,” and “you’ve accomplished nothing compared to what you’re going to do” and “it’s not about money. It’s about worth. It’s about how you view your own value” – all phrases used to tame Leto’s Adam. Rebekah was the ultimate hype girl.
“Not only do I agree that Adam wouldn’t have been able to do it all without Rebekah, I think Adam would be the first person to say that,” Hathaway tells ICON, flashing her wide, pearly smile during a press junket in New York. “I think Rebekah was absolutely crucial in his development as a successful entrepreneur. She was the person who got him to focus, that got him to share his vision. I think she also was responsible for giving him a lot of the language that at least initially allowed him to connect with people.”
Ahead Hathaway, Leto – together with creators and showrunners Lee Eisenberg and Drew Crevello – explore the reimagining and making of this spectacular rise and fall story, the chaotic love story that made WeWork what it was, and how it was indeed Rebekah who was the supernova.
Hollywood’s Obsession With The Rise And Fall Arc
Never have scripts been ripped as rapaciously from the headlines and placed on television screens as right now: The Dropout (Amanda Seyfried plays Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes who accepted millions of investment dollars for a medical device that didn’t work); Inventing Anna (Julia Garner plays a fake heiress named Anna Delvey, the one with an unplaceable accent who frauded half of New York’s elite); Super Pumped (Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Uber’s hard-charging founder Travis Kalanick in a new flashy, high-octane series about his battle for the company’s power).
Now, WeCrashed sees Leto and Hathaway take on the titular roles of Adam and Rebekah. (Interestingly these success and loss storylines spill over into each other’s docudramas. In Inventing Anna, Anna’s lawyer works out of a WeWork office. In WeCrashed, Adam watches Travis’ 2019 resignation on television. In The Dropout, talks circle about the new app which lets you book a taxi with your phone.) Yes, the self-immolating entrepreneur rise and fall arc is wielding great attention in Hollywood. But why now?
“I think we’re all really fascinated by charismatic people. People who have that sort of strange ability to get other people to do what they want,” Hathaway says.
“We’ve never been so globally connected, and if you are someone who is charismatic and have reach to connect with a lot of people, it’s a very powerful thing. Given the timing we’re living through and late-stage capitalism, people are looking to invest in this. It doesn’t surprise me that we’re seeing this happen again and again and again.”
Eisenberg agrees, citing that audiences are attracted to unicorns, the term used in the venture capital industry to describe a start-up company with a value of over $1 billion.
“When WeWork came out, there’s was the unicorn stampede – and it was Peloton, WeWork, Uber,” explains Lee. “It was this idea that we as a society are always kind of craving that next thing, and the possibility that you can become a millionaire or a billionaire – or in Adam’s case a trillionaire – overnight is fascinating to us.”
“There’s this WeWork legend about how in 12 minutes [Adam] gave a tour to SoftBank’s Masayoshi Son and got USD $4.4 billion,” adds Crevello. “Well, the flipside is, somebody went on a tour and gave someone $4.4 billion dollars. So it’s not just a story about one man’s salesmanship or him being some kind of fraud, it’s ‘why would you ever give money to someone in such a fantastic amount?’”
Becoming Adam Neumann
For the role of Adam, Eisenberg and Crevello only had one man in mind from the beginning.
“Jared [Leto] was always our dream pick for Adam,” says Eisenberg. “We felt that he had the magnetism, the charisma, and the rock star quality that we imagined with our Adam and he has blown us away.”
Much like the entrepreneur, the actor and 30 Seconds To Mars frontman bears a unique charm; the type that can throw a journalist off script with a deadpan look and a compliment, served in the same degree of seductiveness as Leto’s cover of Rihanna’s “Stay” on BBC Radio 1’s Live Lounge a few years back. (If you know, you know.) A brilliant method actor (and interestingly) an active technology investor, Leto, says he spent a lot of time with a group of Israelis to master Adam’s accent, a feat given the actor was just coming off Ridley Scott’s House Of Gucci set in which he needed a strong Italian accent to play Paolo Gucci.
“Accents are just a series of mistakes. It’s a series of muscles and shapes in your mouth…you need to teach yourself to appropriate those shapes and sounds,” Leto tells ICON over a Zoom call from a hotel room in Mexico.
“Literally your mouth and tongue are sore for days, like you went to the gym or something. Your whole throat is sore,” he continues. “We’re using so many muscles all of the time in a specific way. When you change that, it’s actually a physical process.”
“I’ve done it many, many times now and it’s a really fascinating thing to do.”
Leto also admits to secretly meeting up with the real Adam Neumann prior to shooting WeCrashed.
“I’m interested to know everything about a character,” he says. “I want to know what his favourite colour is. I want to know what his breath smells like. I want to know how many hours the character slept last night. For me, there is no detail too small, and it’s all informative and all important.”
“I told [Adam] not to watch the show because it’s going to be critical of his life,” Leto adds, stroking his beard, his blue-painted fingernails now in full view. “[WeCrashed] examines not only his successes, it [also] examines his failures. You can’t do that without some criticism and exploration.”
Crevello – who only ever called Leto “Adam” on set – recalls Leto telling him that Adam’s superpower was the way he communicated, and in an effort for Adam to sell desks and office space to investors with deep pockets, Leto was going to need more dialogue.
“Jared said, ‘Give me more words,’” says Crevello. “Adam is always talking, always moving and as we developed the scripts, we really leaned into that and gave Jared these monster monologues. He is just incredible and nailed them every single time.
“[Jared] asked for it, and while we were shooting he’d be like, “A lot of words here guys, a lot of words here,’” Crevello laughs.
Of the workload, Leto’s eyes light up.
“There were big speeches, lots of dialogue, lots of numbers, lots of facts, lots of information. It was crazy,” he says. “The workload was amazing and I loved it. I’ve never had so much dialogue before and it was a chance to see what you’re made of, to see what you’re capable of, to see if you had what it takes, and I was really up for that challenge. It was the right role at the right time in my life.”
Hathaway says she didn’t actually meet Leto until filming wrapped as he stayed in character for the duration of the shoot. Production lasted four months.
“Even within [his] character, I was always treated with complete sweetness and total support,” says Hathaway, smiling. “As important as [Jared’s] performance was to him, my performance mattered to him just as much. I was so inspired by the work that he was doing that it just made me want to give it everything I had in order to represent this very real love that exists between Adam and Rebekah.”
Behind Every Man…
Hathaway had it a little harder than Leto though in that she didn’t have the opportunity to meet Rebekah, and there’s wasn’t a lot reported about her in the media. Lee and Crevello hired a researcher who worked to track down Rebekah’s friends, college acquaintances and people she used to work with. Very into her own spirituality and a trained yogi, a rare report that did circulate about Rebekah in the press was one that cited her firing a WeWork mechanic just minutes after meeting them as she “didn’t like their energy”, a moment that pops up in the new series.
“I was very lucky to speak to a lot of people who knew Rebekah and based on media reports of her, I kind of thought I knew what to expect when speaking with them,” admits Hathaway. “The word that almost everyone used to describe her was ‘sweet’ and you could have knocked me over with a feather. I was so surprised to hear that!”
“I just remember thinking ‘this is a very complex person’ and I felt an even greater resolve on a human-to-human level to give her the dimensionality that she does have, and to respect the truth where it lay, and honour the fact that the behaviour was what it was, and the outcome of the story is what it is. When you speak to people to who know Rebekah, they all say the same thing which is: she is sincere, she didn’t mean everything that she said.”
The difference in this bad entrepreneur story is undoubtedly the love story at the centre of it. On Adam and Rebekah’s first date, she famously told him his ideas were no good. (These included kneepads for toddlers and stilettos with collapsible heels.)
“He’s trying to strike it rich and he meets this woman, who by Adam’s own account on their first date says, ‘you’re never going to succeed. These companies aren’t going to work because you don’t care about them,’” says Crevello. “It was important to show what he was doing wrong and how Rebekah was the catalyst that essentially led to the creation WeWork.”
“Rebekah says, ‘if you do what you love, the money will follow,’” Eisenberg chimes in. “And all of those lines end up becoming the DNA of WeWork.”
This precise point is cemented in one fiery scene in episode seven, a moment which sees Hathaway at her very best.
“You really think you built this alone? Really?” Hathaway’s Rebekah seethes as she screams through tears at Leto’s Adam in WeWork’s New York office. “What about what you took? You took my father’s money, you took everything that I believe in and put it in a shiny wrapper to package your bullshit. You even took my words. ‘Elevating the world’s consciousness?’ Who came up with that? You? You couldn’t have built shit without me!”
“You’re right,” Adam meekly replies.
Back in 2017, Rebekah (who is also Gwyneth Paltrow’s cousin) actually named herself the CEO of WeGrow, a private elementary school which focused on nurturing a child’s spirit and soul via lessons in meditation, mindfulness, farming and entrepreneurship. The school had just 46 students and closed at the end of 2020. Adam and Rebekah currently live in New York City with their five children.
Before the interviews are over, I ask Leto one final question, one that I think is interesting to share with you: “Adam really backed himself, even when those around him thought he was delusional – and we see that there was a great power in that,” I begin. “You’ve played some big roles in your career, was there ever a moment where you wished you had a dose of Adam Neumann’s self-belief in you?”
“Well, I’ve got my own, trust me,” Leto replies. “As an artist you have to it. There’s a few things that you’re going to have: you’re going to have fear, you’re going to have doubt, you’re going to have a lot of failure, but you’ve also got to have faith. You’ve got to have that voice inside you that says ‘you know what? The impossible is possible.”
“In my life I’ve often been the crazy guy. Of course, when you’re an artist, you bet on your wildest dreams. I can relate to Adam in those ways,” he continues. “I started 30 Seconds To Mars with nothing, my brother and I willed that to life. Everyone said no to us, the labels didn’t want to sign us. TV wouldn’t play our videos, radio wouldn’t play our singles. And we had to beg and grovel and work our asses off just for the success that we had and have.”
“It’s been a beautiful thing… but you can’t just manifest something through talk, through wishing something to be true. You gotta manifest it with hard work and determination and grit.”
Move over Rebekah Neumann, there’s a new hype boy in town.
WeCrashed is now streaming on Apple TV+