Jared Leto and Anne Hathaway on the cover of emmy magazine, March 2022
Jared Leto and Anne Hathaway
One day last summer, Jared Leto turned into Adam Neumann, best known as the fallen founder of WeWork. Lee Eisenberg and Drew Crevello — the creator–showrunners of Apple TV+'s new WeCrashed, in which Leto plays Neumann — immediately clocked the change. "We spoke to Jared for all of preproduction," says Eisenberg, who like Crevello, is also a writer–executive producer. "Then one day he became Adam, and it was Adam we started talking to. Later, when we got into editing, we started talking to Jared again."
"I only really talked to Adam," says Anne Hathaway, who plays Neumann's wife, Rebekah. "He was Adam, and I was Rebekah." The two actors even used their characters' nicknames for each other. "He would call me Rivka," Hathaway says, "and I would call him motek." (In Hebrew, Rivka is Rebekah and motek means sweetheart.)
Leto famously disappears into his roles with the facility of a chameleon — as seen in his portrayal of Paolo Gucci in House of Gucci. He shot WeCrashed immediately after Gucci and immersed himself just as fully for the eight-episode limited series, now unspooling. "It was a really deep dive," Leto says. "I don't know if the right word is 'monastic,' but I really had no life beyond this project for the six months that we were doing it. It kind of made me fall in love with acting again."
During production, "We would have arguments with him in full character, full prosthetics," Crevello says. "And he would never drop the accent. Usually it was over various creative points in a scene, like blocking. Even when we were both losing our cool, he never dropped character."
Leto's costar went with the flow. "If he wanted to speak in an Israeli accent while blocking, that didn't bother me," Hathaway says. "I found it to be helpful to be in a space that didn't require switching between realities." Ultimately, Leto's process "elevated all of us," she says, adding that the first time they shared a scene, "Something opened inside me, some kind of freedom or trust. Maybe both? By take three, we were spontaneously dancing as our characters, and I felt like I was floating."
The WeWork saga, one of this era's biggest business stories, unfolds like a novel, a financial thriller. Its characters include the ultra-rich as well as big-time banks, venture capitalists, high-end law firms, real-estate developers, show-biz celebrities and even titled royalty. The story starts in New York City, where in 2008, Adam Neumann, an Israeli immigrant–entrepreneur–hustler — whom the Atlantic described in 2019 as "the most talented grifter of our time" — started a business creating and renting "coworking spaces."
It was essentially a real-estate operation, but he pitched it as a tech company. Excitable venture capitalists were easily reeled in amid the frenzy around high-concept startups and their potential to become so-called "unicorns" — startups with valuations exceeding $1 billion. Many investors waived oversight, even skipping the due diligence necessary to see if the fast-growth business model actually checked out. (Spoiler alert: it didn't.)
"This era we're living in, there's this belief in the eccentric visionary male entrepreneur," says financial reporter Maureen Farrell, coauthor of the book The Cult of We: WeWork, Adam Neumann and the Great Startup Delusion. "That mentality exists because of the few success stories where people have made a ton of money by betting early on these visionary founders, whether it's Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg. We've been living in this world of low interest rates for so long that there are a lot of people in finance chasing returns, willing to take bigger risks to chase the next Google. There is a desperation to not miss out on the next big founder."
WeWork wasn't just subleasing office space, it was renting out a community, a culture, with dance parties and free draft beer on tap. Some called it a cult, with Neumann as its charismatic leader — a prophet of profits. "It's a weird kind of cognitive dissonance to claim you're raising the world's consciousness, but offering a really fratty, bro-y culture," Crevello says. Hathaway adds, "Insisting that you're creating a vegan, plastic-free, carbon-free company while having a private jet? Something's gotta give there."
Neumann talked about becoming president of the world and bringing peace to the Middle East. He also talked about becoming a trillionaire. People were always willing to listen. In less than a decade, WeWork's global valuation had risen to $47 billion — second only to Uber among U.S. startups. But even with all the investor mania, the company was losing millions of dollars a day. (In the show, a character illustrates this by pouring water into a leaky cup; billions may pour in, but the cup doesn't stop leaking.)
Neumann insisted everything was fine; he claimed the company was profitable when it was not. Meanwhile, he cashed out $700 million of WeWork's stock before floating a planned IPO — an unusual move, since a CEO's dumping of shares can suggest a lack of confidence. "He used sleight of hand," Farrell says, "like, 'Don't look there, look here.'"
But as the IPO date approached in 2019, WeWork was obligated to release a financial disclosure form known as an S-1, which revealed the company's enormous losses and questionable business decisions. On the heels of that admission, The Wall Street Journal exposed more of Neumann's irresponsible business style (at least compared to other, more typical CEOs), including a story about hiding marijuana aboard an international flight on a private jet. What had previously been seen as merely eccentric behavior was now considered damaging to the company.
As Leto explains, "Adam walking down the street barefoot is interesting — not because he is barefoot, but because he was CEO of a billion-dollar company."
With alarm bells ringing, Neumann was ousted, the IPO was aborted, the company's value plummeted and lots of questions were raised, including whether he had committed fraud or malfeasance.
WSJ reporter Eliot Brown, who wrote the paper's exposé and cowrote The Cult of We with Farrell, still has lingering questions. "Maureen and I were both wondering if Adam was just completely a product of the financial environment that made him conform to being this kind of messianic entrepreneur, and how much of that was his fault?"
Crevello calls that "one of the central, dramatic questions of the show," adding, "We're playing with that tension. Did Adam and Rebekah really believe they were going to change the world, or was it simple greed? I think that debate is one of the pleasures of watching the show."
To read the rest of the story, pick up a copy of emmy magazine HERE.
This article originally appeared in its entirety in emmy magazine, Issue No. 2, under the title, "Face Value."
Get a peek behind the scenes of our cover shoot with the WeCrashed cast HERE.