Netflix’s new drama Inventing Anna has all the makings of a must-watch show. The series stars Ozark’s breakout lead Julia Garner in the true story of German fraudster Anna Sorokin, who conned wealthy New Yorkers, banks and hotels out of tens of thousands of dollars between 2013 and 2017. It premieres on February 11.
The series comes from production powerhouse Shonda Rhimes, who stewarded Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How To Get To Away With Murder for US giant ABC before being snapped up by Netflix in a megabucks deal. Rhimes’ first project for the streamer was the period smash Bridgerton, and now she’s delivering her second trick.
Rhimes has left behind Regency England but still delivers Shondaland’s trademark high drama. The series is based on Jessica Pressler’s 2019 article for New York magazine How Anna (Sorokin) Delvey Tricked New York’s Party People. It’s actually Pressler’s second trip to the screen, after her 2015 article The Hustlers at Scores was turned into Jennifer Lopez’s 2019 vehicle, Hustlers.
If you want to go into the TV series completely cold, then beware, there are plenty of spoilers here, but if you want to find out the real story that inspired Rhimes’ new blockbuster, then it’s all below for you…
What is Inventing Anna all about?
Inventing Anna chronicles the journey of Anna Delvey, supposedly a wealthy German heiress who bragged to friends that she was sitting on a fortune of over $60 million.
Anna Delvey turned out to be Anna Sorokin. She had no fortune and didn’t stand to inherit a thing. Between 2013 and 2017, she fleeced her new friends for thousands of dollars.
Among her victims were wealthy art dealer Michael Xufu Huang and Rachel DeLoache Williams, a one-time photo editor with Vanity Fair. It was Williams who Sorokin stuck with a $62,000 bill for a Moroccan retreat she’d agreed to pay for.
As well as her friends, Sorokin also scammed two Manhattan hotels, a private jet company and a series of banks, with the total amount she owed coming in at more than $200,000. She was also on the verge of convincing a hedge fund to give her $25 million to open a private club worth twice that amount.
In the end, the money ran out and unpaid credit card bills began to rack up. Sorokin was arrested in October 2017 and convicted in May 2019 of attempted grand larceny (trying to steal vast sums of money). She was sentenced to serve 4 to 12 years in prison.
Netflix’s take on the saga is told from the perspective of Vivian Kent, a fictionalized version of Pressler, as she tries to wheedle the story out of Delvey and save her own career in the process.
Where is Anna Sorokin now?
After apologizing for her crimes at a parole hearing in October 2020, Sorokin was released from prison on grounds of good behavior in February 2021. It was expected she would then be deported to Germany.
However, a month later, Sorokin was arrested by immigration officials for overstaying her visa and is still in a New Jersey county jail awaiting deportation.
How did Netflix get the rights to tell the story of Anna Sorokin?
In order to get Sorokin’s sign-off for her life rights, Netflix had to hand over $320,000.
Now, normally under New York State law, criminals are not allowed to profit from their crimes, and, when it was first suggested that Netflix pay Sorokin, law enforcement officials immediately intervened to block the payment.
However, Sorokin appealed, and, at the start of last year, Albany County Judge Richard Platkin unfroze Sorokin’s bank accounts and allowed her to settle some of her many outstanding bills using the cash.
The story of Delvey, or rather Sorokin, is perfect fodder for Rhimes. It’s fizzy, glamorous and packed with intrigue and suspense. It’s easy to see why the company was so keen to get its hands on the story.
Who is Anna Sorokin?
Anna Sorokin was born in Russia in 1991 but moved to Germany at the age of 16 with her parents and younger brother. After graduating high school, Sorokin moved to London to study at Central Saint Martins College but ended up dropping out and heading to Berlin, where she interned in fashion PR. After that, she relocated to Paris, where she landed an internship at Purple magazine. It was here she took on the name Anna Delvey.
In the summer of 2013, she headed for New York to attend Fashion Week. After enjoying a productive week and making some fast friends, Sorokin opted to stay, transferring to Purple’s New York office.
She didn’t stay there long and instead focused her energies on her idea of the ‘Anna Delvey Foundation’ – a private members’ club and art foundation. The friends she’d made assumed that it would be paid for by a trust fund, as she’d told them all she was a German heiress. (Why else would you need a foundation?) As she’d suggested putting her club in Church Missions House, a vast six-story building in Manhattan that was last on the market in 2014 for a cool $50 million, it was an understandable assumption.
Initially, she tried to score investment capital, but couldn’t convince investors to put money in. Getting desperate, Sorokin created fake bank statements that seemed to show she had access to about €60 million stored in Swiss bank accounts. She put these in as part of a loan application for $22 million to City National Bank. They refused, so she took the proposal to Fortress Investment Group.
Fortress agreed to consider the application, but only if Sorokin paid $100,000 to cover legal expenses relating to the application.
Penniless, Sorokin returned to City National Bank and used her charms to convince an employee to grant her a temporary overdraft facility. However, the application failed and Sorokin’s hope that she could ‘fake it until she made it’ was dashed.
All the while, Sorokin’s lifestyle was growing ever more extravagant. She’d racked up bills at several of New York’s most expensive hotels and even managed to book a private jet to Nebraska, without paying the $35,390 fee upfront.
At every hotel, Sorokin used the same scam, booking without putting a credit card on file. Once the hotel demanded fees, she’d make a claim about a wire transfer, which would never arrive, at which point she’d be evicted. The tactic was enough to rack up over $50,000 in unpaid hotel bills. In the end, the Beekman and the W hotels demanded charges be pressed against her. And once her financial activity was under real scrutiny, everything fell apart for Sorokin.
All this earned her a nickname, the Soho Grifter. It was splashed across newspapers in the days after she was charged and is what convinced Netflix to part with so much money for her story.
How did Julia Garner become the Soho Grifter?
Garner, whose breakout role in Ozark as the scheming Ruth Langmore has earned her plenty of plaudits, had her pick of roles, but she was actually second choice to play Anna Delvey.
Rhimes’ first pick was Madeline Brewer, who you might know from her roles as Janine in The Handmaid’s Tale or Tricia Miller in Orange Is The New Black. However, scheduling conflicts caused Brewer to drop out and the role went to Garner.
The actress took her research extremely seriously, to the extent that she spent time with Sorokin in prison.
“You can’t dislike the person you’re playing for eight, nine months”, she revealed to the Wall Street Journal, “That’s going to come across on the screen, and the performance isn’t going to be as good. She had her reasons why she did all the things she did.”
Garner has stated in interviews that she wanted to nail Sorokin’s accent, which shifts constantly between Germanic intonations and a strange Southern US drawl. It was especially difficult for Garner as she was portraying Langmore in Ozark at the same time.
She told Town and Country: “I really made sure that the script supervisor had an eye on my accent during that period of time. Playing those two parts at the same time was probably the hardest thing I’ve had to do in my life. Those are not easy women.”
Apparently, it all comes down to how you use your tongue, with Garner adding: “Anna’s tongue is kind of flat. It almost feels heavy and fat. I completely had to change how I moved my tongue in three weeks.”
While Garner’s accent has drawn some criticism from viewers, she revealed that she’d already run it past Sorokin herself, adding: “She’s like, ‘Please, let me hear it. It got very meta.”
You can judge for yourself in the trailer below:
Who else is in the cast for Inventing Anna?
- Julia Garner as Anna Delvey/Sorokin
- Anna Chlumsky as Vivian Kent, a journalist investigating Anna Delvey (based on Jessica Pressler)
- Katie Lowes as Rachel, a friend of Delvey’s (based on Rachel DeLoache Williams)
- Laverne Cox as Kacy Duke, a celebrity trainer who became Delvey’s close friend
- Alexis Floyd as Neff, an aspiring filmmaker whose job as a hotel concierge saw her become Delvey’s confidante
- Arian Moayed as Todd Spodek, Delvey’s lawyer
- Anders Holm as Jack, Kent’s husband
- Jeff Perry as Lou, a colleague of Kent’s
- Terry Kinney as Barry, a colleague of Kent’s
What’s the release date for Inventing Anna?
The show starts on Netflix on February 11. It’ll go out in nine parts, all available to binge-watch on the streamer on day one, should you wish to.
Are there any Anna Sorokin documentaries?
Sorokin’s lavish habits and serious taste for fraud were profiled as part of HBO Max’s documentary series, Generation Hustle.
Sorokin sat alongside the likes of WeWork founder Adam Neumann and was given her own hour-long standalone episode, Anna Delvey Takes Manhattan.
Rachel DeLoache Williams, Sorokin’s lawyer Todd Spodek, restauranteur Richie Notar, stylist Sergio Corvacho, DJ Elle Dee and creative director Marc Kremers were all interviewed and recounted their experiences with Sorokin.
Williams also wrote about her experiences in detail in her book, My Friend Anna: The True Story of a Fake Heiress, which is out now.
That book has been optioned by HBO and is being developed for TV by Lena Dunham.