“What I love about this story is how Shonda Rhimes shows the classism and some of the racism, and how [Anna] was able to maneuver,” Neff Davis said about Inventing Anna during an exclusive interview.
Nearly four years ago, Anna Delvey changed the trajectory of Neff Davis’ life. Davis went from working behind a desk at 11 Howard in Soho, New York to being whisked into the moneyed world Delvey had created for herself illegally. Lavish New York City restaurants, expensive apartment hunting, and getting her rent paid by Delvey — it was a lifestyle with amenities that Davis hadn’t had before as a concierge trying to become a filmmaker (she studied film for a little bit at NYC’s Art Institute). But it didn’t last for too long.
In a Zoom call from her home in Los Angeles, Davis said once the damning New York Magazine story went viral in May 2018, directors and powerful figures in Hollywood began reaching out to her. She was even approached to direct a project centering on her involvement with Delvey. In June that same year, Netflix purchased the rights to the original article “How an Aspiring ‘It’ Girl Tricked New York’s Party People.” It became the first project announced as a part of Shonda Rhimes’ $100 million deal with the streaming platform. Davis said Rhimes contacted her after the announcement went public, which led to her being brought on as a consultant for Inventing Anna, a series about Delvey’s grifting lifestyle that landed her in jail. The drama was released on Netflix today (February 11).
“Shonda was the first to say, ‘we’ll buy your life rights and you’ll be a consultant,’” Davis said. “I got to go on set and I got to shadow Nzingha [Stewart] who’s an amazing Black film director.”
Davis was even able to pop into the Inventing Anna’s writer’s room as soon as the project began filming. Additionally, a character in the series was written entirely based on her relationship with Anna, played by emerging actress Alexis Floyd. Davis and Floyd struck up a friendship, and the actress utilized their closeness to learn more about Davis’ characteristics, including her handwriting and her Prince George’s County, Maryland accent. Since Delvey was in jail for much of the filming, Davis also assisted with sending in writings to help paint a picture of the convicted fraudster (Neff also runs her Anna’s official Instagram account).
Davis said she and Delvey striking up a friendship was divine intervention. The woman she knew who many grew to hate because of her habitual lying and stealing, introduced her to a lifestyle she felt she deserved. During our conversation, she recalled years back that Anna said she’d be the reason her first movie got made. Despite Inventing Anna not being her first film, Neff believes Anna kept her word since she was quite involved with bringing it to life.
“Now when I look back at it, she kept her word in an evil, dark, twisted, Tim Burton movie way,” Davis said. “I love [that] she kept her word.”
We recently caught up with Davis and touched on her involvement with Inventing Anna, her love for film, and what she’s currently working on out in Los Angeles.
How are things for you right now?
Neff Davis: I have just been living my best life. I have never been able to not work and not get up every day. So, I’m basking in that because men do — men brag about not having to work and about getting off early. So I’m like, “You know what — when people have been asking me, ‘What are you doing in LA?’ Relaxing.”
Can you tell me about your love for film and where it stems from?
My love for film started when I was a little girl. My mom and [I] would bond over going to Blockbuster, getting two or three movies, and just watching them. And growing up [an] only child, I realized that I was a little different than my friends who had siblings. So, I kind of had to depend on films to build these new worlds and these friendships that I didn’t have. I used to just get lost in film in a way where I felt like, “Oh well, I might not ever be able to travel to this place, but I can travel through film.” And then that obsession turned into the love of cinematography and color theory.
Who are some of your favorite filmmakers?
I love Wes Anderson. Of course, I love Spike Lee. Recently, I have been really, really into [Martin] Scorsese films, just because I’ve been studying how he is able to break down characters, and [allow] each character [to] have their own story. I’ve been really on my Scorsese — Goodfellas, Casino, Raging Bull, and Taxi. I’ve been really back into my Scorsese bag, and my boyfriend hasn’t seen a lot of these films so I’m able to introduce him to it. Right now I would say Scorsese is my favorite, maybe because I miss New York.
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How do you feel about Inventing Anna?
What I love about this story is how Shonda Rhimes shows the classism and some of the racism, and how [Anna] was able to maneuver. Not because of — of course, she’s very smart — but because of the color of her skin. So, for her scams that have affected all of these big banks and they’re so ashamed of it, it’s like, “You should be ashamed because this would never have been able to happen if a minority, a Black woman, a brown woman, an Asian woman had walked in there.” I think it’s very important that people see the show so that they can learn that classism is real. When certain people walk into banks, we don’t get those chances. We actually get told, “Well, what is your credit score?” They didn’t ask her any of those questions.
Does the show center around your experience solely with Anna Delvey or not?
It sort of reminds me [of] how Shonda did How To Get Away With Murder, where it’s like a jigsaw puzzle. Everyone had their own point of view of Anna. That’s why it’s called Inventing Anna — everyone met a different Anna, a different hair color Anna, a different style of Anna. I knew an Anna that wore all black Zara, Rick Owen sweatshirts. But another guy that knew Anna that’s in the show, knew her to be wearing expensive Louis Vuitton and Chanel because Anna changed herself so many different times.
What’s next for you?
Currently, a lot of people have reached out due to finding out about my story, or are asking to see my scripts. But I have been taking a lot of meetings [with] people that want to see my work. I got over the nervous part of people not liking it and I am ready to show the world. Hopefully this summer I can come up with a decision on who I would like to house my film or my script, and we could get started filming.