Shortly before he auditioned for “Inventing Anna,” Arian Moayed had 12 days of grand jury duty in New York. As he recalled in a recent interview, it was a “fascinating” window into our “not great” legal system. He took note of certain details, like how the attorneys in the case built their arguments and when a piece of evidence would be introduced.
Little did he know that the experience would soon come in handy when he landed the role of Todd Spodek, the defense attorney for scammer Anna Sorokin, who swindled her way around the New York finance and fashion worlds while calling herself Anna Delvey and claiming she was an entrepreneur and heiress.
“Inventing Anna,” premiering Friday and starring a mesmerizing Julia Garner as Anna, is Shonda Rhimes’ first show as creator and showrunner under her deal with Netflix. Inspired by a 2018 story by New York magazine reporter Jessica Pressler, the highly addicting series is a great showcase for Moayed, a prolific actor, writer and director probably best known to TV fans for stealing scenes as the savvy and snarky Stewy Hosseini on HBO’s “Succession.”
In addition to his time in a real courtroom, Moayed had also previously read a lot of court transcripts. He edited the transcripts for one deportation case into an acclaimed 2019 theatrical reenactment called “The Courtroom,” produced by his nonprofit theater company Waterwell. So when he began preparing to play Todd, Moayed went straight to the transcripts of Sorokin’s trial. Poring over them gave him a clear picture of who Todd was.
“I found out how he talked in the room. I found out how he was charming in the courtroom, when he interrupted people, how he said ‘objection,’ when he said ‘objection,’ how many times he said ‘objection’ again,” Moayed said. “You get a sense of a man that’s in control.”
That control is central to the show’s riveting courtroom scenes. In Todd’s opening argument, he tries to tug at the jurors’ heartstrings. Speaking directly to them, he tells a compelling story about how “there’s a little bit of Anna in all of us.” Many of them, like Anna, moved to New York to pursue their dreams and learned that “sometimes, you gotta fake it ’til you make it.” Sure, they didn’t defraud a bunch of people in the process. But, for a moment, some of the jurors lean forward in their seats, realizing that Todd does have a point.
“Inventing Anna” is in part about how everyone who encountered Anna couldn’t help but become drawn to her. This is true of journalist Vivian Kent (Anna Chlumsky), somewhat based on Pressler, who finds herself increasingly personally invested in Anna. And it’s true of Todd, who is at first reluctant to take on Anna’s case and discovers she is a frequently uncooperative client. Yet, over time, the two develop an unlikely kinship because they’re both strivers and scrappy underdogs.
We first get a sense of this in the show’s first episode, when Todd has a conversation about the case with his wife, Margaret (played by Moayed’s “Succession” castmate Caitlin FitzGerald). She is also an attorney but came from a wealthy New York family and works at her dad’s high-powered firm. By contrast, Todd grew up working class on Long Island and, as Moayed said, spent a lot of his career defending “crappy clients.”
In understanding Todd as a character, Moayed remembers that Rhimes “said really early on that Todd’s a good guy.” With that in mind, he tried to put aside any assumptions about Todd and found ways to relate to him.
“He talks about being a valet to help his mother pay for rent,” Moayed said of the husband-and-wife scene. “As an immigrant boy myself that has not done valet parking but has done numerous jobs as a young boy to help out at the house, that’s all I needed.”
Anna and Todd have shared motivations. As strivers, they both have a lot to prove. Moayed pointed to one explosive scene during one of their days in court, when Anna and Todd disagree on his strategy in the case. Each enraged at the other, they start lobbing insults.
“Todd is saying the exact same things that Anna’s saying, like, ’You’re going to ruin my reputation. Fuck your reputation. I have a career to build,”” Moayed said. “I think they both understand that. I think they both need each other in a weird way. It’s weird. I don’t think he’s doing it for the press. But I do think he’s doing it to prove a point, like: ‘Don’t mess with my clients.’”
The real Todd Spodek served as a consultant on the show. Unfortunately for Moayed, the day Spodek visited the set was during shooting on a high-stakes scene in which Todd is cross-examining Rachel Williams (Katie Lowes), Anna’s former friend and a key witness in the prosecution’s case.
“I’m getting nervous just remembering that. The nerves start going through. I’m sweating, and all of a sudden, as I’m interrogating her, he’s sitting in the pews back there,” Moayed recalled. “And I went up to him, and I was like, ’Dude, you couldn’t come any other fucking day? What the hell? You have to come today of all days? You couldn’t pick any other day?’”
To Moayed’s relief, when he asked Spodek what he thought of the scene, Spodek remarked it was “eerily similar” to real life.
“Inventing Anna” is the latest in a string of exciting TV and movie roles for Moayed in the last few months, from Season 2 of HBO Max’s great rom-com anthology “Love Life” to box-office juggernaut “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” Behind the camera, Moayed is also a frequent writer, director and producer. The second season of “The Accidental Wolf,” a series he wrote and directed, recently premiered on Topic. He also wrote and directed “The Man in Red,” a delightful radio musical featuring “Succession” star Brian Cox as Santa Claus.
Of course, like all of us “Succession” fans eagerly awaiting the show’s fourth season, Moayed is looking forward to finding out what’s next for Stewy and his brash irreverence.
“I wonder what’s going to happen with Stewy,” he said. “I mean, is Matsson going to go after those four board seats? Are Kendall and the kids going to go after those four board seats? Those are now pivotal seats. But also, who the fuck knows? Who knows if the first episode is 10 years from now?” (We both hope this is not the case.)
The show’s writers just began writing the new season, so it’s too early to tell, Moayed said. Regardless, he and a lot of his castmates prefer not to find out anything ahead of time and to just let the writers do their thing.
“When we get the script on Day One for Episode 1 is like a joyous, exciting moment,” he said. “I don’t want to know anything. I’m a fan of the show. Just give me the script and let me enjoy it.”
“Inventing Anna” premieres Friday on Netflix.