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Inventing Anna: What is fact and what is fiction in Netflix’s hit series?

Netflix has been sued for defamation by Rachel DeLoache Williams, a character played by Katie Lowes

Annabel Nugent
Tuesday 30 August 2022 08:55 BST
Anna Sorokin, Fake German heiress, jailed for scamming New York's richest

Inventing Anna became an instant hit when it was released earlier this year. The series gave us plenty of true crime material to pour over – but where exactly does fact stop and fiction start?

The Netflix series – which stars Ozark actor Julia Garner as scammer Anna Delvey (real name Anna Sorokin) – was one of the streamer’s most anticipated releases to date, and captivated audiences when it finally arrived in February.

The show, however, also caused a major stir. Netflix has since been sued by Rachel DeLoache Williams, former Vanity Fair staffer and real-life former friend of Delvey’s who is portrayed in the series by actor Katie Lowes.

Williams filed a lawsuit on Monday (29 August) claiming that she was falsely depicted in the drama as “unethical,” “greedy,” “snobbish” and “disloyal”.

Inventing Anna tells the incredible true story of Sorokin, a twentysomething socialite who successfully posed as a rich German heiress under the name Anna Delvey in New York City, and her associates.

She successfully conned friends and big banks out of hundreds of thousands of dollars before she was convicted of fraud and grand larceny.

At her trial in 2019, Sorokin was found guilty of swindling more than $200,000 (£147,000) from hotels, banks and other institutions. She scammed further sums of money from associates and friends whom she met under false pretences.

Inventing Anna explores Sorokin’s rise and fall through the perspective of Jessica Pressler, the journalist who penned an explosive exposé on Sorokin that went viral in 2018.

As every episode reiterates, “This whole story is completely true. Except for the parts that are completely made up,” so we’ve rounded up some of the show’s biggest storylines and compared fact to fiction…

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Vivian Kent


My Girl star Anna Chlumsky plays Vivian Kent, a journalist who endeavours to tell Sorokin’s (Julia Garner) story.

Vivian’s character is a stand-in for real-life journalist Jessica Pressler who wrote the exposé for New York Magazine’s The Cut (retitled Manhattan Magazine in Inventing Anna). Like Vivian, Pressler interviewed Sorokin while she was awaiting trial in prison at Rikers Island. She also spoke with many of Sorokin’s peers to uncover the true story behind the fake heiress.

As is depicted in the series, Pressler was pregnant through much of the writing of the story and wrote the exposé partly because she wanted to redeem herself after an earlier mistake threatened to end her career. In 2014, Bloomberg News rescinded a job offer to Pressler after a piece that she had written proved to be a hoax. This is referred to throughout the series.

In a recent interview with Vulture, Pressler revealed that Netflix and Shondaland – Shonda Rhimes’s production company – contacted her about adapting her article “about a month” after it was published.

Pressler said that she was not always on board with Inventing Anna featuring a character based on herself. “It was not a thing I wanted, but I understand the impulse of why they wanted to do it,” she said, adding that Vivian’s character functions as “a tour guide into this world”. Pressler has previously been lightly fictionalised on screen. Julia Stiles played a version of her in the 2019 film Hustlers, which was based on another of Pressler’s articles.

Vivian’s editors


Across the series, Vivian faces an uphill battle with her two editors who are not convinced that Anna Delvey is worth a story. When Vivian initially brings them the idea in episode one, they are hesitant. They want her to pursue an article about the Me Too movement in Wall Street instead. Asked whether this was true of her editors in real-life, Pressler said that her bosses at New York Magazine “are quite the opposite”.

“I think the show bosses are a stand-in for patriarchal offices in general,” Pressler told Vulture. She did, however, concede that it was “not a no-brainer to do an 8,000-word story about a non-famous person” and that her editors in real-life had wanted her to write a piece about Me Too in Wall Street – something that she did not want to do.

Anna’s relationship with Chase


A lot of screen time is afforded to Anna’s turbulent relationship with her boyfriend Chase Sikorski (Saamer Usmani). Like Anna, Chase is a hustler. He is a tech bro looking to source seed money for his app called Wake – which is vaguely described as an app used to capture data around dreams. The full concept, however, is never fully explained. He is also portrayed as Anna’s cash-cow in the series, forming part of the explanation as to how she was able to fund her lavish lifestyle.

While Chase plays a huge role in Anna’s life, there is only a brief mention of such a boyfriend in the New York Magazine article. Pressler writes of a “boyfriend [Sorokin] was running around with for a while”. The journalist calls him a “futurist on the TED-Talks circuit who’d been profiled in The New Yorker”. Likewise in Inventing Anna, when Vivian finally manages to get hold of Chase, he only agrees to speak with her if she refers to him in the article as “the futurist”.

Pressler writes that for approximately two years Sorokin and “the futurist” had operated as “a team, showing up in places frequented by the itinerant wealthy”. Inventing Anna seems to have picked up on this detail, framing Anna and Chase as a dynamic duo hustling their way up the ladder by rubbing shoulders with the right people. Inventing Anna sees Chase’s app fail and the character eventually moves to the UAE to work for a Sheikh; this storyline is reflected in the real-life article, too.

The Anna Delvey Foundation


Garner’s Anna puts all her energy into founding the Anna Delvey Foundation, an uber exclusive arts club in New York City. In the show, Anna has one location in mind: the historic Church Missions House. This was true in reality, too. Sorokin wanted to found ADF (though, she worried the name might be “too narcissistic”) at the Church Missions House, a landmarked six-floor building managed by real estate mogul Aby Rosen on the corner of Park Avenue and 22nd.

In the series, when giving a tour of the property to her team on the project, Anna speaks about wanting to have a rotating array of pop-up shops as well as exhibitions and installations from high-profile artists including Urs Fischer and Tracey Emin. She also tells them that the artist Christo agreed to wrap the building. All of the above are real details lifted from the New York Magazine piece.

Stealing a jet


In episode four, Anna is invited to attend Warren Buffet’s annual investment conference in Omaha. Wanting to arrive in style, she texts the CEO of a private jet company called Blade whom she briefly met at a party. She asks him to organise a plane for her and her friends. He vaguely responds by asking his team to “assist Ms Delvey”. She takes the plane despite not putting any money down for it.

In real life, Sorokin attended the Omaha investment and according to the New York Magazine article, she managed to “convince” a company called Blade to charter her a $35,000 (£25,750) jet to Omaha, noting that she met the CEO of Blade in passing at a Soho House. Although it isn’t shown in the series, Pressler’s article notes that Sorokin sent the company a forged confirmation for a wire transfer from Deutsche Bank that never arrived.

Alan Reed


Episode three focuses on Anna’s relationship with Alan Reed, a hugely successful finance lawyer whom she persuades to help her secure loans for ADF. In the series, they are depicted as having a close relationship. Reed is seen to be hugely supportive of Anna and her dreams to build ADF.

In real life, Sorokin worked with Andy Lance, a partner at big-time firm Gibson Dunn. Sorokin told Pressler that unlike other lawyers, Lance would “explain to me the right amount, without being patronising”. She also described their working relationship as close, adding that he was “there [for her] all the time” even when he was on holidays. Just as in the series, Alan checks boxes confirming Anna has the resources to pay without ever confirming the existence of such resources, Lance did the same in real life. Lance did not respond to Pressler’s request for comment at the time.

Peter Henneke


In the series, Anna tells Alan to contact the head of her family office in Germany, Peter Hennecke, to confirm the details of her trust fund. It is later revealed that Hennecke does not exist and the phone calls Alan had with Hennecke were, in fact, with Anna herself. Inventing Anna reveals that Anna had been using a burner phone with a European SIM to fake the calls; she had also bought a voice disguising software so that her voice would sound like a German man’s.

In real life, Sorokin did give Alan the details of one Peter Hennecke. When emails to Hennecke sent from people to whom Anna owed money began bouncing back, Sorokin informed them that Hennecke had died. Pressler, however, notes that he “seems to have been a fictional character” with the cell-phone number having belonged to Hennecke tracing back to a now-defunct burner phone.

Todd Spodek


Succession star Arian Moayed plays Todd Spodek, Anna’s underdog lawyer. The character is, in fact, based on Sorokin’s real lawyer. While other characters have had their names changed (eg Vivian Kent and Alan Reed) Spodek is the lawyer’s real name.

In 2019, Spodek represented Sorokin at her trial. As is depicted in the series, he argued that his client was never close to securing a loan of more than $1m (£737,000) from private equity firms including Fortress Investment Group.

Holiday from hell in Morocco


Episode six is a highlight of the season, telling the tale of Anna’s ill-fated holiday in Marrakech with her personal trainer, a videographer and the Vanity Fair journalist Rachel.

This episode takes much of its material not only from the New York Magazine article, but also a first-person feature written by Williams for Vanity Fair – where she had worked as a photojournalist –  in April 2018. After befriending her at a party in 2016, Sorokin invited Williams on a luxurious holiday to Marrakech where they – and Sorokin’s trainer and a photographer – stayed at the five-star luxury resort La Mamounia.

Williams was pressured into footing the bill for the whole holiday when Sorokin said she was experiencing trouble with her bank – but assured Williams that she would be fully reimbursed. The journalist put the plane tickets on her American Express card; Sorokin also asked her to pay a couple of designer Kaftans and an extravagant dinner at the prestigious La Sultana restaurant. When Sorokin’s card was declined for the huge hotel sum, Williams was pressured into putting her credit card on file. The hotel assured her that no charge would be made and that they only needed a functioning card on file. Later, however, when Sorokin could not materialise a working credit card of her own, the hotel ended up charging the $62,000 sum to Williams. She only ever received $5,000 from Sorokin.

As is depicted in the series, the trainer in real life became ill and flew home from Marrakech before the others. When the money issues started coming to a head on the trip, however, Sorokin called the trainer and asked her to book a flight home for her. According to the trainer (who remains unnamed in the Vanity Fair article), Sorokin asked her to book a first-class ticket. This is reflected in the series, although it is lightly fictionalised with Anna telling Kacey (played by Laverne Cox) that she was mugged in an effort to explain the reason why she needs her to book her flight home. There was no mention of a mugging in either of the articles.

Vivian’s trip to Germany


Towards the end of the series, after Vivian’s profile has been published, she goes to Germany on a mission to find Anna’s parents. The show depicts Vivian breaking into Anna’s family home in an effort to find out how she became the scammer she is.

When speaking to locals in the town where Anna grew up, Vivian hears rumours that Anna’s father is a Russian mobster. She also receives conflicting stories about what Anna was like in school; a teacher says that she was a shy student, while her peers make her out to be a bully.

Pressler did go to Germany to find out more about Anna. She clarifies, however, that she “definitely did not try to break into anyone’s home”. The journalist told Vulture that she had so much material about Anna and kept hearing “so many different stories” and “conspiracy theories” that she thought she might write a book. As is reflected in the series, Pressler eventually decides to drop the idea.

Anna’s trial wardrobe


The final episode of the series dramatises Sorokin’s trial, which began in March 2019 and was presided over by Judge Diane Kiesel. Inventing Anna sees Vivian go out and buy Anna own clothes for the trial after Anna refuses to wear the court-provided attire – an ordeal that causes major delays.

This was partly true of real-life. Pressler told Vulture that there had been “hiccups with the clothing deliveries”, which meant that the designer clothes Sorokin wanted to wear hadn’t arrived and that held up the trial. Typically, the court would have clothes to lend the defendant but Pressler notes that they didn’t have any on that specific day, meaning that Sorokin had no clothes to wear and so proceedings were delayed.

Pressler added that it wasn’t solely because of Sorokin’s vanity that the trial was delayed, stating: “Defendants have to wear civilian clothes at trial because if they wear a prison jumpsuit it might prejudice the jury.”

Pressler was then asked to go to H&M to buy an outfit for Sorokin, which she did. The journalist purchased both the white dress and snake-print dress that Sorokin was famously photographed in. She also lent Sorokin one of her own dresses (the black one), adding that she “did not feel like it was a conflict at all”. Pressler said it felt like “this will be a funny story someday”.

Rachel’s testimony at the trial


After helping the FBI organise a sting operation to arrest Anna in Los Angeles, Rachel testifies against her former friend at the trial. Both of these things are true. On 3 October 2017, Sorokin was arrested by the LA police department in a sting operation planned by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office with Williams’s help.

Williams later took to the stand to testify against Sorokin in the 2019 trial. She tearfully recalled the “trauma” of their trip to Morocco. Snippets of dialogue featured in Inventing Anna are ripped from the real-life cross-examination of Williams by Sorokin’s lawyer, Todd Spodek.

As per Rolling Stone’s reporting on the trial, during cross-examination, Spodek attempted to portray Williams as an opportunist who tried to exploit her relationship with Delvey for money. He spoke about how Williams profited financially from her friendship with Sorokin and its fallout. Williams secured a $300,000 (£221,318) book deal with Simon & Schuster, and received $35,000 (£25,820) from HBO for the rights to her story, an amount that could increase to an approximate $300,000 (£221,318). She was also paid $1,300 (£960) by Vanity Fair for the original article. It was later revealed that American Express also waived the $62,000 (£45,740) worth of charges that were incurred on Williams’s credit cards due to the Morocco trip.

Katie Lowes (left) plays a version of Anna Delvey’s ex-friend Rachel DeLoache Williams (right) (Netflix / Doctor Oz / Oz Media)

Williams refuted this characterisation of herself as an opportunist. At the trial, she told the judge and jury: “I didn’t want the trial or my testimony to be misconstrued as a ploy for my own benefit, because it is not.

“This is not about entertainment. It is about law and order and a crime…this is about a trauma. This is about something I went through.” Fans will recall this exact speech from Rachel’s scene in the final episode of Inventing Anna.

The real-life Rachel DeLoache Williams has been outspoken in her criticism of Inventing Anna since the series was released in February, calling the show “deceptive and misleading”. She also accused Netflix of being “irresponsible” with the facts of her experience.

Williams has sued the streaming giant over her portrayal in Inventing Anna, claiming that she was falsely depicted in the drama as “unethical,” “greedy,” “snobbish” and “disloyal”.

“This action will show that Netflix made a deliberate decision for dramatic purposes to show Williams doing or saying things in the Series which portray her as a greedy, snobbish, disloyal, dishonest, cowardly, manipulative and opportunistic person,” the suit reads.

The writer’s attorney Alexander Rufus-Isaacs claimed that his client has suffered extreme online backlash ever since Inventing Anna was released.

On Monday (29 August), Sorokin posted to her Instagram story to say she would “gladly” make herself available to testify about Williams.

Inventing Anna is available to stream on Netflix

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