Behind the Scenes of Inventing Anna with Actor Jason Schuchman
In the episode four opening of Netflix's Inventing Anna, the title character tours Park Avenue's iconic Church Mission House (referred to as 281 Park Avenue). She is led by a suave and business-savvy commercial real estate broker named Richard Lavin. Following the tour, Anna and her team discuss the building's renovation budget with Lavin.
"Say she needs $40 million to finance. Sound about right?" he asks as the camera zooms in on Anna, who can barely conceal her panic upon hearing the total.
That final line was actually improvised, according to Brown Harris Stevens Agent and Filipacci Foussard team member Jason Schuchman, who played Lavin in the series.
"That was also the scene I auditioned with," said Schuchman. He auditioned for the role in 2019 before embarking on a filming process that would soon pause due to COVID-19 before resuming in late 2020.
At the time he auditioned, Schuchman—who has held roles in various shows including Law & Order, The Blacklist, and FBI—didn't know the role would encompass a two-episode arc, let alone the extent to which he would work with Emmy-winning Actress Julia Garner.
"You often meet and work with intimidating people in this business, but she was very nice," said Schuchman of Garner. "She was really committed and professional, and you could really see how intentional she was about how she delivered her lines."
Garner even complimented Schuchman's acting skills between takes, calling him a "two-take wonder" given how quickly he was able to nail his scenes.
The experience also gave Schuchman a chance to work with David Frankel, known best for directing The Devil Wears Prada. Frankel directed the first and fourth episodes of Inventing Anna.
"It was appropriate because, much like The Devil Wears Prada, Inventing Anna is a love letter to New York City fashion and society that is simultaneously a critical piece, exposing the darker underbelly of things," Schuchman said.
The scene outside 281 Park in particular was among the first TV scenes shot on the streets of Manhattan following quarantine. There was little to no activity in the area at the time of filming, save for a few invasive members of the paparazzi whom security actively tried to ward off.
"Netflix was very serious about PPE," said Schuchman, who had to wear masks and face shields when not filming.
As a real-life real estate agent himself, Schuchman had a unique perspective on his character, and he was both amused and impressed by how accurately the back-and-forth of real estate negotiations was portrayed.
"Lines we used like, 'We have other interested parties'—you hear that in the business all the time, and you assume the character in the scene is lying because he knows he's hooked Anna as a potential client," said Schuchman. "It's a small exchange but it still underscores one of the themes of the show: Fake it until you make it."
Among Schuchman's other takeaways from the role was a renewed appreciation for vetting clients, something he and his team have always taken very seriously.
"Watching the show made me realize how easy it can be to take someone at their word, and here you see someone going as far as forging wire transfers and using voice distortion on calls," he said, reflecting on both the plot of Inventing Anna and the true story that inspired it. "It helps our business to always take that extra step and be extremely thorough when vetting clients and calling references."