“Inventing Anna” tells the story of notorious scammer Anna Delvey as she’s investigated by a reporter named Vivian, and the two characters develop what Netflix calls a “dark, funny, love-hate bond.”
Anna Chlumsky, who plays Vivian — a fictionalized version of journalist Jessica Pressler, who profiled the real Delvey for an explosive 2018 story in New York magazine’s The Cut — told TODAY the relationship was “delicious” for her and co-star Julia Garner to play.
“We’re both really, like, nerdy actors who love to get in a room in front of a human being and play with them, you know?” Chlumsky said. “We both had a blast seeing where that could go and seeing how strange and deep and what kind of unexplored corners of two women, you know, talking to each other could actually get you.”
Garner takes on the role of Anna Sorokin (aka Anna Delvey), a Russian-born con artist who posed as a German heiress to defraud banks and wealthy acquaintances from New York’s social scene between 2013 and 2017, becoming a widely recognizable figure with her red hair and thick-framed Celine glasses. In May 2019, Sorokin was sentenced to four to 12 years in prison. She was released in February 2021.
Chlumsky said Garner worked with a dialect coach to nail Sorokin’s distinctive accent.
“Julia’s got a fantastic ear, and she’s extremely dedicated,” she said. “It was awesome to listen to her work on that and to hone that.”
She also praised the show’s hair and makeup team for transforming Garner into the image of Delvey that accompanied headlines around the world.
“When you do this job and you love it, that’s the kind of stuff that you get sort of giddy about,” Chlumsky said.
Throughout the series, Vivian visits Anna at Rikers Island, where Anna greets her with digs about her wardrobe and appearance. In the show’s trailer, Anna’s seen asking the professionally dressed Vivian, “What are you wearing? You look poor.”
Of the insults, Chlumsky said, “They all make me laugh. The crew really kind of adopted the word 'broke-a--' for kind of anything, for months after she delivered that line."
So, which Delvey-ism will be the show’s biggest meme?
“I kind of can’t wait to find out,” Chlumsky said. “I really hope ‘VIP is better.’ That just seems to be a real, like, underliner. There’s some really good ones. ‘Broke-a--’ is great. ‘Basic.’ I mean, that’s obviously already used. The other day, my husband was taking out money from an ATM and I found myself, like, coaching him in Anna Delvey speak. So yeah, it’s already a part of the lexicon.”
Chlumsky said she prepared for the role by reading all of Pressler’s articles and her notes on Delvey. Pressler, who Chumsky said is “a copious note taker,” serves as a producer on the show, which was created by Shonda Rhimes.
“For such a cerebral character, it almost feels like … you’re going to unlock a lot more through their voice on the page and I just felt like that was my way in. It was like a decoding of the written word, and I loved that. It helped me with all my choices.”
Chlumsky said she related to Vivian as someone who loves her craft and for whom “every bit of information is worth following, is worth your interest.”
“She loves the craft of journalism, the way that I love the craft of acting," she said. "Sometimes you find yourself in an industry where there’s people who think different things about that craft than you do. You know, they’re like, ‘Oh, it’s just news,’ or ‘It doesn’t matter; it’s about clicks.’ And she’s like, ‘No, don’t you see there’s more to it?’ And I’m like that with acting sometimes. Sometimes people say, ‘Just say the lines.’ I’m like, ‘No, it’s a whole art. Stop it.’”
Chlumsky said she wasn’t familiar with Delvey’s story when she was first cast on the show since she doesn’t use Instagram — the platform Sorokin used to build her fake persona.
“It was really fun when I told younger people like my brother that I’m going to do this show about this young woman who conned a lot of people, and then, you know, my brother’s like, ‘Anna Delvey?!’” she said. “He was, like, so excited.”
Chlumsky weighed in on why Delvey’s story has captivated people so much.
“It is sort of surprising in a way that a lot of her is surprising,” she said. “I think the instinct is to go, ‘Oh, it’s a “15 minutes of fame” deal.’ And that’s a flash in the pan and people forget about that immediately. The fact that a public figure like her has had such longevity — it is, I feel like part of a, you know, a meta experience.
“We’re living the actual phenomenon of her gripping personality,” Chlumsky said, adding, “She definitely does remind you of those types of people that do kind of just grip on the people that they meet and they just make them want to please them. And so I think that society’s doing that, in a weird way. And I’m part of it.”
Chlumsky hopes the buzzy series prompts viewers to ask important questions.
“It’s like the slow burn that I always hope for after a show,” she said. “I really hope that, you know, as they walk around in their own lives, making their own choices, they have another platform upon which to decide what they think is good and bad, what they think is right and wrong, what is OK with them about the way people treat other people.
“I feel like we present so many great and important and relevant questions about today’s — we use the word ‘society’ so much, but it’s true — about today’s society that I think that an audience member would be remiss to not adapt some of those questions themselves. I just hope that they come out of it with some personal debate.”
"Inventing Anna" premieres on Netflix Feb. 11.