Julia Garner and the Golden Age of Grift
admin • Feb 4th, 2022 0 commentsInterviews - Magazines

In Inventing Anna, Julia Garner plays a con who scammed her way into life among the Manhattan elite. Offscreen, the actress has figured out a way to make it without having to fake it at all.

A funny thing happened at the Albion Correctional Facility. When Julia Garner traveled to the prison outside Buffalo, New York, where Anna Delvey was being held, the actress discovered someone different from what she expected. “She’s actually really sweet,” the 28-year-old Garner says sheepishly of Delvey (née Sorokin), the socialite swindler who Garner plays in the Netflix series Inventing Anna. Garner allows that what Delvey did—bilk banks and friends alike out of hundreds of thousands of dollars—was “really bad,” but that when she met Delvey in prison, “she was extremely charming. She’s very gentle. But then her voice gets less soft-spoken when she wants something.”

What did Delvey want? For one thing, to hear the accent Garner had prepared to play her. “She’s like, ‘Please, let me hear it,’ ” says Garner, who began parroting whatever Delvey said in the ­German-­inflected accent she had honed with her dialect coach. (Delvey was born in Russia, grew up in Germany, learned British English, then mimicked American English by watching shows like Gossip Girl.) “It got very meta.”

Delvey is a millennial Becky Sharp gone bad, a faux heiress who charmed and then scammed the downtown elite while posing as an insouciant Eloise of Soho’s hippest hotels and restaurants. She was made infamous by a May 2018 New York magazine article by Jessica Pressler, which quickly ignited an adaptation arms race, with Shonda Rhimes and Lena Dunham both rushing to produce versions of the viral fable. Rhimes’s will come first, her 10-episode series premiering on Netflix this month. “It’s a classic New York story: the outsider who comes to the city looking to make it,” Pressler says. “Plus, there’s the digital piece of it. Everyone is reinventing themselves online. That tipped it from being a classic grifter story.” Of course, there’s a long tradition of charlatans both fictional (Tom Sawyer, Tom Ripley) and real who have been catnip to the public. Showtime has a new Talented Mr. Ripley in the works, and in March Hulu will air The Dropout, a series based on the Silicon Valley scam perpetuated by Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes, proving the fascination is alive and well.

Garner herself was captivated by Delvey’s debacle. “I wanted to see if she had any remorse about what happened, or time to reflect,” Garner says. But the inmate replied, “I don’t really have that much time to think.” Instead, Delvey is keeping busy with tailoring classes and lessons in what she calls “stupid culinary arts.” Garner recounts this while sitting in Sadelle’s, the Disneyfied delicatessen on West Broadway where Delvey once hosted a birthday party and skipped out on the bill. “I kind of love that about her, in a sick way,” Garner admits. “She’s in a full jumpsuit saying, ‘I’m obviously not going to make myself food when I get out of jail.’ ”

Today Garner orders scrambled eggs, hold the bagel. “I think I’m the only New York Jew who doesn’t like bagels,” says Garner, who grew up in the leafy Riverdale neighborhood of the Bronx. “They’re just so big!” she says. Garner is not. At five foot five and thin as Delvey’s credit rating, Garner looks like a modern Myrna Loy under her halo of blond curls. Her pale complexion is amplified by an all black ensemble: turtleneck and stirrup pants tucked into zip-up the Row clompers.

Inventing Anna isn’t Garner’s only current foray into the spotlight. In the fourth and final season of Ozark, the Netflix series that chronicles the travails of the money-laundering Byrde family, a heroin dealer pays a compliment to Garner’s swashbuckling criminal savant Ruth Langmore: “You’ve got balls for such a slight little thing.” This is true of many of Garner’s characters, from her 2011 breakout as a skeptical cult inductee in Martha Marcy May Marlene to a CIA agent’s wild-child daughter in The Americans to the morally conflicted assistant to a Harvey Weinstein–type film executive in The Assistant.

On Ozark, Garner plays the emotional linchpin of the show. “Having a character just be nasty is boring and one-­dimensional,” says Garner’s co-star Jason Bateman. “She’s really able to round that character out and imply where that behavior comes from.” And while the show, which was 2020’s most streamed original series, was nominated for 18 Emmys that year, only Garner won, taking home Outstanding Supporting Actress for the second time.

While 2020 was a difficult year for many, Garner’s challenges were different from most people’s: She was too busy. Due to pandemic scheduling, the actress whiplashed from playing Delvey to Langmore and back again. “I really made sure that the script supervisor had an eye on my accent during that period of time,” Garner says. “Playing those two parts at the same time was probably the hardest thing I’ve had to do in my life. Those are not easy women.”

Her ability to tackle characters who aren’t easy is part of what made Garner right to play Delvey. “Julia approaches her roles from an intellectual place that allows for the precision and dexterity needed to delve into the mind and spirit of a character,” Rhimes says. “Anna Delvey is a person who goes through many transformations to reach her goals. Given Julia’s range, we knew this was something she could deliver on.” What do the two characters have in common? “They don’t think and then act, they act and then think,” Garner says. “Ruth would see through Anna right away.”

Unlike her characters, Garner thinks quite a bit before she acts. She studied interviews with Delvey to mine her mannerisms—like her habit of tucking her long hair into her coat with two strands loose in the front—as well as her accent. Garner also listened to a lot of rap, including a Delvey favorite, Eminem’s “Lose Yourself.” “If you listen to the lyrics, it’s all of Anna’s mottos: You only have one shot, one opportunity,” Garner says, now bundled in a black Mackage wrap coat, a souvenir from the show’s wardrobe. “It’s Anna’s,” says Garner, as though she had borrowed it from a friend.

It took more than just wardrobe to transform Garner into Delvey, however. “They’re physically very different,” says Pressler, who accompanied Garner on her prison visit and fended off Ozark fans in the airport over Buffalo wings. “Julia inhabits her without physically looking like her. It was amazing. That’s not hair and makeup, that’s proper acting.” And, of course, there was the accent. Garner called Delvey’s “the hardest accent I’ll ever do.” She says, “My tongue on Ozark is completely different from my tongue for Delvey. Anna’s tongue is kind of flat. It almost feels heavy and fat. I completely had to change how I moved my tongue in three weeks.” Rhimes says of the accent, “Julia spent a lot of time perfecting it, and ultimately I think it was one of the biggest pieces in helping embody this character.”

Still, Garner and Delvey do have some things in common. “She’s a big dreamer, and I would consider myself a dreamer,” Garner says. “In the business that we’re in, you have to be.” But Garner didn’t always dream of acting. She took classes as a teenager to help conquer shyness spurred by learning disabilities and childhood epilepsy. “When I think about it, I’ve been acting my whole life. My listening skills were enhanced, because I couldn’t understand what people were saying.”

She also had a great coach. When she was a child her mother Tami Gingold, a comedian turned therapist who appeared on the Israeli version of Saturday Night Live, would enlist Julia and her older sister to play parts when she answered phone calls from telemarketers and pretended to be a Russian nanny. Julia’s task was to squawk in the background like an escaped bird. The family of four were devoted to Turner Classic Movies, with Bette Davis emerging as Garner’s hero, her favorite film being All About Eve. “She was the first actress I saw that didn’t look like she was acting,” Garner says of Davis.

Garner similarly tries to fully inhabit her characters. “When I really know the character, I start feeling all their feelings,” says Garner, who keeps journals for her characters in a single Alice in Wonderland notebook. With Delvey, Garner became so entrenched in her psyche that she found her nerves getting frayed. “My anxiety was through the roof, and I realized it was because Anna had really bad anxiety.” Garner even started sleep-talking in her Delvey accent. “My husband was like, ‘This has gotten out of control.’ ”

Garner, outfitted in a plissé satin turtleneck pantsuit by Danielle Frankel, married Mark Foster, frontman of Foster the People, in New York at City Hall in December 2019 while she was filming Inventing Anna. Then, in early March, Garner was filming a scene with 200 extras at a subway stop in Brooklyn when the Covid-19 pandemic shut the production down. What was supposed to be a three-week delay stretched to six months. Not knowing which character she would have to return to first, Garner spent the lockdown in her Lake Hollywood home practicing her Ruth accent one day and Anna the next, calling to her bulldog Biz in her throaty Delvey timbre. The time functioned as a kind of honeymoon for the newlyweds, who hope to go on an actual trip to Vietnam. “It was very unfortunate that it took the world collapsing in order for us to be together,” Garner says, “but it was a really nice time.”

How will she spend her time going forward? “I want to continue playing strong, complex women,” Garner says. “I love switching people’s minds when they’re going back and forth about a character.” There are rumors she’s on the short list to play Madonna in a biopic, but when asked, she demurs: “You know as much as I do.” She’d love to work with directors like Alejandro Iñárritu, Alfonso Cuaron, Lynne Ramsay, and Martin ­Scorsese—whose Taxi Driver was the first Netflix DVD she ever watched, when she was 11. But in this moment she’s focused on Delvey’s story.

“People don’t necessarily have to agree with what she did, but I want to help people try to understand why she did it,” she says. “I’m curious what Anna’s going to think about me portraying her.” How might Delvey watch the show while in detention? “Oh,” Garner says, “they for sure have Netflix in jail.”

This story appears in the February 2022 issue of Town & Country. [Source]

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