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When Julia Garner read Jessica Pressler's viral 2018 New York magazine article, "How Anna Delvey Tricked New York's Party People," she immediately told her now husband, singer Mark Foster, that she could envision the story as a TV series. A few months later, the actress was filming Ozark when she received an email that such a series was, in fact, happening — and there was interest in her playing Anna Sorokin, the Russian fraudster who assumed the last name Delvey; claimed to be a German heiress with a $67 million trust fund; and swindled ritzy Manhattan hotels and restaurants, a private jet operator, and banks out of some $275,000.

Inventing Anna
Julia Garner in 'Inventing Anna'
| Credit: Nicole Rivelli/Netflix

"There was something inside me that was like, 'I have to do this,'" Garner says between shots on the Brooklyn set of Inventing Anna, Netflix's nine-episode limited series about Sorokin premiering this Friday. Despite the transcendent draw of playing the sham socialite, Garner was nervous about pulling off Sorokin's seen-on-every-newsstand appearance. "I look nothing like her," Garner, 28, admits. But Shonda Rhimes — who produced the series alongside frequent collaborator Betsy Beers and also wrote it — had no problem picturing her in the role. "Julia has proven time and again her ability to transform into complex and multilayered characters," says the Grey's Anatomy mastermind. "Given the real Anna Delvey has many different sides to her, Julia felt like the absolute right choice."

Of course, Rhimes was right. As EW looks on during the filming of a pivotal courtroom scene, the Emmy-winning star is unrecognizable. "Everything's fake," Garner confirms. "I have the wig, butt padding, like, four cutlets — two on each boob." After studying photos of Sorokin, now 31, Garner also asked if she could add fake teeth. "I put them in, and not only did it change the teeth aspect, it made my face rounder," she says. "[Anna] has much more of a baby doll face."

While a hair and makeup team could sort out the physical transformation, mastering Sorokin's very particular accent — a heady cocktail of veiled Russian and elevated German, all swirled up in learned-from-pop-culture American intonation — was up to Garner. "The accent was a job on its own because it gives so much away of the character," she says, slipping into the lilt for effect. "You don't know where she's from, you don't know who she is. She's a mystery."

For Garner, unlocking that mystery meant meeting Sorokin in person…in prison. (Rhimes chose not to meet her subject to prevent any interactions from influencing her writing.) A few months into shooting Anna, the actress took a trip upstate to Albion Correctional Facility to visit Sorokin, who'd been convicted of charges including larceny in the second degree and theft of services. (She was released from prison early, in February 2021, after serving just two years of a 4-to-12-year sentence.) "She's very gentle in a way, like a delicate flower. It's very strange…and it makes it a little scarier," says the actress. "[But] she said hilarious things — no wonder people wanted to hang out with her."

Inventing Anna
Laverne Cox, Julia Garner, and Katie Lowes in 'Inventing Anna'
| Credit: Nicole Rivelli/Netflix

Sorokin had her own priorities during their meeting, looking for insights into how her visitor was portraying her. "I was like, 'I don't agree with a lot of the things that you did, but I also want people to see what made you be in that situation,'" says Garner. To that point, Rhimes postulates, Sorokin's actions aren't much different from what a lot of men on Wall Street do every day: "I am not advocating for the laws that she broke, but ultimately she was hustling for what she believed to be her American dream."

Indeed, even in prison Sorokin was hustling: She received a $320,000 advance from Netflix for the rights to adapt her story. "Anna is relentless," says Garner. "That's her power but that's also her weakness."

—Additional reporting by Leah Greenblatt.

A version of this story appears in Entertainment Weekly's February issue, on newsstands now and available to order here. Don't forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

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