While the nine-episode Netflix series “Inventing Anna” dramatizes the events surrounding “fake heiress” Anna Delvey (aka Anna Sorokin), the actors filling the various roles went to great lengths to ensure their portrayals rang true. Showrunner and creator Shonda Rhimes purposefully chose not to meet the subject of her series, but she dispatched journalist Jessica Pressler to conduct interviews with Delvey while she was in prison to assemble the research needed for her show.
The resulting series is a whirlwind that vacillates from wish-fulfillment fantasy to investigative journalism drama to character study, with Julia Garner’s Anna Delvey at the center of it all. And before the Emmy-winning “Ozark” actress got on set, she visited Delvey in prison to get a sense of her personality away from the cameras.
“The thing that I got out of that meeting was how bubbly she was, how likeable she was, and how charming she was. And how much more complicated that made it, in a way,” Garner told TheWrap during a recent interview about the show. “And then it just made sense. She got what she wanted, to a point, because she is that way.”
“When I met her I just really wanted to get her energy and her spirit, and I wanted that to be in the show because that’s something that an interview is not going to capture because there’s still a camera,” Garner added. “There’s still a filter, in a way. I wanted to hear her unfiltered.”
For Anna Chlumsky, who plays reporter Vivian Kent, she got to meet her real-life counterpart but also had free rein in the series – Kent is a fictionalized version of Jessica Pressler. “I mean, I got to sort of cheat around that a little bit, right? Because, you know, the article is what we’re really matching when it comes to Jessica Pressler and this world. My character’s Vivian Kent, who is a fictional, inspired version of Jessica,” Chlumsky told TheWrap. “I didn’t have the task this time on exactly matching… so I kind of just got to gain a whole lot without feeling a whole ton of restriction.”
Pressler, meanwhile, was involved in the series as a co-producer. “She co-produces the show and on the table reads we would check in with each other and touch base and I read her copious notes,” Chlumsky added. “I’m so grateful to her for making those accessible to Shonda and myself. I also made sure to read as many of her other published articles as I could because it just gave me that much more of a fabric to work with when understanding her voice.”
Alexis Floyd, who plays Anna’s friend Neff in the series, became fast-friends with her real-life counterpart. “I had the opportunity to have a meal with Neff pretty much right away, and then after that we stayed in contact,” Floyd told TheWrap. “She was incredibly generous and trusting of me, which is invaluable. I think we really built this together, and the thing that I wanted to celebrate the most or that I learned the most from her was her sense of self. She’s someone who knows herself meticulously well, she’s very self-studied. She knows the digits of the hue of orange that is her favorite color orange, she knows herself. And it was such a study, as an artist I’ll take that with me forever in terms of building character but it also gave me a personal goal of rising to that kind of confidence and knowing of the self, I’ll never forget that.”
Another performer on the show who bonded with their real-life counterpart over a meal: Laverne Cox, who plays Anna’s former friend and trainer Kacy Duke. “I got to meet Kacy and I got to train with her and I had a four-hour lunch with her where she shared her life story with me,” Cox told TheWrap. “What a life, what a human being and I hope she’s happy with what we’ve done with her and the story.”
Arian Moayed, who plays Anna’s lawyer, Todd Spodek, didn’t get a chance to meet the real Todd before filming the series, but he used court transcripts to guide his preparation. “I did not get a chance to meet Todd before, but I was given a packet of information and one of them was the transcripts,” Moayed told TheWrap. “To be real, as someone who’s worked with transcripts before, I kind of got a really great sense of who he was and how much command of the space that he had and how charming he was in that big room.”
But Moayed did finally meet the real Todd on one of his most stressful days on set. “He did show up on set one day, on the day that I was interrogating Rachel Williams played by the great Katie Lowes and I was like, ‘You couldn’t pick any other day?’ But he was really complimentary and really cool and said it was ‘eerily similar’ or something like that.”
Not everyone was eager to meet their real-life counterpart, however. Lowes opted to let Rhimes’ scripts be her guide for finding the character of Rachel. “I did not meet Rachel. I’m so happy with that choice,” Lowes told TheWrap. “For me, it was just very much the character that Shonda created on the page was what I mostly focused on and I actually based her on somebody else that I know. And again, I just feel like, you know, I wasn’t playing Jackie O. I wasn’t doing my best impression of someone that anyone knows. And this is a story, right? I mean, yes, it’s like each episode says some of it is truth and some of it is not. So, for me, the character was such a product of the situation she was in because it’s not like we’re meeting Rachel 10 years ago, and it’s not like we’re meeting Rachel now. On this series. We’re only meeting Rachel at the worst time of her life.”
“Inventing Anna” is now streaming on Netflix.