Everyone is forever talking about twenty-something Anna "Delvey" Sorokin, the fraudulent Russian "heiress" who pretended to be German, created a fake family accountant with an AOL email address, and swindled untold thousands of dollars from investor lenders, NYC's hottest hotels, members of the fashion elite, and even those who were her closest friends. No one knew who she was or where she came from, but she, like her unkempt mane of tresses, blew into town like a hurricane, sporting Céline sunglasses and draped in Rick Owens and Supreme athleisure to charm and scam her way through New York's elite social scene. By the too-wild-to-be-true tale's end, she was homeless, wandering downtown Manhattan in threadbare Alexander Wang, dealing with the fallout of a disastrous trip to Marrakech and destroyed friendships. The viral, instantly iconic New York magazine feature by Jessica Pressler detailing the series of events is pretty much stuff of legend, and by extension, practically tailor-made for Hollywood.
Meet Neffatari "Neff" Davis, the 25-year-old Millennial Everywoman in the story's center, who simply clocked in at the concierge desk of Soho luxury hotel 11 Howard (the one Anna stayed in for months before skipping the bill), and found herself embroiled in Anna's whirlwind of white collar scamming. Anna was quickly treating Neff to expensive meals, hangouts with socialites, designer clothes, and promises of luxury getaways before being arrested in Malibu, apparently after a stint in rehab. Despite some obvious warning signs (like the fact that Anna never had a working credit card on file at 11 Howard, and those wire transfers she promised never quite turning up), Neff herself had no reason to suspect anything was amiss, because she knew Anna was good for it. Everything was paid for (usually in cash), and when Neff found herself having to foot the bill at one of these said expensive dinners, Anna paid her back the next day triple the amount owed. "When this story first broke of what Anna did, my mom was like, How could you get involved with her? How could this happen? I literally had to tell my mother that all I did was go to work every day," Neff now tells PAPER in an exclusive interview since the story broke.
Those of you following this tale closely (literally who isn't) know that Anna is now on Rikers Island awaiting the fate of her grand larceny and theft of services charges, still wearing Céline, of course. You may also know that Neff and Anna have maintained their friendship, and as of this story's printing, there is now officially a Netflix series in the works about the whole twisty saga. It will be the first project for the streaming giant of TV powerhouse Shonda Rhimes, as part of her four-year $100 million deal to develop and execute dynamic new content. For clarity: This interview was conducted prior to the announcement, but Neff, a filmmaker, told PAPER in an email once the news broke that "I can only say I'll be a film consultant throughout the series. I am fully involved, and can't wait to see what Shonda does with this amazing story that just so happens to be my real life." Let the casting predictions begin! Our vote, like the rest of the Internet, is for Lindsay Lohan to play Anna in the comeback role of a lifetime.
What makes Neff so compelling to this story is how she's literally all of us — not only in her relatability, but in considering how the intersection of money, power, opportunity, and relationships is an intoxicating cocktail. (And honestly, you'd be lying if you know the story and say you wouldn't have done the same things she did). Read on as Neff tells PAPER about her complex relationship with Anna during the #SummerofScam, her ambition as a filmmaker, and how Anna has blessed us all in the most roundabout, quintessentially American way.
Hey! How have you been feeling in the wake of that story hitting? Nobody really asks to be thrust into the spotlight for something scandalous or infamous.
Yeah, I totally had no idea that it would be worldwide and that so many people would fall in love with me as a character. The main reason I did the article [with New York writer Jessica Pressler] was that several articles were released about her that were negative, and it was just surprising, because the person I knew was positive, giving, did well, and was a great girl. So I was just telling her story from my POV, but then it turned into this huge thing online, a Hollywood production, a show. All these people are contacting me now because they really want to make a movie or a series, so that's been exciting.
I know you're an aspiring filmmaker yourself, so in a weird way is this a dream come true? Or one of those things that happen on accident?
I thought my introduction to the industry would maybe be through word of mouth, I never knew it would be New York magazine. It's not just people who want to buy it, but people who want to make sure I'm okay, and well taken care of.
One can argue in a weird way, that this feels like her grandest gesture, despite her going through legal proceedings.
I just saw Anna last Sunday, she calls me almost every single day, and it's still new to her that people are calling her an icon. I'm like, Do you understand the magnitude of the situation, and she just doesn't. Like people are making "Free Anna Delvey shirts." She's on Rikers Island, and just me visiting at first was hard for me. It felt weird telling her, "Hey, Anna, Hollywood wants to make a movie about you." But you can't really do anything, so it was one of those situations where, you know in the article they called me her makeshift secretary, and it feels like I'm doing it again. Anything she wants to do she slides over to me. It's kind of bittersweet.
But also ironically, in this whole saga, you're positioned as the "Everywoman." Meaning, every woman, every person in your shoes would likely have done the same things you did.
In my talks with producers, I've been told "nine times out of ten this is going to be from your POV, because we relate to you, you're a Millennial living in New York City." But also, I just want to clarify that she wasn't the only person to give me a hundred-dollar tip, she was just the only regular person to give me a hundred-dollar tip. Before all this, I worked at another high-end hotel near 11 Howard, where athletes and paid actors and actresses would do the same thing. But this Anna Delvey person has no background, and no history. All she told me was her dad created solar panels! All I knew was she had a foreign accent and was well-dressed, respectful, and she wouldn't go away. But she's paying me, and it just didn't seem like something could happen. She never scammed me except for that one time at dinner, but she paid me back three times by now. I didn't have anything to give her besides my time. I didn't have any money or connections to give her. She offered to help me with my work as a filmmaker. I can't know for sure, but maybe it gave her comfort to be like, I'm doing bad things, but I'm helping someone at the same time. I clocked in, and where I clocked in was where she lived.
"I got a piece of Anna that no one else really saw."
How did you know what you were getting yourself into —
I had no clue, honestly, I swear. If you ever visit 11 Howard, there's a space on the second floor and if you work at the desk, usually tourists just come in and ask how to get to the Statue of Liberty. But then, you have this girl who's draped in Rick Owens, huge Céline glasses, messy hair, European accent, hundreds of dollars of bills on her and she's literally just giving it to me, for my time? It was almost like therapy for her, and you know I've helped people get away from their wives and out of bad marriages just by talking to them, so I figured, what's the difference? It's really none of my business where the money comes from.
Tea! I like how you tweeted about your mom's reaction to all of this. How did that affect you?
When I told her the magnitude of it, she was like, "Wow, but why?" Because she was thinking, "This could have been my daughter getting scammed." So she said she had questions for Anna. My mom comes from a different background and I'm like the art kid of the family that moved to New York, so all of this is like "why?" to them, and I'm like, "I just went to work!"
Did you feel betrayed or hurt when it all came out that Anna had been lying about who she was? Did that affect your relationship?
Honestly, I was more upset she didn't tell me about her living situation, because I figured if we were friends, I would have let her stay with me. Then I thought about it because when Jessica [Pressler] brought it to my attention, I didn't know she was in jail, but I knew she owed hotels, because my friends at the W told me, and friends at a few other hotels told me. Us concierges, we talk. I had already known about her running off on the bill [at 11 Howard], but I just figured she ran out of trust fund money. So when Jessica told me Anna was at Rikers, and asked her if she had any friends in New York and she told her it was just me, I was like, Wow, so I'm your only friend in New York. That's when I realized Anna was protecting me by not telling me what was going on with her, because I would have felt obligated to not be her friend anymore. I'm not upset with her. The only thing I said I was upset about was what happened to Rachel at Vanity Fair, who was my friend, too. [For context: Rachel was the photo editor who was stuck with a $62,000 bill, more than her annual salary, after the infamous trip she took with Anna to Marrakech]. I talked to Anna about it, and she said her intention was just to treat us all to Marrakech, and I looked her in her eye and she looked like she was very serious. She never had to swipe a big credit card; she wrote everything in her name. Folks just trusted her based only one what she could say.
And there was no point where you were thought things weren't adding up?
When her card declined at Sant Ambroeus for $286, maybe, but that was the only time. Luckily, it was just a quick Italian meal before we went to a party. The bill was low compared to the $500 to $700 it usually was, so I was like, Wow what if it's one of those nights? I thought we were all going to bring money and that would be it. But then when she paid me back triple the next day for the bill, I had no reason to suspect anything. She told me, "You know how credit card companies are." She's good at finessing and smoothing things over, so anything she would have said, I probably would have been like, "Oh okay."
So I know you're still friends with Anna, but do you feel like you might owe her, in some way?
It's so weird, because when you think about the situation she put me in, she was completely changing my life. All of my managers told me, "Okay... you're getting too close to her," because when you work in a hotel, it's rare to get close to the guests when you're on the job. So for all those people that told me not to get too close, and then for this to happen, you know I just feel like I have an obligation at this point to tell her story correctly. And I think that's what I can give back to her, because she can't make any money off of anything if she's locked up, and it's a crazy situation with her right now. At the end of the day, yes, she did what she did, but people are not buying the story because she's a thief; they're buying it because she got away with it. She's my friend, but I don't know the Anna that everyone else does. So I guess I got a piece of Anna that no one else really saw.
So, I know you want to establish yourself as a filmmaker and as an artist in your own way. Do you feel like, despite everything, that's still possible? Do you feel like being aligned with this hurts your credibility in any way?
Surprisingly, everyone in Hollywood who has contacted me has asked me about directing the Anna Delvey project and I said no. And the reason why I said no is because I talked to a really close friend of a really, really famous director and he told me this is about your credibility in the long run. And for you to direct it would be like, Are you mooching? So putting it in the hands of someone who can tell your story in a way that people can have sympathy for you is maybe the best look. Because at the end of the day, I didn't do anything wrong and I'm not at fault. So I'll definitely be executive producing, I'll be helping with casting. This can only help my career. I put myself in the right place. Anything I can make of whatever happens here, I can make in my own film projects. Because before the article, I had my own following; I never purchased a follow in my life. I've interned at Revolt Music TV; I interned for Dame Dash; I had already been establishing my own work. I had my own little black book, you know. But it all came full circle with Anna and I think the best thing I could do is contribute, but not direct. This isn't my passion, this is just something that helped me get the recognition. And you know my mom always tells me, "Just keep being humble and be who you are." I'm not doing a ton of interviews about this at the moment, because that is also not a good look.
How is it changing your life?
There have been black TV and [film] screenwriters who have given me their personal number, and said we want to make sure that Hollywood doesn't do you wrong in this, because your story needs to be told. And I'm just shocked because I didn't realize they would want to help me for free. It's emotional for me. Hollywood moves so fast; this all happened in the last few weeks and we're doing a project now. And you know I had to get a lawyer, too.
"I feel like we're like Thelma and Louise."
How does Anna feel about the film project?
Oh, Anna's aware. She's like, Okay, as long as Jennifer Lawrence or Margot Robbie play me. And I'm like everyone wants Lindsay Lohan to play you and she's like, "Oh my god, no offense, but isn't she like 30? My hair's not even red anymore, did you tell them that?" She really, really wants Margot Robbie. She just watched I, Tonya in Rikers and thinks Margot is badass. I'm sure Margot Robbie would kill it. So that's where her concern is. Her feelings are high and she lets none of the negativity bother her. She said she's going to do what she has to do, and then she'll get out. I feel like we're like Thelma and Louise. People are like, "Well, both of you guys didn't steal" but it's like "No, she stole from me, she stole my time." And when people are like, "Oh my god you moocher, you're so thirsty," I'm like, "Screw that, because they didn't have to deal with Anna for months."For every day of my life for 8 hours a day, this girl sat across my desk. I felt so bad because my Japanese guests would come all the way over and they would be like, "Hi, can you help me?" and I couldn't even help them because Anna's throwing money on my desk, making up reasons to talk to me, asking me about different restaurants. I'm going to help tell the story correctly, and I'm going to be a film director someday, and you know what you can add to this article? That it was fate.
Anna had a plan. She always told me she'd be the reason my first movie got made, whether she paid for it, or otherwise. And in the weirdest turn of events that I could've never expected, that's exactly what happened. I became a part of it when I started hanging out with her. Nothing felt amiss, we were usually just having dinner. Rich people have dinners, that's what they do. So, to me, everything she was doing felt legit. She was a white girl and I just judged her off the way she looked and acted. I just didn't know that millionaire bankers were fooled. How stupid are those guys? You're fooled by a girl who [says she's German but] is from Russia and can't even speak German. And she had an AOL email from a "family accountant." But you know, that's America. That's America.
Photo courtesy of Neffatari Davis