‘Inventing Anna’ casting director Allison Estrin on finding the ‘right essence’ of the characters’ real-life counterparts [Exclusive Video Interview]

When Allison Estrin, who just earned her first Emmy nomination as one of the casting directors of Netflix’s “Inventing Anna,” was offered congratulations on her recognition, she didn’t initially know for which of her projects she had been acknowledged (other eligible shows she had worked on included HBO Max’s “The Other Two” and Showtime’s “Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber”).

“I just started getting a lot of texts and emails saying, ‘Congratulations!’ And I called Henry Russell Bergstein, whom I cast this with — and we also work on a couple of other projects together, like ‘The Other Two’ — and I was like, ‘Wait, do you know what we’re getting congratulations on?'” shared the nominee with Gold Derby in a new webchat, highlighting how “exciting” it was to learn that they had landed their citation for “Inventing Anna.” “This show just has such a special place in my heart. We worked on it all through the pandemic, so it just really ended up being literally such a labor of love… So, I was just absolutely thrilled.” Watch the full exclusive video interview above.

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Created and produced by Shonda Rhimes, “Inventing Anna” is a nine-part dramatization of the story of Russian-born Anna Sorokin (played by two-time Emmy winner Julia Garner), who, using the surname Delvey, conned numerous rich New Yorkers into believing she was a German heiress with access to a substantial fortune. She used this persona to secure loans while working toward her goal of opening an exclusive art-themed club. Inspired by Jessica Pressler’s 2018 viral New York Magazine article, the series recasts Pressler as Vivian Kent (Anna Chlumsky) and follows the journalist as she investigates and eventually breaks the story of the notorious con artist.

When Estrin was approached by Linda Lowy, Rhimes’ longtime collaborator, to do the series, she had already developed a strong fascination for Delvey’s case. “I was one of those very crazy people that was just completely obsessed with the case,” admitted the casting director. “I read the New York Magazine article right when it came out and just couldn’t believe it and kept on following every time there was a follow-up. I looked on the Instagram page, I saw what [Delvey] wore to the courthouse — I saw all of it. I was completely drawn in because it’s such a fascinating case — especially [for someone] living in New York [who knows] the world of fashion and art and finance.”

In regard to how the creative team behind “Inventing Anna” brought Delvey’s story and the real-life players involved in it to life onscreen, Estrin revealed that the process was varied. Although there were several real people whom they intended to “match,” as she puts it, there were others who had either never been identified by name or requested that their names not be included. In some cases, Rhimes and her fellow writers also chose to merge multiple people and their different stories into either one full story or character. “It just became about finding the right essence of all of these people, and making sure that we really were creating all of these different worlds that we had,” highlighted the casting director, who referred to, inter alia, the courthouse and the fictional 12 George hotel as such worlds. “So, it was really just kind of putting all of that together and trying to make the puzzle piece of what was the real people mixed with the people that were created,” she concluded.

In our chat, Estrin, when asked how it felt to watch the finished product, also reflected on the experience of working on the show during the COVID-19 pandemic and being able to create jobs in such challenging times. “We shot this during the pandemic — I mean, we started right before, and then we were one of the first shows back. So, we were able to cast about 200 New York actors during a time when there wasn’t work. And that was a great gift to be able to give people: to be able to have insurance for a few days, to be able to just go to a set and play — for some of the actors, it was their first time going out,” she recalled. “So, it really actually was quite special to be able to see the whole thing together because it was so many people that we really just cared very deeply for, and getting to see them really shine — and everyone really had their beautiful moments — it was actually extremely gratifying and wonderful to see.”

SEE 2022 Emmy nominations: Complete list of contenders for 74th Primetime Emmys

And the hard work certainly paid off. After the series debuted on Netflix on February 11, it became an audience hit for the streamer and quickly turned into a pop culture phenomenon. What’s more, it nabbed a total of three Emmy nominations, the others for Best Limited Series and Best Limited Series/TV Movie Actress (Garner). Regarding the positive response the show received from both audiences and the Television Academy, Estrin said, “It was really exciting to see the combination of such a popular show also be recognized for an award, because… that doesn’t always equal the same thing.”

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