Julia Garner: ‘Fame? I think it’s gross, to be honest’
admin • Feb 13th, 2022 0 commentsInterviews

High fashion, high society and a conwoman who tricked them all: the story of Anna Delvey gripped the world. Now, a new TV show is set to tell the tale of the ‘fake heiress’. Laura Pullman meets its star

Julia Garner hasn’t got to where she is as one of Hollywood’s most sought-after actresses by half-heartedly getting into character. Her portrayal of the money launderer Ruth Langmore in Ozark, the drug cartels and hillbillies Netflix series, shows she’s someone who dives in deep. However, transforming into Anna Delvey, the real-life con artist who swindled friends, bankers and hoteliers out of $275,000 (£200,000), pushed her to the brink.

“I kept on having this feeling like I was going to get caught all the time,” she recalls of the period filming Inventing Anna, the hugely anticipated Netflix adaptation of Delvey’s crime spree. “My anxiety was through the roof. I didn’t know why at that moment, but it was really because it was the character.”

Garner’s musician husband, Mark Foster, was alarmed by her anxiety-ridden dreaming. “I’m a sleep-talker and I woke him up apparently. I was saying [Garner adopts Delvey’s accent], ‘I don’t want that bag, I want this one,’ and then I kept saying, ‘I didn’t take it.’ ”

Let’s rewind on the fake heiress. This is the outrageous tale of how Delvey — now 31 but then in her mid-twenties — cast herself among Manhattan’s glitterati as a German trustafarian awaiting her $67 million inheritance. She had a killer wardrobe, killer connections and — for the influencer crowd — a lifestyle to die for, bouncing between countries, superyachts and five-star hotels. In 2017, as she dished out $100 tips and got $400 eyelash extensions, everyone from celebrity hoteliers (André Balazs, owner of Chiltern Firehouse, for example) to Wall Street suits were pulled into her orbit as she plotted to open a $40 million private members’ club, the Anna Delvey Foundation, in the heart of Manhattan.

In reality Delvey was Anna Sorokin, the Russian daughter of a former truck driver, who had no cash but limitless chutzpah. By mid-2017 the lies crumbled after she was caught dining and dashing in a New York restaurant. The bigger frauds fell apart and — after going on the run to California — the “heiress” was found guilty of eight charges, including second-degree grand larceny (theft), during a celebrity-circus trial in which a hired stylist put together her courtroom looks (Yves Saint Laurent, Michael Kors, Victoria Beckham and her now-trademark Celine glasses).

For research Garner visited Sorokin in prison in upstate New York in January 2020. “Understandably Anna has her guard up, that’s just who she is as a person. I knew I wasn’t going to get a whole lot of information from her past, but I wanted to capture her spirit and energy,” she says, speaking over Zoom from her Hollywood home. “She was surprisingly bubbly and very funny. I think that’s the thing that captured so much attention with these people and they bought it.”

Last February, fresh from prison after more than two years behind bars, Sorokin granted me her first sit-down interview, so I know first-hand how charming — and slippery — she can be. How do you approach playing someone who is herself constantly acting a different character? “How do I act like I’m acting, but not act like I’m acting? It is so meta,” Garner says, laughing. “It was really hard actually.”

Sorokin’s unusual accent — she moved from Russia to Germany aged 16 and grew up watching American teen movies — was the first thing to grasp. Wigs, false teeth, head-turning designer outfits and listening to rap also helped Garner morph into character. “I heard that [Anna’s] favourite song is Lose Yourself by Eminem, which makes a lot of sense with the lyrics — ‘If you had one shot or one opportunity’,” she says, adding that she loves “dirtier rap — it’s great hype music”.

The ten-episode series, created by Shonda Rhimes of Grey’s Anatomy fame and based on a 2018 article by Jessica Pressler in New York magazine’s The Cut that went viral, will quench the thirst of those still hankering for Gossip Girl. The action flits between grey prison and Sorokin’s multicoloured high life, jetting to Ibiza and enjoying a luxury holiday in Morocco (which she infamously promised a pal, Rachel DeLoache Williams, would be an all-expenses-paid trip, then stiffed her with a $62,000 bill). Garner, 28, believes that Sorokin — who was detained by immigration officials and reimprisoned last March due to her public lack of contrition and fears that she’d con again — is a scared woman determined to hide all her vulnerabilities. “The whole thing is an act,” she says. “Anna is constantly on, constantly acting. The only time that she’s not acting is when she’s by herself.”

As an interviewee the star is the opposite of Sorokin: thoughtful in her answers and uncomfy with the attention. Since being cast as trailer-park toughie Ruth in Ozark, which hit screens in 2017 — cue best supporting actress Emmys in 2019 and 2020 — Garner has become a quirky darling of Hollywood, but she seems perplexed by the accompanying press interest. “It’s a big switch in my life. I never thought I had anything interesting to say. It’s weird that people are asking you all these questions,” she says, shrugging goofily. Fame horrifies her: “I think it’s gross, to be honest. To have it be an unhealthy higher power, I think that’s dangerous … so much so that look what happened with Anna.”

Strikingly beautiful with wild blonde curls and alabaster skin, Garner describes herself as a “homebody” who enjoys “making art” with her husband (she knowingly rolls her eyes). The couple met at a film festival years ago but didn’t keep in touch and later reconnected through Instagram. “I was like, ‘Who’s this guy liking all my photos?’ And I forgot about him for a second,” she says, laughing.

They got married in late December 2019, shortly before the pandemic shut down filming for Inventing Anna. It was the type of New York glamour Sorokin undoubtedly dreams of — a wedding ceremony at City Hall with the bride wearing a Danielle Frankel trouser suit (“When a pantsuit is good, I think there’s nothing more feminine and powerful”). The next day they had dinner at Locanda Verde, the Italian bistro owned by Robert De Niro, and then went dancing at the Public hotel with friends like the fashion designer Zac Posen. More than two years later, Garner treasures married life: “Art is such an unstable lifestyle, so it’s nice to have some sort of stability.”

Foster, 37, is the lead singer in the indie group Foster the People; is she musical too? “He thinks I am. I get shy singing in front of people. But I can sing,” she says, hesitant to sound boastful. (Garner is modest to a fault, at one point admitting: “I wish I had a bigger ego sometimes, to be honest.”)

There are rumours that she is in the final running against Florence Pugh, the English star of the horror film Midsommar and Marvel’s Black Widow, to play Madonna in an upcoming biopic. “I can’t even tell you how many times people are like, ‘What’s going on with Madonna?’ And I’m like, ‘No clue, would love to know!’ ” Garner looks distinctly similar to 1980s-era Madge — have they ever met? “Maybe, maybe not,” she giggles. “I can’t, I’m terrible. I’m the worst liar.”

Garner grew up in a quiet corner of Manhattan with her Israeli mother, Tamar, a comedian turned therapist, her father, Thomas, an art teacher, and an older sister, Anna. She took up acting lessons as a child in a bid to conquer her crippling shyness. “The acting, in a weird way, gave me confidence because I had a really hard time talking with my own words,” she recalls. “My emotions were always very much there, but I liked reciting other people’s words.” As well as having epilepsy in childhood (which she later grew out of), she had severe learning disabilities and only learnt to read aged ten. School was “terrible”, but she scrambled by, analysing her peers’ facial expressions and adapting with similar tricks. “When I look back at my childhood, I’ve been acting my whole life,” she says. “I had no idea what was going on, so I had to act.” Such experiences paved the way for a stellar career, but she clearly still carries pain too. “It’s always the fear of not being enough, not being smart enough. I’m not saying I’m a genius, but I know that I’m not dumb,” she says, which makes me want to reach through the screen for a hug. “I’m so used to it in a way, it’s just like a way of life.”

Her first professional audition was for the American version of the British TV series Skins, but she lost out having got down to the final two. “I was like [teenage whine], ‘When am I going to get an opportunity and a chance?’ ” Soon afterwards, auditioning in Hollywood was bruising, with casting agents always seemingly wanting someone minus the curls or plus some veneers. “It was clear to me when I started acting that I wasn’t going to get the girl-next-door [parts]. If I auditioned for a role in a high school, I wouldn’t get the cheerleader, I was always going to get the mute girl in the corner that’s like the freak, that was my bread and butter,” she says, grinning. “I’m not talking about the new girl that moves in but happens to be very hot. That was not me either.”

After winning a small role in the 2011 thriller Martha Marcy May Marlene came meatier TV parts in Dirty John, a true crime series about a conman, and The Americans, a critically acclaimed spy drama. Then came Ozark, which is currently in its final blood-soaked series. How was it to say goodbye to the character that opened a thousand doors? “Bittersweet. The show is in such a good place, and you want to end where it’s at a good place. But Ruth is such an important part of my life, everybody knows how this changed my life professionally, but personally too. I met my best friends on this show,” she says, praising her co-stars Laura Linney and Jason Bateman.

What next? More indie films will surely follow — Garner’s performance in 2019’s The Assistant, where she played a secretary to a Harvey Weinstein-type of movie mogul, was also rapturously received — and she also dreams of the stage. “It terrifies me to do theatre, but that’s also the reason why I want to do it. I tend to do things that really scare me,” she says. “Whenever I’m in the middle of a job I’m always like, ‘I need to do something easier after this.’ And it just never happens because easy kind of bores me.”

Garner’s ethereal appearance belies an inner steeliness, reminding me of the resilience of the cherub-cheeked Sorokin. We agree that Anna was motivated by a fatal combination of fame, money and power. “I also think it was the fear of rejection,” Garner adds. “I feel like the fear of failure in this day and age is so big because of social media. Everyone’s afraid to be rejected. They’re getting their self-esteem from how many likes they’re getting [online].”

Sorokin’s scam spawned podcasts, merch and myriad hot takes on how this saga — comparable to the doomed 2017 Fyre Festival, held by Sorokin’s one-time acquaintance Billy McFarland — exposed the vapid shallowness of the Instagram age. At the trial Sorokin’s lawyer memorably argued that his client was a “fake it till you make it” hustler. “The thing women my age can relate to [with] Anna is that everybody understands what it’s like being in your twenties and trying to make something of yourself,” Garner says sympathetically. “Anna just wanted to be validated. Maybe she wasn’t validated as a child.”

The actress was conscious not to create a character the audience would hate: “That’s not the reality because she wouldn’t [have been able to] scam all those people if she wasn’t likeable.” As she fights a deportation battle, Sorokin will probably be watching Inventing Anna from prison while the rest of us await the so-called Soho Grifter’s next chapter. Does Garner think the fake heiress deserves a second chance? “I always believe that people can get second chances,” she says, wondering how society might react to Anna Reinvented. “People are obsessed with celebrities and fame. I mean it’s like they pick you up and then they put you down and then they pick you up. But it’s up to her.”

Inventing Anna and Ozark are both streaming on Netflix now [Source]

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