Anna Delvey: From Fake German Heiress to Subject of Shonda Rhimes' Netflix Series
By Stacy Lambe
Under the false identity of Anna Delvey, a German heiress hoping to launch a SoHo House-type lavish art club in various hot spots around the country, Anna Sorokin conned her newfound friends and New York elites out of thousands of dollars while always promising to pay them back. One such friend was former Vanity Fair employee Rachel Williams, who was stuck with a $60,000 bill for a lavish trip to Marrakesh, Morocco. When Sorokin went on the lam, Williams and others started going after her and eventually got the police involved.
In 2019, Sorokin, whose story is being told in an upcoming Shonda Rhimes Netflix series and is captured in a new HBO Max docuseries, was found guilty of second-degree grand larceny, for having stolen more than $200,000, theft of services and one count of first-degree attempted grand larceny. However, she was not convicted in other charges related to falsifying documents in an attempt to land a $22 million bank loan or stealing Williams’ money during their trip to Marrakesh.
“The thing is, I’m not sorry,” Sorokin said in an interview from prison with the New York Times at the time of her conviction, adding, “I’d be lying to you and to everyone else and to myself if I said I was sorry for anything. I regret the way I went about certain things.” Described as wearing “a khaki jail jumpsuit and Céline glasses,” she told the paper, “My motive was never money... I was power hungry.”
At 28 years old, Sorokin was sentenced to between four and 12 years in prison. She was eventually released on Feb. 11, 2021 and has since been spotted around New York City ever since. Now free, Sorokin is already “working on a little something for you,” she declared on Instagram.
Anna Delvey Takes Manhattan
Directed by Martha Shane, Sorokin’s story is captured as part of the HBO Max docuseries Generation Hustle, which recounts some of the most wildly inventive scams of the past decade.
In the hour-long standalone episode, “Anna Delvey Takes Manhattan,” Williams shares how she became enraptured with her new friend and was eventually victimized by Sorokin. Additionally, Sorokin’s lawyer, Todd Spodek, restaurateur Richie Notar, stylist Sergio Corvacho, DJ Elle Dee and creative director Marc Kremers recount their unsavory and questionable experiences with the fake German heiress, including one time Dee found Sorokin sleeping in a car.
“The first thing that kind of jumped out at me about her story was that it was really about the power of Instagram and social media in general,” Shane tells ET. “And Anna is really a master of creating a persona.”
Sorokin herself is noticeably absent from the documentary. But it’s explained that since she sold her life rights to Netflix, she’s “contractually prohibited from being interviewed.” According to Insider, “Netflix paid Anna Sorokin $320,000 for the rights to adapt her life story into a TV series.” The outlet also revealed that “Sorokin has used $199,000 of the money to pay restitution to the banks, plus another $24,000 to settle state fines.”
“That was initially one of the biggest challenges,” the director says of having to “find a way to incorporate her perspective given that she was in jail and she had these restrictions because of Netflix.”
Remembering that one of Sorokin’s drawings appeared in the New York Times and others had popped up on Instagram, Shane came up with the idea to get Sorokin to draw new images for the documentary. “They really bring her stories to life in a way that I’m not sure I’ve seen done elsewhere,” Shane says.
“Rachel really suffered through this experience. I think it was very difficult for her to realize that this person wasn’t who she thought she was,” Shane says. “But I think like a lot of other people, she was wise that she saw that she was part of this narrative and that the story was getting bigger and bigger and she decided, ‘I’m going to put my side of the story out there and write this book.’”
Between the book, the articles, the Netflix series and even the “Fake German Heiress” T-shirts, “It’s almost like there's this little sort of Anna Delvey cottage industry happening,” Shane says.
The official synopsis from the streaming service reads: “In Inventing Anna, a journalist with a lot to prove investigates the case of Anna Delvey, the Instagram-legendary German heiress who stole the hearts of New York’s social scene -- and stole their money as well. But is Anna New York’s biggest con woman or is she simply the new portrait of the American dream? Anna and the reporter form a dark, funny love-hate bond as Anna awaits trial and our reporter fights the clock to answer the biggest question in NYC: who is Anna Delvey?”
The series stars Julia Garner as Anna; Anna Chlumsky as Vivian, the journalist looking into Sorokin; and Katie Lowes as Rachel, a follower of Delvey whose life is destroyed as a result and seemingly inspired by Williams (see above).
Laverne Cox will portray Kacy Duke, a celebrity fitness trainer hired by Sorokin; with The Bold Type actress Alexis Floyd as a hotel employee named Neff; and Succession breakout Arian Moayed as Todd, Sorokin’s defense lawyer. (While Spodek appears in Generation Hustle, Duke and Neffatari Davis do not. “They were involved with the Netflix deal, so they couldn't speak to other people,” Shane clarifies.)
Rounding out the cast is Anders Holm as Vivian’s husband, Jack; Anna Deavere Smith as aging magazine employee Maud; Shondaland regular Jeff Perry as Lou, another aging magazine employee; Terry Kinney as a war correspondent named Barry; and Jennifer Esposito as Talia Mallay, an owner of a lavish lifestyle brand.
“Being in Shondaland has been a dream come true,” Cox tells ET. “I’m such a huge fan of [Shonda’s] work, everything she’s about, everything she stands for.” While she couldn’t spoil anything about the series, she adds that filming has “been glorious so far. Shonda Rhimes is everything.”