An eight-part series inspired by actual events – and the love story at its core – WeCrashed takes a look at Adam and Rebekah Neumann, the real-life couple behind co-working phenomenon, WeWork.
In less than a decade, WeWork grew from a single co-working space into a global brand worth US$47 billion yet, in less than a year, its value plummeted. What happened?
Wondery’s 2020 six-part audio series, WeCrashed: The Rise and Fall of WeWork, set out to explain the Neumanns’ downfall, describing the series as “a story of hope and hubris, big money and bigger screwups, and the lengths people will go to chase unicorns.”
Focusing on the rags-to-riches ascent of WeWork’s charismatic CEO Adam Neumann, the Israeli entrepreneur had a prophet-like vision for the business he believed would change the world, selling it to some of the world’s savviest investors.
Beginning with just one New York location, WeWork grew into one of America’s most valuable private companies and the largest office space occupier in Manhattan. As it expanded across the globe, Adam and Rebekah became spiritual leaders at the company, transforming it into more than just a real estate company, but a community and lifestyle brand with a mission to “elevate the world’s consciousness.” But the crisis of confidence caused by the company’s botched IPO caused a massive decline in its valuation, shattering the financial dreams of hundreds of young acolytes who had worked long hours in order to help build the company and the Neumanns’ own wealth.
Prior to the podcast’s debut, Wondery sent an early cut to Lee Eisenberg – writer, executive producer and director of hit series The Office – believing it might be something the award-winning writer-producer might be interested in adapting for television.
Turning to his longtime friend Drew Crevello, a former studio executive-turned-screenwriter who would become the show’s co-creator, co-showrunner and executive producer, the duo quickly recruited Anne Hathaway and Jared Leto to star as the Neumanns.
WeCrashed features a strong ensemble cast including Kyle Marvin (The Climb); America Ferrera (Superstore, Ugly Betty); Anthony Edwards (ER); Campbell Scott (Royal Pains); O-T Fagbenle (The Handmaid’s Tale); Kelly AuCoin (Billions) and Peter Jacobson (House).
Hathaway, 39, tells FilmInk how she immersed herself into the role of Rebekah Neumann, nee Paltrow – a wannabe actress who is actually Gwyneth Paltrow’s cousin.
What attracted you to WeCrashed in the first place?
“I read the pilot and did my research, but the thing that really made me want to take part in this series was when I saw the Fyre Festival documentary. I was taken by this idea of, what is it about this moment where people are willing to throw all in with these incredibly charismatic leaders? And what is it about this thing where we’re ignoring mounting evidence that things are not going to go well, because in pursuit of this dream, what is it they get that keeps people there? This was just raising a lot of questions that I was really interested in. Also I wanted to be on a great team exploring those answers.
As a New Yorker, did you ever run in the same circles with Rebekah or have any mutual friends?
“I didn’t know anything about the WeWork story until I was sent the pilot – somehow I missed the entire thing. And I did what anybody would do after reading it, I googled them. And I read the media narrative of them, which I think we can all agree is specific. I was curious about how true it was and I realised that we did have a few people in common, so I reached out to them.
“The word that was used multiple times by multiple people to describe Rebekah was ‘oh, she’s really sweet’. I didn’t get any of that from the stuff that I read online. That got me really, really interested in who she actually was. And, at this point, there’s been a podcast, a documentary, books, and there’s a lot of attention being paid to what happened. But this series felt like an opportunity to explore the people involved – and they were just people; they’re human beings, like you’re a human being and I’m a human being, which means that we’re a mixture of traits that are admirable and sometimes things that we’re working on, and maybe haven’t quite gotten there with.
“I was really interested in exploring who this person was from that perspective.”
There’s a scene where America Ferrera’s character, Elishia Kennedy, asks Rebekah if Adam is for real. Do you think Adam is real?
“I think that’s more for the real Rebekah to say because I’ve never met him.”
How do you personally determine if someone is trustworthy?
“It’s a combination of gut instinct and time. I think that your gut usually will tell you what’s up but, for me, I observe people over a period of time just to see what they’re doing.
“I always think a big tell about people as to whether or not they’re trustworthy, is how they talk about other people. Because you can always assume that however they’re discussing other people, they’re discussing you the same way.
The series shows how Rebekah is fragile to some degree. How do you think that changed in order for her to want to become such a huge presence at WeWork?
“I think that when WeWork was founded, Rebekah was not listed as a founder. And then she was listed as a founder in 2016. And that’s very interesting, and the series gives a portrait and an explanation as to what could have caused that.”
After portraying Rebekah, how would you describe her relationship with Adam?
“Passionate, wild, supportive and deeply loving. There is a real partnership. Probably cosmic? I think that might be a word that would be used. Rebekah actually says this thing in the ‘School of Greatness’ podcast, about how with other guys, she always felt there would be a ceiling and with Adam, she felt like there would be no ceiling. So as per her own description, I would say probably limitless.”
Jared gives a mesmerising performance as Adam Neumann. What’s it like working with him especially with all the prosthetics and his accent?
“I was mesmerised too, so you’re not alone! I think he has an already extraordinary career and it’s an unbelievable performance. In between takes, he just gets very quiet, and he refocuses because he gives so much energy with every take, so I think maybe he’s like re-setting himself. It was a beautiful experience and really inspiring, and fun and wild. It’s definitely a career highlight for me.”
If Jared has the big flashy accent with Adam, how did you work on your own more subtle voice for Rebekah?
“I have to say that watching Jared’s performance as Adam was really integral to my understanding of how to do a great voice because when Jared showed up – and I witnessed it with Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada – but I didn’t know how to articulate what it was that she did, which is the difference between doing an accent and finding the voice of the character. And what Jared had developed in his portrayal as Adam, I was blown away by it and so inspired and it immediately made me rethink the way I approached my voice work and it dropped me into, I think, a finer space as a result of being with him and just his sheer ability as a technician.”
What is the special responsibility of playing a real person?
“It was a lot of research. It was a lot of trust, and it was a lot of yoga! Jared is not someone who rehearses, so it was a lot of exploration in the scenes with him. We never really talked about what it was we were doing. We just brought it to each other and kind of went toe to toe all the time.”
You and Jared clearly share a lot of chemistry in this. Did it just come organically?
“I’d love to say that we did this bonding experience, or we went out to a million meals together and we really worked it, but we didn’t. I think there’s just something about the strength of the writing; how intense each of us are about what we do for a living, and the strength of the connection between Adam and Rebekah. I think Jared and I just both knew that was what it was about. And we opened ourselves to it completely and met each other every time there but it was there from the first take. I mean, by take three of our first scene together we were improvising a dance, which was not in the script. And we just felt really free and safe and fearless with each other. I know how much pride he takes in his performance even though he performs from an egoless place but just how much his performances meant to him. And I was really humbled to discover that my performance meant as much to him.”
Rebekah uses the word “superpower” a lot. What is Jared’s superpower do you think?
“I’m not sure what his superpower is. I don’t really know him yet. I’ve spent six months with his work, but I didn’t really get to know him. But my impression is that he’s an incredibly sweet guy. He’s really alive and incredibly present. I would probably say that his ability to be present is his superpower.”
What’s your personal superpower?
“My superpower is ordering dessert. I’m really, really excellent at ordering dessert.”
The Neumanns really seemed to be inspired by Katy Perry’s pop song, ‘Roar’. Do you have your own power-up song?
“When I’m trying to work out and I just can’t, and I’ve got nothing left in the tank, I put on ‘Formation’ by Beyonce and it will get you through a lot. Most anything. I would say.”
How did you capture the essence of Rebekah?
“I did so much yoga to get ready for this part. Just knowing how important it was to her. I just find that people who have a really serious yoga practice live very differently in their body than people who don’t. I can say that with authority as someone who didn’t have a serious yoga practice for a very long time. She spoke very openly about her habits, so I just tried to live as closely to her as I could. I stopped eating meat and I became a vegan for a while. But mainly it was doing all the yoga, and I really leaned into studying her spiritual teachers. I just tried to create the conditions of her life for myself in order to observe how they made me feel, just to physically represent her.”
In WeCrashed, we see how Rebekah discovers that she’s not very good at acting. How was that for you to act?
“Well, there’s this line from The Seagull where Nina says you have no idea what it’s like to be on stage and to know that you are acting so badly – and it’s been a really rewarding journey in my career to learn to not judge myself so harshly. When I don’t feel that I’m acting well, in particular when you’re doing a television or a film series where you are going to get multiple takes, it’s so important to learn how not to get down on yourself.
“I guess I would say that to any young actor; one of the best things you can do is learn how to shake off a bad take. Because, especially in those mediums, everybody wants to nail it every single time. But you just need to get it on camera once.”
WeCrashed premieres on Friday, March 18 exclusively on Apple TV+