In the current era of true-crime TV, which is largely focused on con artists and grifters, no series is more captivating or satisfying to watch than Inventing Anna, Shonda Rhimes’ scripted Netflix drama about convicted fraudster Anna Sorokin starring Julia Garner. Known more popularly as Anna Delvey, the German expat was found guilty of grand larceny for defrauding some of New York City’s social elites and financial institutions out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
After journalist Jessica Pressler first ignited a media frenzy around Delvey’s story with the 2018 New York magazine article, “How Anna Delvey Tricked New York’s Party People,” she’s the subject of renewed attention thanks to the star-studded series, which features Katie Lowes, Laverne Cox and more as various people wrapped up in her story.
“She was known as this New York grifter,” Lowes told ET, explaining that Delvey “told everyone she was a German heiress worth millions of dollars.” So, here’s what you need to know about Delvey, the “Fake German Heiress,” and the people she scammed.
After first arriving from Germany in 2013, Delvey spent several years in New York City hoping to launch an exclusive SoHo House-type art club in various hot spots around the country, with the first being in the Big Apple. She used the guise of an heiress whose trust fund hadn’t kicked in yet as a way to climb the ladder and network her way into the graces of high society and the business elite.
To maintain appearances -- a lavish lifestyle of expensive dinners, high-end hotels, shopping sprees, all of which was documented on Instagram -- Delvey conned her newfound friends out of thousands while always promising to pay them back. At the same time, she tried to convince several top financial institutions to grant her a $20 million loan for the project, known as the Anna Delvey Foundation (ADF).
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To keep up with the demand of expenses, fees and various IOUs to friends, Delvey used invalid credit cards, false personal information, fake bank statements and fraudulent checks as a way to keep the money flowing. But she wasn’t able to pay everyone back, including former Vanity Fair employee Rachel Williams, who was stuck with a $60,000 bill for a lavish trip to Marrakesh, Morocco, with Delvey and celebrity fitness trainer Kacy Duke.
In addition to Williams and Duke, some of the others reportedly conned by Delvey include Fyre Festival co-founder Billy McFarland, art collector Michael Xufu Huang, a former boyfriend only known as the Futurist, architect Gabriel Calatrava, financial expert Joel Cohen, creative director Marc Kremers, and one of “Pharma Bro” Martin Shkreli’s executives.
“Unbelievable the overlapping of worlds, it's like a Marvel universe,” Inventing Anna star Alexis Floyd said, while her co-star, Arian Moayed, added, “a Marvel universe of people that might scam [you].”
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When Sorokin went on the lam, Williams and others started going after her and eventually got the police involved. By 2017, Delvey was arrested and eventually found guilty in 2019 on multiple counts of grand larceny, for having stolen more than $200,000, theft of services and one count of attempted grand larceny. She was not convicted on other charges related to falsifying documents in an attempt to land a multimillion-dollar bank loan or stealing Williams’ money during their trip to Marrakesh.
Delvey, who was 28 years old at the time, was sentenced to between four and 12 years in prison before eventually being released on Feb. 11, 2021. Her freedom and declaration of “working on something” didn’t last long. Less than a month later, she was taken into custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for violating the terms of her visa and is awaiting deportation.
Inspired by the article written by Pressler, who is also a producer on the series, Inventing Anna follows Vivian (Anna Chlumsky), a journalist trying to revitalize her magazine career after a bad story, who takes an interest in the young con woman (Garner) soon after she’s been arrested. But as soon as Vivian starts digging into her backstory, the wilder it becomes, with stories of outrageous personalities, fake identities and damaged egos all wrapped in Delvey’s world and desire to have it all.
“You guys, this show is going to be wild. I don’t even know what to say because I have goosebumps,” Lowes teased to ET, before sharing that she and her co-stars, many of which are from Scandal, “had the best time shooting it. It was so wild.”
And when it comes to understanding just who Delvey is, Chlumsky said not to expect for it all to make sense. “I would say that nothing gets figured out, which is the whole point,” she explained. “There’s so many questions that this show asks and it keeps going and going and going -- and that’s what makes it so rich.”
Julia Garner as Anna Delvey
In order to embody the captivating yet perplexing persona of the Russian-born German expat, who eventually made her way to New York City, the 28-year-old star met with Delvey while she was in prison. “I wish there was a camera there because that was like a movie itself, in a way,” she said, adding that the experience was “super meta and was such an out-of-body experience.”
In order to bring her story to life onscreen, Garner donned wigs and fake teeth as well as spent time perfecting Delvey’s distinct accent, which was no easy feat. Since there were so many layers to it, she first started by learning “a German accent and then Russian and then put it all together,” she explained, adding that she had to subtly layer in a British accent. And because she spent so much time with Americans, “musically it shouldn’t sound European. Musically, it sounded American.”
Bringing it all together was the fancy, designer clothes Garner got to wear. And if there was one look that was spot on, it was “that baby doll black [Alaia] dress that she wears with the Celine glasses,” the actress said. “That felt the most Anna Delvey.”
Anna Chlumsky as Vivian Kent
In addition to Garner as Delvey, the second most important role is the portrayal of Manhattan journalist Vivian Kent, who is a version of Pressler.
At this point in her career, the real-life and very pregnant Pressler is still reeling from an editorial mistake that called her career into question. But she has also started to bounce thanks to another hit 2015 article that inspired the movie Hustlers. So, when Pressler comes across Delvey’s story, she takes it on and soon finds herself deep down the grifter’s carefully constructed rabbit hole.
“I was so compelled by how Shonda was really diving into the journey of Vivian more than just using her as a way of delivering information. It can be too tempting sometimes to have a journalist character just serve that function,” Chlumsky said, explaining that Kent, like Pressler, is on several overlapping journeys that all converge as her due date nears.
“Jessica was really, really close to delivering when she was completing this article,” she continued. “There’s the shift of life in becoming a new mother and it’s a shift for Vivian. Then on top of that, we’re exploring what friendships mean to each other, to understand what it’s like sitting in front of another human being and asking them to give them their story.”
The former Veep star added, “That’s a really inmate and very unique type of relationship.”
Also helping Chlumsky get into character was the fact that Pressler made herself “so available” to the actress. “We met at table reads and it was really important to me to check in with her and make sure that it was going in the direction she feels comfortable with,” she said. “From there, I really just voraciously read all of her notes, all her published material.”
Grateful to have that kind of access to the journalist’s work, Chlumsky noted an interesting fact about Pressler’s notes. “They’re funny. Her notes are hilarious,” she shared.
Fleshing out Kent’s world is Anders Holm as her husband, Jack Mercer, as well as Jeff Perry as Lou, Anna Deavere Smith as Maud and Terry Kinney as Barry, all fellow Manhattan employees who help Kent throughout her investigation.
Laverne Cox as Kacy Duke
The Emmy-nominated actress and former star of Orange Is the New Black portrays the celebrity fitness trainer first hired and then befriended by Delvey, who later invited her on the now infamous Morocco trip where things quickly went awry.
Beyond Delvey, Duke’s celebrity clientele has included everyone from Denzel Washington to Lenny Kravitz to Dakota Johnson. “Some of the celebrity stories are amazing,” Cox teased.
Not only did Cox train with Duke “maybe four times,” the actress spent a lot of time learning her story. “We had a four-hour lunch where she told me her whole entire life story, which is incredible,” Cox shared. “There should be a Kacy biopic [because] she has lived a life, honey. She has stories.”
Katie Lowes as Rachel
“I play Anna Delvey’s best friend who is one of the people who gets conned,” Lowes said of portraying Rachel, who is based on Rachel DeLoache Williams, a former Vanity Fair employee and friend of Delvey’s. While the actress didn’t meet her real-life counterpart, “I definitely looked at her Instagram feed. I looked at interviews she had done about the experience,” she said.
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“It felt much more important for [Rachel] to be an every girl. Like, we all know a Rachel. We’ve all had parts of Rachel in us,” Lowe said, adding that it was important for viewers to see Delvey going from conning the rich to conning this “girl, just a privileged, naive innocent girl.”
Lowes added that at the end of the day, “You watch her grow up in the series, for better or for worse. She’s completely changed from this experience.”
While she lost thousands on the Morocco trip, Williams eventually profited off the scandal by selling her story to her former employer and writing the 2018 article, “As an Added Bonus, She Paid for Everything.” She later wrote a memoir, My Friend Anna: The True Story of a Fake Heiress, and appeared on-camera in the must-watch HBO Max docuseries Generation Hustle.
Alexis Floyd as Neff Davis
After playing Tia Clayton on The Bold Type, Floyd portrays the 25-year-old Neffatari “Neff” Davis, who worked as a concierge at the boutique Soho hotel 11 Howard, where Delvey stayed for a while during her time in New York. Davis quickly befriended Delvey and witnessed Delvey’s lavish lifestyle as she made her way through the city’s social circles.
“I got to spend a lot of time with Neff,” Floyd said. “We were both Brooklyn girls at the time. We had a long dinner the first time we met and then after that, she really stayed close by. She was there for all kinds of questions I had and one of the first things I noticed about her is that she knows herself so incredibly well, like, in a really unique way. She knows the hue of orange, which is her favorite color. She’s so self-studied, self-confident in a very gentle, poised way.”
Floyd added that it was important for her to nail those specifics “about who she is, what she wants, what she likes, and what she does not like.”
Arian Moayed as Todd Spodek
The Succession breakout star portrays Delvey’s defense lawyer, a criminal attorney initially hired to fight the misdemeanor charges brought against her. He later became responsible for mounting a defense that was in part about demonstrating that Delvey was never actually close to making her dreams come true and also part taking people like Williams down for profiting off of Delvey’s situation.
Moayed recalled seeing headlines about the story on social media before getting involved in the project. “It was a time where everyone was conning each other. You know, from the highest positions to the lowest of positions and everyone was getting a piece of that,” he recalled.
The actor added that once he read the scripts and Pressler’s article, “It started to dawn on me that this is an insane story.”
Indeed it is.
Inventing Anna debuts Friday, Feb. 11 on Netflix.
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