Netflix’s Inventing Anna Proves Reality is Stranger Than Fiction

Netflix’s latest limited series Inventing Anna fictionalizes the strangely true account of a fake German heiress in all of its self-involved glory.

WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Inventing Anna, streaming on Netflix now.

A young woman with an unplaceable accent and impeccable fashion sense receives room and board at the world’s finest hotels, an extended stay on a luxury yacht and first-class tickets to exclusive events all over the world. She tips hotel staff in hundreds she doesn’t really have, and cons New York City’s wealthy elite — and its banks — into handing over billions for a business that would never come to pass. While all this seems like the stuff of fiction, Netflix’s Inventing Anna portrays events that are bafflingly real. Had the fake German heiress not been a real person, she would’ve found herself among the pantheon of morally gray protagonists that audiences couldn’t help but root for, like Miranda in The Devil Wears Prada.

Similar to Hulu’s slightly incomplete Pam & Tommythe miniseries takes a few creative liberties. Inventing Anna borrows the bulk of its plot from the 2018 nyc magazine expose “Maybe She Had So Much Money She Just Lost Track of It: How an Aspiring ‘It’ Girl Tricked New York’s Party People — And its Banks” penned by Jessica Pressler. The fictionalized account is executive produced by Shonda Rhimes (creator of the long-running drama Grey’s Anatomy) and features Pressler stand-in Vivian Kent, played by Anna Chlumsky, as something of a secondary lead. But the aspects it changes only further serve to highlight how incredulous the true parts are.

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The majority of the show details all of Anna Sorokin’s — aka Anna Delvey’s — exploits as a fake heiress, while at the same time focusing on Kent’s ongoing investigation, her interactions with sources, acquaintances and co-workers, and her relationship with the headline Anna herself (played by Julia Garner, also currently seen in Ozarks Season 4). In a truly bizarre turn of events, while Pressler is credited as a producer, the series is only possible because the real Anna Sorokin sold her life story to Netflix, earning a whopping $320,000 as a result.

Despite its unbelievable premise, many of Inventing Anna’s wilder plot twists and absurdist details are cut whole cloth from reality, with a few prominent exceptions. Hard-to-please socialite Nora Radford (Kate Burton) and her ella protégé Val (James Cusati-Moyer) are entirely invented for the show. Cosmopolitan reports that Anna’s jilted ex-boyfriend Chase (Sameer Usmani) is based on her real-life paramour Hunter Lee Soik, and that he did not have such a prominent role in her life. In fact, Soik got only a brief mention in Pressler’s original story.

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While one of the show’s stakes is Vivian Kent’s waning career, her alter-ego has had no such trouble. The vast majority of the series features Vivian’s efforts to atone for unintentionally publishing false information, having her reputation tarnished as a result. While Pressler also penned an infamous listicle with unknowingly false information, her career was quickly salvaged. Pressler would later be responsible for the stellar 2015 feature “Hustlers at Scores” that inspired the 2015 film Hustlers.

One of Inventing Anna’s most intriguing installments sees Vivian fly to Germany to discover Anna’s roots and attempt to interview her family. While in the series this is done without their knowledge of her, according to Vulture, Anna’s parents were expecting Pressler’s arrival of her. Garner’s Anna is fundamentally unhelpful to Vivian for the majority of the show’s run, but the real Anna helped Pressler organize the trip: providing details about her youth de ella, suggesting places to visit and even arranging meetings for her.

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The Netflix series depicts a version of Anna undeniably desperate to make a name for herself, and painfully close to doing so. Viewers are taken from star-studded parties and expensive yachts to a poorly lit jail cell where Anna wails about the downfall of her ill-gotten success. Despite initial misgivings, Garner’s Anna wins the sympathies of Kent, her lawyer de ella and the audience. While the series has been widely criticized for turning a real-life criminal into a glamorous go-getter, it’s hard to deny that Anna’s life – both real and imagined – is not the stuff of dreams.

But Anna’s sad backstory — with her parents depicted as distant and having given up on her — is mostly fabricated for the show. While the Sorokin family was not present for Anna’s trial, they did attempt to help her in real life. Insider reports that the Sorokins penned a letter to the judge, asking her for lenient treatment of their daughter. While they admitted to her wrongdoing of her, they felt the unlawful ways Anna attempted to reach her of her business-oriented goals of her were not worthy of a prison sentence. Any sympathy the audience gains from her unhappy family life is a byproduct of fiction.

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The series’ final episode sees Anna treating the courtroom like a runway — demanding to be dressed to the nines for every court appearance and even going so far as to hire a stylist. While it seems far too absurd to have really taken place, this plot point is surprisingly true. The real Anna refused to wear the outfits provided by the court at serval points during her trial of her. PopSugar reported that she did hire a celebrity stylist to ensure she’d have the best clothes for her. Even in the face of imprisonment, her need to be in the upper echelon still exists.

As unsavory as it is to admit, the series’ Anna is more closely tethered to a modern-day Jay Gatsby than she is to the Bernie Madoffs of the world. Anna is largely depicted as a relative unknown who earned a brief taste of the American Dream at extreme cost to herself and others. She still became famous in the end, even if it was infamous, and pocketed a six-figure sum for letting Netflix tell something like her story about her. There’s something oddly bewitching about that. While Inventing Anna seems far too strange to be true, the circumstances surrounding the series prove that reality is often much stranger — and more tragic — than fiction.

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