The Real Story Behind Netflix’s ‘Inventing Anna’

Shonda Rhimes' latest series tells the story of a young woman pretending to be a German heiress.
Inventing Anna Julia Garner

Real Stories is a column about the true stories behind movies and TV shows. It’s that simple. This installment focuses on the true story of Anna Delvey, who convinced New York’s elite she was a German heiress, as portrayed in Netflix’s Inventing Anna. 

It’s not every day that a single magazine article becomes the basis for a TV series. But such is the case for Inventing Annaa new Netflix miniseries created by none other than Shonda Rhimes.

The show takes its inspiration from a 2018 article in The Cut (a vertical of New York magazine) entitled, “How Anna Delvey Tricked New York’s Party People.” The article, written by Jessica Pressler, tells the story of a woman named Anna (played in the series by Ozark‘s Julia Garner), who convinced the city’s elite that she was a German heiress. As the first line of the article reads, “It started with money, as it so often does in New York.”

Here’s a look at the true story — as detailed in Pressler’s article — behind the series Inventing Anna. 

Cash is King

Jessica Pressler’s article begins with a woman named Neffatari Davis, referred to as Neff (played in the series by Alexis Floyd), a 25-year-old concierge at the 11 Howard, a luxury hotel in New York City’s Soho district. Davis first met Anna Delvey, who “had a heart-shaped face and pouty lips surrounded by a wild tangle of red hair,” on February 18, 2017.

Delvey, to Davis’ surprise, approached the front desk and told her she would be staying at the hotel for a month. Delvey, who was about the same age as Davis, was not the usual celebrity-type guest who could afford a $400-per-night room. But when Davis checked the system, there Delvey was.

In the days that followed, the two quickly began to form a friendship of sorts. Delvey, who was looking for advice on the neighborhood, food, etc., often turned to Davis, who was more than happy to befriend someone as seemingly rich as Delvey. At the end of each interaction, Delvey would reward Davis with a crisp $100 bill.

But the so-called heiress was not like other rich guests. She wanted more from Davis. She often brought meals for the two of them to share. Delvey offered information about her personal life. Her father, she said, ran a business producing solar panels in Germany.

Eventually, Davis said, employees of the hotel started to love Delvey. They would fight over assisting her because they knew one of those $100 bills would come their way at the end of the transaction.

Anna Delvey Knew Everyone

Neff Davis and Anna Delvey’s friendship soon extended beyond the walls of the hotel. The two began to frequent many of the city’s most expensive restaurants, with Delvey always picking up the check.

For Delvey, these dinners were work and play. She aimed to start an arts foundation of her own, and her network of rich and powerful friends — “CEOs, artists, athletes, even celebrities” —  were key to helping her get the cash and access needed to launch such an endeavor. At one dinner, Davis recounts in the article, she found herself seated next to her childhood idol, Macaulay Culkin.

Delvey, as several of the city’s elite recount in the article, went everywhere and seemed to know everyone. And many of these friends began to notice things that were just a little off about her. For example, she always paid with cash. Often, she would call and ask friends to pay for more mundane expenses like taxi rides. Or, Pressler notes, Delvey would crash at a friend’s apartment for a long period of time, promise to pay rent, and then never follow through.

But for a long time, it was simply ignored: “When you’re super-rich, you can be forgetful in this way.”

The Cash Begins to Run Out

With her eyes set on forming a foundation, Anna Delvey began surrounding herself more with business executives and bankers and less so with influencers, artists, and celebrities. Neff Davis went from meeting her childhood idol to sitting across from “pharma bro” (and current convict) Martin Shkreli.

Delvey began working more and more. She was having trouble securing a loan. She was frustrated. And the money problems began to extend to her personal life. One night, Delvey and Davis were out to dinner and Delvey’s credit card was repeatedly declined. In response, she gave the server a list of about 12 different credit card numbers, all of which were declined. Davis then had to foot the $286 bill, which Delvey then, a few days later, repaid back in triple.

But there was more going on. Davis’ bosses at the hotel told her that Delvey owed more than $30,000. After a long back and forth, a mysterious wire transfer from Citi paid off the bill. But Delvey, despite the hotel’s repeated insistence, refused to put a credit card of her own on file. After another stretch of unpaid charges, the hotel locked Delvey out of her room and placed her belongings in storage.

Anna Delvey’s Lie Becomes a Headline

Anna Delvey soon left for another hotel, the luxury Beekman, in Lower Manhattan. On July 31, 2017, the New York Post published an article under the headline: “Wannabe Socialite Busted for Skipping Out on Pricey Hotel Bills.”

According to the article, Delvey, whose real name was Anna Sorokin, had stayed at the Beekman for most of June and racked up a bill of more than $11,000. She then did the same at a number of other hotels and restaurants, where she dined and stayed without paying. Eventually, the law caught up with her and she was arrested and released without bail.

And then everything began to crumble. She had engaged in various forms of fraud: forging checks and wire transfers, lying about her assets, securing loans to pay off debts, etc.

Later that same summer, in the midst of a legal investigation into her conduct, she did it all again. She deposited two faulty checks into her account to finance a trip to California. It was there, in Malibu, that she was arrested and brought back to New York, “to face six counts of grand larceny and attempted grand larceny, in addition to theft of services.”

Pressler writes:

“‘I like LA,’ she giggled when I visited her at Rikers this past March. “LA in the winter, New York in spring and autumn, and Europe in summer.”

Who is the Real Anna?

So, after all of this, who is the real “Anna Delvey” — the 27-year old woman who had landed herself in Rikers? After a series of trips to the prison, Pressler finally got the answers.

Born in Russia in 1991, Anna Sorokin and her family moved to Germany in 2007. Her parents, Pressler writes, “asked to remain anonymous, as news of their daughter’s arrest has not yet reached the small rural community where they live.”

Sorkin’s father worked as a truck driver and a transport company executive, then later founded his own “heating-and-cooling business specializing in energy-efficient devices.” I guess that’s not too far off from solar panels.

After graduating from high school, where her classmates remembered her as a quiet girl, Sorokin attended college in London before dropping out and eventually making her way to a number of cities to work and live: Berlin, Paris, and eventually New York. Her parents helped fund her travel, but, to their knowledge, no trust fund existed.

In conversations with Sorokin, Pressler writes, she never admitted any guilt. And her efforts to form a foundation were sincere. The article ends:

“‘Money, like, there’s an unlimited amount of capital in the world, you know?’ Anna said to me at one point. ‘But there’s limited amounts of people who are talented.'”

Inventing Anna debuts on Netflix on February 11, 2021.

Will DiGravio: Will DiGravio is a Brooklyn-based critic, researcher, and video essayist, who has been a contributor at Film School Rejects since 2018. Follow and/or unfollow him on Twitter @willdigravio.