Spoilers ahead for Inventing Anna.
After six years playing lawyer and ex-assassin Quinn Perkins on Scandal, Katie Lowes takes on a character with a different approach to crisis management in Shonda Rhimes’s Inventing Anna. As Rachel Williams, a Vanity Fair editor scammed out of $62,000 while vacationing with her friend Anna Delvey, Lowes embraced the duality of playing a people pleaser who makes the unpopular decision to sell out her friend. When Delvey brushes off her repeated requests for payment, Rachel writes a firsthand account of their friendship and eventually sets up the scammer for an encounter with the FBI, earning herself a book deal but losing their mutual friends in the process.
Despite her naïveté, Lowes empathized with Rachel’s decision to stick up for herself and testify against her former friend. “She’s dealing with someone who is not healthy,” Lowes says. “I remember Julia [Garner] playing the scene and her eyes were so dark they were almost black. Rachel realized, I have to do what’s best for myself.” Lowes talks to Vulture about channeling fear at Hotel Lа Mаmouniа and why she never wants to meet the real Anna Delvey.
What was your introduction to the story of Anna Delvey?
We were at a Scandal table read in the last season and [the story] was spreading around. Shonda Rhimes had optioned Jessica Pressler’s article and I remember racing home after Scandal, Googling the article, and being like, “Could there be a role for me? There might be someone in their late 20s or early 30s. There could be something for me in this world.”
I read you weren’t able to talk to the real Rachel, but did you talk to anyone who knew her or worked with her?
Writer Matt Byrne, who wrote episode nine, was at the actual hearing in court. When I took the stand as Rachel during rehearsal and I cried, he came up to me and was like, “Oh no, no, no honey. I was there; Rachel was ugly sobbing as if no one was watching. They had to stop the proceeding because she was crying so hard.” I was like, “Oh shit. Okay. Let’s go to a really dark place in my mind and get the tears flowing.”
Was there anything you learned about the real Anna from working with Julia?
Well, that’s definitely [Anna’s] real accent, that’s how she speaks. Julia met her and copied her verbatim.
It really felt like my first experience with a sociopath. There’s absolutely no remorse or empathy or ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, and I know Julia felt that way when she was playing her. I felt it, especially when I was in scenes opposite her. I remember being in Rachel’s shoes and thinking, How were we friends and you have absolutely no remorse? There’s no such thing as an apology. I’ve no interest in meeting the real Anna Sorokin. I think she’s terrifying.
Rachel appears in almost every episode of the series, but she only becomes a fully formed character during the Morocco trip. How did you prepare for those episodes?
We got to go to Morocco for my big episode, and it was so informative. I feel so lucky that I got to do that first, before episode seven, which is Rachel’s POV episode, and the trial episodes. Morocco is where Rachel became real to me. I stepped into that hotel in all of its grandeur and lavishness and the sights and the smells and feels of Marrakesh. And feeling like a girl in a foreign country who hadn’t had a lot of experience traveling, who felt afraid, who felt like she was gonna get locked up abroad or they were gonna call the police on her — the stakes got very real for me [as Rachel]. It was more about playing this situation, but so much of the work was done for me because I actually had to be in the real location where Anna conned Rachel.
We stayed for three weeks, so I was hanging out with staff members who were there when it happened. I was in the room that cost like $20,000 a night or whatever where it actually went down.
Was it as stressful to play the scenes in Morocco as it was to watch them?
It was stressful to have to keep the stakes up. I knew this episode was smack in the middle of the series: the climax and downfall of Anna. The whole series rides on how high the stakes are in that episode. It was more about keeping my energy up. This isn’t something light.
Even when Rachel was alone or with complete strangers, she made comments about how she was perceived, telling the AmEx card lady, “I don’t want to come across as xenophobic,” or saying “the Kardashians stayed” at the hotel at the police station. Why does she care so much about how others see her?
She’s a people pleaser. She’s young, naïve, and had a privileged life. I don’t think this is necessarily true of Rachel Williams in real life; I think this is true of the character Shonda wrote and what Shonda needed the character to be for the show. I know Shonda puts in comedy where she can, especially in intense moments. It gives the audience a breather. We used to do that at Scandal all the time — there would be a little aside in the most high-stakes situation.
But for the truthfulness of the character, we watch Rachel grow up so much in the series. She cares a lot about what people think and she wants to be liked. Rachel has that scene with Chris where he tells her, “Anna would put herself first.” Rachel has been a rule follower her whole life until she takes matters into her own hands. She’s like, “Forget it. I’m gonna sell the story myself.” You can hate on her for that, but it was a huge growing-up moment for her.
Is that when you think we saw the real Rachel, in the context of the show?
Yes. You’re observing a loss of innocence, someone realizing that not everyone is good. Rachel has had a pretty charmed life thus far. I don’t think she’s actually had that much conflict in her life. This is a horrible, stressful experience for her. When she makes the choice to go to the police, when she makes the choice to lie to Anna and have her step out of that rehab, when she makes the choice to testify, and when she makes the choice to face her fears of not being well-liked, and decides to maybe not do the cool thing — that’s when she becomes a grown-up.
What do you think changed in Rachel for her to stand up for herself?
In the intervention scene where Kacy (Laverne Cox) and her client sit across from Anna and say, “What is going on, what are you telling us, where is our money?” — in that moment, Rachel understands she’s never gonna get her money back. She’s not dealing with somebody who’s actually a friend. She’s dealing with someone who is not healthy. I remember Julia playing the scene and her eyes were so dark they were almost black. Rachel realized, I have to do what’s best for myself.
What was your involvement in Rachel’s appearance/costuming in the series?
I got to work with Lyn Paolo, who dressed us for Scandal for all seven seasons and who’s a dear friend of mine. She’s always five steps ahead. I remember walking into the first fitting and the room was chock-full of 8,000 million things. Each character had a real vibe in how they dressed, and Rachel was very put-together, very preppy. She doesn’t have a lot of money, so a lot of the brands we were working with were not expensive.
Rachel loved playing by the rules, being a rule follower, staying in the lines, being the good assistant; I was wearing button-down collared shirts, super-appropriate, very professional-looking, hoping to be taken seriously. As Rachel becomes better friends with Anna, she starts wearing more black. She gets more expensive clothes and her wardrobe starts to change. Anna might wear something that inspires her, and then the next day Rachel’s wearing something similar.
How different was working with Shonda on Scandal compared to Inventing Anna?
We’re very good friends, so I know how she works. I know how table reads go and how exciting they are and their energy. You cannot read the scripts fast enough; everyone in the [room] is screaming and whooping and hollering. I was glad to see she got to take the handcuffs off from the standards and practices of network television but [keep] what makes her her. [Moving to Netflix] didn’t lose what makes Shondaland, Shondaland.
Was there a part of Rachel’s story you wish the series explored more?
There’s a part of me that would’ve loved to see this alternate universe where Anna gets approved for the loan and ADF is running and it’s the fucking hottest thing ever. I think Rachel would have been her right hand, managing things with her clipboard, making sure the day-to-day is running smoothly. Those two girls taking New York.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.