If you ask most New Yorkers, they remember where they were when the infamous New York magazine article about Anna Delvey (née Sorokin), the fake German heiress who scammed the city’s elite and ended up in a cell on Rikers Island. But Anna Chlumsky, who plays the journalist who wrote that article, is not one of those people. “I came to it fresh,” she told W of her role on Inventing Anna, the Netflix series that chronicles the writer’s saga chasing Delvey.
Most characters in Inventing Anna are closely matched to their real-life counterparts—Anna’s friends, her lawyer, and so on—but Chlumsky plays one of the more made-up players in the game. As Vivian Kent, the proxy for real-life journalist and series producer Jessica Pressler, Chlumsky falls down the rabbit hole of Anna Delvey’s many grifts and manipulations, reporting the story for the fictional Manhattan magazine, all while becoming a little too close to the SoHo scammer.
Chlumsky called W a few days before Inventing Anna premiered on Netflix to chat about portraying one of Anna Delvey’s seemingly closest confidantes, and the most surprising fact she learned about journalism while playing someone who reports stories for a living.
How did you become involved with Inventing Anna?
I was called in for what I thought was a general meeting with Shonda Rhimes and Betsy Beers, when I was in L.A. for a day finishing press for Veep. I read through enough of the script for me to be absolutely intrigued and in love with the character and in love with what Shonda was doing with this story. She decided to let every character take her on a path of questions, a path of societal inquiry. She let it be messy and not have anything tied up in a bow, to allow for no one to be a good guy or a bad guy. I loved the facets that she was engaging in, and after that meeting I desperately wanted to play Vivian.
Had you read Jessica Pressler’s New York magazine article before that meeting?
I hadn’t! I am discovering, slowly and copiously, that I am probably the only person that didn’t know the story before getting my hands on this material. [Laughs.]
Did that allow you to not bring any preconceived notions about these real people to the characters when you were preparing for the show?
I felt fortunate that I got to discover it all as my character does.
Did you meet Jessica Pressler in real life and compare notes before filming?
That’s exactly what we did. She’s a co-producer on our show. Some of our characters are very much depicting the match of their real counterpart, and some of them are fictionalized. Mine is fictionalized, but definitely inspired [by Jessica] because my character is the writer of the article. The article is the match—we matched the article almost exactly. Jessica and I met at table reads, and I always felt it was really important to give her the space to produce, but she made herself really available to me. I felt like I had the freedom to jump in, from reading her notes and published work, so I could understand the voice. That’s how I could jump into Vivian, because she cares so much about the written word and expressing herself through the written word, so I felt like that would be my best conduit, and then I could check in with Jessica.
When you and Jessica compared notes about being a journalist, what was the most shocking or intriguing fact you discovered about the occupation?
On a very practical level, with the algorithmic world that we are in, the content-addicted society we’re in right now, I hadn’t realized how much that makes those who love the craft of journalism struggle. Because I’d never done it, I didn’t even know what Chartbeat was before this, and didn’t realize that it could be so soul-sucking.
After watching the show and reading the article, why do you think Anna did what she did? What were her motivations?
As we all go through this show, our ideas and speculation change often. People call it a ride because it feels like that, you’re emotionally vacillating all the time. It would be folly for me, Anna Chlumsky, who has never met Anna Delvey, to try and pretend that I know. At the same time, as Anna Delvey would say, it is sort of basic. [Laughs.] People want to be seen. It’s a real human thing! If you go all the way to any of the sacred texts, the psychology discipline, myth, all of it—it’s to be seen by the other. We can start there.
What was your favorite part about filming this series?
It’s hard to discern all of the things I enjoyed about this project because I think they all worked in tandem. I just loved waking up and going to work on this every day. On a professional level, there was a sense that we all knew everybody was good at what they did, and nobody had to prove anything. Everybody was just there to do their best work and to enjoy their jobs together. Shonda and Shondaland lead in all the ways that we hear they lead—they treat their employees like humans. They know that they have lives and they respect that, and they know that they get better work from their employees because of it. And I adored that it was in New York City. This is my first time not having to do a huge commute for my job. I got to tuck my kids in!
You started acting as a kid, took a break to go to college and have some other careers, before returning back to acting, which was met with success on shows like Veep and Halt and Catch Fire. How do you feel about this current period of your television career?
It feels extremely gratifying. I do love this craft so much. It is really interesting starting to navigate midlife. 18 years ago, I had a list of all of the different Chekhov roles that I was gonna play. Now that I’m hitting a different phase in my lifespan, you start to go, Oh, well, those Chekhov roles won’t be appropriate now, but now I can play these Chekhov roles! [Laughs.] That’s something I’m just embarking on now, because I’m at the beginning of midlife. That’s gotta be part of the human experience and human condition, so I look forward to discovering with the jobs I get to do, and I don’t know what those are yet.
You were a teen in the early and mid 1990s, so I have to ask—have you watched Yellowjackets yet?
I haven’t yet! I am curious. Everybody I talk to loves it, so I guess I have to check it out! There’s so much to watch, that’s my problem. It’s been Academy season so I’ve been burning through movies, but people will bring up new shows, and I’m like, Oh god!
What are the recent films you’ve watched and enjoyed?
I loved Plaza Catedral, the Academy submission from Panama, and I loved The Tragedy of Macbeth, are you kidding? I loved Cyrano! I didn’t expect it to be a musical, and I was letting it wash over me. I thought it was beautiful, and having sincerity be the whole idea—we need more sincerity. And Mass. I’m so proud of Fran Kranz, and everyone who was in it. I recommend it to everyone.