IIn 1991, when Anna Chlumsky was 11, she was cast my girl to the boy wonder Macaulay Culkin. Culkin had broken out to defend a burglary Home alone the year before. In my girl, playing childhood friends in 1970s Pennsylvania, and Chlumsky more than matched her co-star in radiant charm. The audience flocked there. Chlumsky’s world exploded. After a normal childhood in Chicago, she was instantly famous, the center of her family and the main breadwinner for her mother, who hired her as a manager.
Despite all the wealth and opportunity it brought, the experience was traumatic because of Zoom from her home in New York, she says. “I was lucky because I didn’t have any other major trauma at the time. I am the baseline of [child stardom] runs relatively well. But it wasn’t until I grew up that I discovered a sense of dependability or security. When I was a kid, they didn’t exist because I could be bought.”
“There’s a big societal blind spot in terms of young people being in the public eye,” she adds. “It’s not just actors and people in the public eye, it’s athletes, musicians, even now these online personalities. Children do not have freedom of choice. That’s one of the things I want them to learn. So when you suddenly put professional, financial, adult, and public pressures on them—often sexualized—don’t just open them up to a world that commodifies and objectifies them. They also hold them back from their ability to develop. So when confronted [adult life]the tools are not there.”
Her sudden fame distorted her youth, adding Hollywood pressures to the usual social and physical insecurities of teenagers. By her late teens, Chlumsky — pronounced Klumsky — had had enough of showbiz. She rejected Hollywood and ran away from the circus to go to college. In 2002, she graduated from the University of Chicago in International Studies with Shaun So, a non-show business friend who is now her husband, and had vague plans to get into publishing. She worked as a fact checker for Zagat, the restaurant guide, before working at HarperCollins’ science fiction imprint. It wasn’t until four years later, after a chance meeting with singer Roberta Flack, that Chlumsky found the appeal of acting again. She attended drama school in New York before finding her way back into the industry.
“The years away have definitely given me perspective. Going to college was my first act, standing up for myself and asking myself what I want, making my own decisions. You have to start somewhere if you weren’t able to start at the optimal age.”
For Chlumsky, now 41, it’s almost full circle. Thanks to her starring role as long-suffering political operative Amy Brookheimer in veepas well as parts in in the loop, Hannibal and countless Broadway plays, she is one of America’s most dependable comedians, a warm presence capable of surprising poignancy. The woman on the other end of the line seems extremely untraumatized, open and talkative and cautious about her extraordinary childhood. On a chair behind her, a dog looks out the window. “This is Zaza,” she explains. “She is 11. Well in her widowhood.”
Her latest role is here invent AnnaThe new nine-part Netflix drama about the “fake heiress” Anna Sorokin, who posed as “Anna Delvey” as the daughter of a German tycoon in order to cheat New York glamorati out of hundreds of thousands of dollars before her arrest, has been convicted and jailed. ozarkJulia Garner plays Delvey; Chlumsky plays Vivian, a fictionalized version of a real-life journalist, Jessica Pressler, on whose article the series is based.
“I felt like playing a journalist and discovering all these qualities that I think journalists have,” says Chlumsky. As I wonder if she means bitterness, poverty, or alcoholism, she fills in the blank. “Like an insatiable curiosity.”
Vivian is our path into this strange story, sort of a fable for the Instagram age. Delvey appeared seemingly out of nowhere in 2013 and talked about plans to start a members’ club. By playing the role and surrounding herself with the rich, powerful, and famous, she managed to maintain the illusion of wealth for years before reality caught up with her. On the show, Sorokin repeatedly insists that she’s “building something up,” despite mounting evidence to the contrary. In a world of people faking it ’til they make it, she doesn’t quite make it.
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“I don’t want to condone what Anna did, but I think if she was an older man people wouldn’t have been so willing to make an example of her,” says Chlumsky. “There’s a patriarchal fear of women being able to think for themselves and make their own decisions.” Is Delvey, who played such a beguiling role in real life, a particularly compelling character for actors?
“There’s probably a sense of how ephemeral a person can be, which isn’t surprising for an actor,” says Chlumsky. “We know what it’s like to have to dive into a different mindset. Maybe the skillset isn’t very different. Although the legal options are better.”
Netflix reportedly paid Sorokin more than $300,000 (£221,000) for the rights she used to repay her victims. Chlumsky didn’t meet her, although Garner did, but being in ritzy New York circles, she was only one degree away from separation. “The whole experience of doing this story was like a snake eating itself,” says Chlumsky. Case in point, Macaulay Culkin is mentioned in the original article as attending one of Sorokin’s parties. Did Chlumsky call him to exchange notes? “No, I don’t have his number,” she says, becoming a little more serious and shaking her head, probably breaking the heart of some 11-year-old moviegoers in 1991.
Having been to stardom and back, Chlumsky can take career vicissitudes with a pinch of salt. “Anna is very down to earth,” says Iannucci. “I’m sure that as a child actress she learned a lot very quickly. When I audition, I always ask people to improvise, and she was thrilled to go along with it.” A sense of humor served him well veep; As Brookheimer, she was nominated for six individual Emmys for Best Supporting Actress without winning.
“From number six everyone was disappointed, but I told them not to worry,” she laughs. “I was familiar with the nomination. The win would have been a huge paradigm shift.”
The only time she seems a bit unsettled is when I notice that her married name is Anna So on her zoom. She protects her private life. Partly that’s a legacy of her childhood, partly because weird things still happen to her occasionally. If you search for her name, one of the top results is a story about Marilyn Manson buying her character’s severed arm brace after she appeared in an episode of Hannibal. In 2017, the singer told an interviewer, “I met Bryan Fuller, the show’s creator, and he said, ‘Oh, I heard you bought all that stuff — I’m the one who created it Hannibal.’ I said to him, ‘Tell Anna I’m rich enough to buy her arm and jerk off with it.’” Strange story, even before the most recent 9,500-word article Rolling Stone about Manson’s abusive treatment of women.
“The fact that my arm was auctioned off is scary in itself,” she says. “I was an adult, not a child, but I still had no say in it. And then with the lewd remark of what he could use it for… if it’s going like a duck, you know?
“I’ve always found a lot of security in protecting my privacy,” she says. One legacy of the child star is a deep and early distrust of the internet, which has served her well in the decades that followed. “I feel validated these days because everyone knows Facebook sucks. I’ve always had the odd privilege of never believing the internet was real and knowing that it’s full of lies.”
Back in the real world, she will star in a “queer slasher movie” written by sometime this year gladiator and skyfall Writer John Logan. She is in the Rugrats Revival voiced by busy but competent mother Charlotte Pickles. In addition, she tries to be a decent mother to her two daughters. The eldest, Penelope, is almost as old as Chlumsky when she started working. Would she let her even remotely act? “The easiest way to say that is ‘wait until you’re 18,'” she says. “Have fun with school plays, hoop shooting and games. This is what this time is for. You want to be an adult when you go into business.”
Inventing Anna is now streaming on Netflix
https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/features/anna-chlumsky-interview-inventing-anna-b2015392.html Anna Chlumsky: “As a young person…I was for sale”