Inventing Anna

Anna Delvey: The Prequel

February 16, 2022By Heidi EllisonFilm


Julia Garner as Anna Delvey in Inventing Anna. Photo: Nicole Rivelli/Netflix © 2021
Julia Garner as Anna Delvey in Inventing Anna. Photo: Nicole Rivelli/Netflix © 2021

Today, everybody knows about Anna Delvey, the “fake heiress” who was convicted in 2019 of swindling New York City financial players and others for over $200,000 and whose story is currently being told in the sensational Shonda Rimes series “Inventing Anna” on Netflix. It so happens that I knew Anna in Paris, when she was just plain Anna Sorokin, an intern in her early 20s at Purple magazine in Paris, described in the series as a “disgusting French magazine.”

I don’t have much to say about her, however, as she was quiet and unforthcoming at the time, responding to my questions about where she was from (Germany, she said, although she was actually born in Russia), etc., with brief replies that revealed little. She did not mention being a German heiress soon to be worth €60 million, the fable she later told people in New York. The only thing flashy about her was the way she dressed, in very short baby-doll dresses and very high heels. 

It was quite a surprise, then, when this seemingly shy young woman popped up in the news, the story of her extravagant lies and ballsy scams brilliantly told in an article by Jessica Pressler in New York magazine. By the time the article came out, Anna was already in jail, awaiting trial. She didn’t really become a media phenomenon, however, until she showed up late for her own trial because the outfits chosen by a stylist for her court appearances hadn’t arrived on time. Anna’s wardrobe made her a star. (Strangely, the giant square black glasses she wears have not become a thing, although that may come with the popularity of the Netflix series; they were, however, part of a popular Anna Delvey Halloween costume in 2019.)

“Inventing Anna” is problematic right from the start because we don’t know what is true – even though Pressler was a consultant and is one of the producers – and what was invented, just as none of Anna’s contacts and friends in America could distinguish truth from lies when she spoke. Each episode begins with a disclaimer: “This whole story is completely true. Except for all the parts that are totally made up.”

Perhaps because Pressler was involved in the production, the journalist who wrote the original report, called Vivian Kent in the show and played by Anna Chlumsky (of Veep fame), has almost as big a role as Anna (played by Julia Garner) herself, a major drawback of the series. The first episode is often boring, focusing on the problems of the pregnant journalist and her long-suffering husband. 

Luckily, beginning with the second part of the nine-episode series, things start to move along quickly as the show intercuts the journalist’s investigation and the building of a defense case by Anna’s lawyer with flashbacks to Anna in action, using the connections she had made at Purple to meet the right people in New York, living the high life of an international jet-setter and duping not only the money men but also her trusting friends. 

Even though the journalist’s role is somewhat less prominent in the following episodes, she remains an annoying presence as she scuttles around and regularly throws tantrums. Although I understand her role as a framing device, her story could have been severely cut back. Likewise for the home life of Anna’s lawyer. Both seemed clichéd: the tortured journalist who is trying to repair her damaged reputation and is obsessed with getting her story, and the lawyer who neglects his family to take care of his client. The interesting bit is the way both the journalist and the lawyer become involved in Anna’s life and even begin to care about her in spite of her often nasty, manipulative ways.

Julia Garner as Anna Delvery in prison in Inventing Anna. Photo: Nicole Rivelli/Netflix © 2021
Julia Garner as Anna Delvey in prison in Inventing Anna. Photo: Nicole Rivelli/Netflix © 2021

Sorokin told the BBC that she never set out to become rich and famous, but who can believe what she says? The Netflix series seems to have one thing right: she wanted to be a celebrity. If that was indeed her goal, she has succeeded, but to what end? The money she earned from selling her story to Netflix is being used to pay restitution and legal fees, and Anna herself is once again incarcerated, after having been released last February for good behavior after serving four years of a harsh four-to-12-year sentence. This time she is fighting deportation from an Immigration and Customs Enforcement jail for overstaying her visa. 

It’s a sad ending for this lost soul, who seems to be floundering around trying to take advantage of the fame she so desired (she claims to be working on a documentary, a book about being in jail and a podcast). Ironically, the only person involved who doesn’t seem to have profited from Anna’s story – books and articles and TV series are all in the works – is Anna herself. In spite of all the attention, she remains as much of a mystery as she was when she was sitting quietly all day in front of a computer at Purple in Paris, perhaps plotting her future New York adventures.


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