By Deepa Lakshmin
The first thing you notice about Anna Delvey is her accent: husky German vocal fry, faint Russian twist, British-English spoken with the singsong musicality of an American making a name for herself in New York City. Her intonation shifts when she’s negotiating million-dollar business deals or clinking glasses on a yacht in Ibiza — or pleading “not guilty” to multiple felony charges, including grand larceny, attempted grand larceny, and theft of services.
“To me, that gave a lot of direction [about] who the character is, just the accent alone,” the actress Julia Garner, who plays Delvey in a new limited series from Netflix, tells MTV News over video chat. “This is somebody that is trying to be something that she’s not.”
Critically acclaimed for her role as Ruth Langmore on Ozark, Garner taught herself to talk in Delvey’s tongue for Inventing Anna. The nine-episode arc pulls from writer Jessica Pressler’s blockbuster 2018 investigation for New York magazine’s style bible The Cut, which chronicled the real-life Delvey’s whirlwind climb up Manhattan’s social ladder and into the pockets of bankers. The article attracted media attention nationwide, and it wasn’t long before Shonda Rhimes scooped up the rights for a television adaptation branded with an apt slogan: “This whole story is completely true. Except for the parts that are totally made up.”
The show packages Delvey’s rise and fall through the eyes of people around her, from the journalist chasing down sources to the hotel concierge she tipped in hundred-dollar bills to friends who charged thousands on Delvey’s behalf. If you think waiting on hold while calling your bank takes forever, just wait until you see how long it takes for Anna’s wire transfers to go through — if they do at all, that is.
Delvey brands herself as a German heiress with a $60 million trust fund but, ugh, her international credit cards keep getting declined, so do you mind covering the check, just this one time, and she’ll pay you back as soon as her dad sorts it out? These are the types of promises she makes to associates and acquaintances alike. Her endgame? Launching the Anna Delvey Foundation, a luxe Manhattan clubhouse for the elitist of the elite. To investors, it’s an idea with potential. To Anna, it’s her purpose in life, her baby. She protects it at all costs, literally, and woos industry giants with the cash and connections to bring her grand vision to life.
“Anna is afraid,” Garner says. “She came all the way to New York. She does not want to fail. But why doesn’t she want to fail? Why is she so afraid of failure? Because Anna’s afraid of rejection — deep, deep rejection. And when you’re severely afraid of rejection, it affects your identity. I feel like a lot of people are having these fears now, in this day and age with social media and with unhealthy self-esteem.”
In Inventing Anna, this fear manifests as “fake it until you make it,” an adage Delvey’s lawyer quotes in her defense. Born in Russia as Anna Sorokin, she followed her family to a small German town, where we see her poring over fashion magazines that glorify New York. There, nobody would raise an eyebrow at a new surname, and she could launch her prestigious business by getting powerful people to believe in her as much as she believes in herself. Her hustle is juxtaposed against the ambitions of other entrepreneurs, like her futurist boyfriend whose app falls flat and a fictionalized depiction of Billy McFarland whose Fyre Festival went up in flames.
“It’s not an easy part,” Garner says. “Anything where Anna is showing being vulnerable, but also anytime Anna was trying to trick or manipulate something or someone was also very difficult, because there are so many layers to it. You never want to be a villain and play it like it’s a villain. I don’t even like calling her a villain. I don’t know what she is. Is that weird to say? She’s so many things.”
A fashionista, for one. High-end designer clothing is so important to Delvey that it feels like a character all its own. She notices what you wear and, yes, judges you for it; she even hires a personal stylist for her trial. In one “hilarious” fantasy scene, Garner says, “it’s almost like Anna’s walking on a runway, but she’s walking in court and posing for the photographers… I always wanted to laugh when I was doing a strut like on a catwalk in a courtroom and people are just sitting there. It was so uncomfortable, but it was so funny.”
Well-documented on social media, her outfits — a little black Michael Kors dress, white lace before the judge, thick Céline frames — convey the status and strength she wants her peers (and the jury) to see. She reiterates, even as she faces years in prison, that she’s a business professional doing what needs to be done to get her foundation off the ground. Why is everyone getting in her way? Meanwhile, everyone else is asking, who is Anna Delvey?
“I don’t know. I don’t think Anna even knows who she is,” Garner says. “I think that’s the biggest problem, to be honest. I think she’s figuring it out… I can say this because I was playing her. You can be yourself and still not know yourself.”
“I’m not anticipating that everybody is going to agree with Anna when they’re watching the show,” Garner explains. “You don’t have to like Anna. I don’t have to play a character that people have to like. But you have to be open and willing to understand why she did what she did, and to me, if you’re open to seeing and hearing that, it instantly humanizes her.”
Garner had to master balancing Anna’s influence with Langmore’s sass in Ozark, as both shows overlapped filming during the COVID-19 pandemic. About the only thing both characters share is their innate intensity. “How Anna moves her tongue is completely different than how Ruth moves her tongue. Ruth knows nothing about fashion,” Garner says. “That is Anna’s whole universe. Ruth’s just counting the dollar bills and is getting over bossing around strippers. Anna would never be caught dead walking at the Lazy-O [motel].”
Then, Garner realizes her starring roles do, in fact, have something else in common: “Maybe Anna would have a little fun bossing around the strippers, though. She might.”