After earning two back-to-back Emmys for her scene-stealing supporting role on “Ozark”, Julia Garner is stepping into the lead as convicted fraudster Anna Delvey in Shonda Rhimes’ limited, true-crime series, “Inventing Anna”. The series should earn more awards attention for the 28-year-old star, who met with Delvey in order to learn how to embody the captivating yet perplexing persona of the German expat who pretended to be an heiress as she conned hundreds of thousands of dollars out of some of New York’s high society and financial institutions.
While Delvey, whose real name is Anna Sorokin, sold the rights of her story to Netflix and even spoke with Garner when she was still in prison serving out her sentence, she recently wrote in an essay for Insider revealing that “it doesn’t look like [she’ll] be watching ‘Inventing Anna’ anytime soon.”
“Even if I were to pull some strings and make it happen, nothing about seeing a fictionalized version of myself in this criminal-insane-asylum setting sounds appealing to me,” Delvey, who is now in ICE custody after violating the terms of her visa, wrote. “I was hoping that by the time Inventing Anna came out, I would’ve moved on with my life. I imagined for the show to be a conclusion of sorts summing up and closing of a long chapter that had come to an end.”
She added, “Nearly four years in the making and hours of phone conversations and visits later, the show is based on my story and told from a journalist’s perspective. And while I’m curious to see how they interpreted all the research and materials provided, I can’t help but feel like an afterthought, the somber irony of being confined to a cell at yet another horrid correctional facility lost between the lines, the history repeating itself.”
While speaking to ET’s Lauren Zima, Garner reflected on the time she spent with Delvey, notably perfecting her distinct accent, and responded to her real-life counterpart’s essay. “Here’s the thing, I respect whatever Anna does in terms of whether she wants to watch the show or doesn’t want to watch the show,” the actress said. “That’s her choice and that’s totally fine. She doesn’t have to watch the show.”
Garner added, “I never made the show in anticipation, thinking that she’s going to watch it. If she did watch it, great. If not, that’s fine, too. I respect whatever she wants to do.”
That said, Garner recalled what it was like to visit Delvey, who was sentenced to four to 12 years in prison and was serving out her time at the Albion Correctional Facility in upstate New York. “I wish there was a camera there because that was like a movie itself, in a way,” she shared, explaining that at one point it became quite a bizarre experience when she was sitting with journalist Jessica Pressler, whose article the series is based on, as the two met with Delvey. “It just got super meta and was such an out-of-body experience.”
Beyond that, Delvey would question Garner about filming the series and the actress’ portrayal of her. “She was like, ‘How are you playing me? What are you doing?’ And I was like, “Uhhh.’ I started freaking out inside,” the actress recalled, feeling super intimidated. “I didn’t want her to get disappointed, because obviously I still care. I’m playing her.”
So, in response, Garner “started mirroring her.”
“I was like, ‘How are you playing me?’ And she was like, ‘Oh, my god. That’s so funny,’” the actress said.
Not only that, but Delvey wanted to hear her accent, which is something uniquely her own. Born in Russia, Delvey grew up in Germany and learned British English before later picking up American English by watching popular TV shows.
Since there were so many layers, Garner first started by learning “a German accent and then Russian and then put it all together,” she said, adding that she had to subtly layer in a British accent. And because she spent so much time with Americans and being in New York, “musically it shouldn’t sound European. Musically, it sounded American.”
Eventually, Garner got to a place where she became comfortable in the accent and could speak it all hours of the day. “One of the reasons why I love doing accents is it’s almost like wearing a wig. There’s this sense of separation between the character and the actor,” she explained.
Needless to say, it’s a far cry from her deep Southern accent she uses as Ruth Langmore on ‘Ozark’. But everything about Delvey is different from Langmore, who is the daughter of a local crime family on the Netflix crime drama.
“It was a really nice breath of fresh air after Ruth. As much as I love Ozark and Ruth, the clothes on Delvey are next level,” said Garner, who as Delvey, got to wear top designers, including, “that Alaia dress that she wears, that baby doll black dress that she wears with the Celine glasses, that felt the most Anna Delvey.”
In addition to wearing wigs and lavish costumes the entire time, Garner also donned prosthetic teeth, which was a last-minute detail she requested for the character. “I also had, you know, fake teeth,” the actress, who has a gap in her teeth, said.
“There was a moment right before filming and we were doing test looks and there was one picture where [Anna] was smiling, which is very rare that [you] see her smiling,” she continued. “Then I noticed that she had perfectly straight teeth and I was like, ‘Oh, this will not only change the way that I speak, so I will sound more like her, but also just my [look]. She has more of a baby doll face, so, you know, it’ll change everything.’”
Indeed it does, with Garner disappearing into the role in “Inventing Anna” and channeling a person who wants it all, but really has no idea who she is, which makes the series all that more interesting. Who is this person? What does she want? And where did it all come from?
“I don’t think Anna knows,” Garner said. “I think Anna is still knowing herself.”
“Inventing Anna” debuts Friday, Feb. 11 on Netflix.
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