NEW YORK – Julia Garner admits to feeling “intimidated” when she met Anna Sorokin — who posed as a German heiress in New York society named Anna Delvey — and was later convicted of fraud.
Garner portrays Sorokin in the new Shonda Rhimes series for Netflix, “Inventing Anna,” debuting Friday. What surprised Garner at that prison meeting? Sorokin was likable.
“I just really wanted to get her energy,” said Garner. “What was coming across — that I didn’t expect — was how bubbly she was, how charming.”
Garner walked away with insight into just how Sorokin was able to pull off her schemes.
“When I got out of that visit, I was like, ’Wow, that’s why she was so close in getting everything that she wanted. And that’s why those powerful people and just people in general just gravitated towards her. ... It made you conflicted. It was very strange.”
“Inventing Anna” is based on a New York magazine article by Jessica Pressler, who is a producer on the project. In the series, six-time Emmy nominee Anna Chlumsky plays a reporter named Vivian who is chasing the story. What she ends up writing is Pressler's article.
Laverne Cox, Alexis Floyd and Anthony Edwards portray people in her orbit. Arian Moayed plays Sorokin's attorney. Katie Lowes is Rachel, who enjoyed the trappings of being friends with someone with a five-star lifestyle. Rachel was with Sorokin on a trip to Morocco when Sorokin's credit cards stopped working. She blamed the bank. Rachel, a Vanity Fair employee, forked over her company card as a temporary hold but ended up getting charged $60,000. Later, Rachel wrote a story for Vanity Fair about the experience and published a book called “My Friend Anna.” Lena Dunham is adapting the Vanity Fair article for HBO.
Garner, a two-time Emmy winner for her work on “Ozark,” says this was the hardest she's ever worked, and the trickiest part was mastering Sorokin's hard-to-place accent.
“It's not like one of those things where it’s like, ‘Oh, it’s a Southern accent. Oh, it’s a British accent. Oh, it’s just a German accent ... Oh, it’s just a Russian accent.′ It’s a hybrid of different accents," said Garner. "I literally had to have an accent with different accents.”
Chlumsky says her scenes with Garner — her character visiting Anna in prison, where she's trying to get her to open up, but Anna just wants to criticize her clothes, comment on her pregnant figure and ask for expensive underwear and fashion magazines — “felt like the very best days in acting class.”
“You just play off of each other and you are completely committed to the present moment. It felt like, ‘Oh, this is exactly how we trained.'"
“Inventing Anna” is Rhimes' second project for Netflix and her fingerprints are noticeable. The music, look, writing and pacing will ring familiar for fans of Rhimes' other shows. Lowes was a regular on “Scandal,” as well as Jeff Perry, who plays one of Vivian’s co-workers. Lowes played Quinn and Perry was Cyrus. Other cast members have also appeared on Rhimes' shows.
“There are certain things that get put into the Shondaland sauce, no matter what the show,” said Lowes. “We’re talking about complex, complicated women in lead roles. We are not sure who’s the villain, who’s a hero. There is the vibe that you can’t digest it fast enough. You want to turn to the next page.”
One person in particular is not interested in the series. The real Sorokin penned an open letter first published by Insider.com, stating that she won't be watching, saying “nothing .... sounds appealing” about the show.
A year ago Sorokin was released from prison after serving about two years. She's currently in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and awaiting a possible deportation to Germany.
Moayed thinks we'll continue to hear about Anna, no matter what happens next.
“This is part one. I think we’re just beginning to understand who she is.”
Follow Alicia Rancilio at http://www.twitter.com/aliciar