How ‘Anora’s’ Ivy Wolk Went From TikTok to Acting in Sean Baker’s Film

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Social media has been both the downfall and saving grace for rising actor Ivy Wolk, who just made her film debut at Cannes Film Festival in Sean Baker’s critically lauded “Anora.”

The 20-year-old L.A. native started making irreverent comedy videos in the early days of TikTok when she was just 14, amassing over 200,000 followers on an account called @fathoodbitch. But when she scored her first real acting job on the Freeform sitcom “Everything’s Gonna Be Okay,” she was forced to delete it — so she returned secretly in the midst of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic under the handle @livesinasociety. As her TikTok following grew even larger, the tide of public opinion began to shift. People on the internet unearthed old offensive tweets of hers, and before she knew it, Wolk found herself shunned. At the same time, she was dealing with the death of a friend.

“I had sort of a meltdown,” Wolk tells Variety at a swanky beach club in Cannes, where she orders an iced tea that she immediately deems too sweet and leaves to sweat in the sun. “I was a very early canceled person, I guess, especially for someone my age. Like, to be canceled in a real way, to lose opportunities because of what I was saying — and I was still making these videos, being fucking defiant even though people hated my guts and were tearing me apart.”

Eventually, Wolk gave into the pressure and posted on her Instagram Story that she planned to commit suicide. “I was like, ‘I’m done with being alive. If everybody wants me to fucking kill myself, bitch, I’ll kill myself,’” she says.

But, addicted to the instant gratification of social media, Wolk found herself on TikTok mere moments later. What she saw was people celebrating her imminent death. Instead of taking her life, Wolk decided to delete her TikTok account and never look back.

“My mother was like, ‘Don’t fucking kill yourself because of TikTok, bitch,’” Wolk says. “People who have killed themselves over the internet — it would be Amanda Todd, God rest her soul, Hannah Baker from ’13 Reasons Why’ and Ivy Wolk. That’s a scary canon.”

The 2024 Wolk is certainly glad she made that decision. Getting off social media gave her the energy to finish high school, earn some extra money by working at shopping mall The Grove, and refocus on her career, eventually landing a small role in Judd Apatow’s pandemic comedy “The Bubble.” A longtime cinephile, Wolk attended a screening of Baker’s 2021 film “Red Rocket” at The Grove AMC, and held her hand high at the post-movie Q&A to ask the celebrated indie filmmaker a question (she wanted to know why he chose to set the film in 2016). When she wasn’t called on, Wolk direct-messaged Baker on Instagram with her query. He answered.

“He was like, ‘So you have a weird internet presence. Do you have a reel?’” Wolk recalls. “And I was like, ‘Uh, yeah.’” She didn’t. But, two hours later, thanks to a friend who pulled together her favorite scenes from “Everything’s Gonna Be Okay,” she did.

According to Wolk, Baker responded, “Oh, you’re fucking funny as fuck.” The two then began meeting for the occasional coffee, where Baker told Wolk about the idea for his new film “Anora,” a dramedy about a sex worker who falls in love with the son of a Russian oligarch. Wolk moved across the country to attend Emerson College, but in December 2022 Baker asked her to self-tape for a role in the film. By February, she was on set.

In “Anora,” Wolk plays Crystal, a teenager in the Russian community in Brighton Beach, N.Y., who is friends with Vanya (Mark Eidelstein), the son of a Russian oligarch with more money than he knows what to do with. Vanya prefers to splurge on sex (he hires the titular Anora, played by Mikey Madison, to be his girlfriend for a week), drugs and candy from the sweet shop Crystal works at on Coney Island. Crystal provides some of the comic relief of the film, cracking jokes that got big laughs at the film’s Cannes premiere on Tuesday.

“That was really fun, to just be really loud and disgusting and brazenly offensive because for her, there’s no consequences,” Wolk says of Crystal as she takes out a pack of cigarettes. “Can we smoke here?” she asks the French server, repeating it again to make sure he understands. “Can you smoke?”

“Yes, of course!” the server finally responds. She lights up and continues, noting that most of her lines as Crystal were improvised.

“Sean would set up a scenario and be like, ‘OK, the objective is to get to here. Here are props, here are things you can touch and do, and then let’s come up with some jokes to pad it out and then the rest of it, let it flow yourselves,’” Wolk says. “It was very collaborative. I felt very trusted by him. And I think that’s how he gets such good performances out of non-actors, because it’s not specific, it’s not commanding, it’s not line-reading. He gives you guidance but then he lets you fill in the shape.”

One of the non-actors in “Anora” was the owner of said candy shop, who is so old that he doesn’t realize that Crystal, Vanya and their friends are smoking weed and stealing candy from his store. Baker and his producer and wife Samantha Quan found him in a Coney Island parking lot.

“He was a parking lot attendant,” Wolk says. “I mean, he was fucking old as shit and I was roasting the fuck out of him for being old. He was really nice, but he was fucking senile.”

After shooting “Anora,” Wolk dropped out of Emerson. “I feel very lucky that my first time being on a movie set was this,” she says. “This is the kind of work that I want to do forever and I can do forever. If I meet the right people who are like-minded and whose vision I trust, I can just keep fucking doing that. I don’t have to be in garbage.”

Wolk also learned a lot from watching Madison, the film’s breakout star who received rave reviews out of Cannes. “She’s the best actress of our generation. Bar fucking none,” she says. “There really are not movies like this where young actresses are allowed to do all the things that she’s doing.”

Mikey Madison in ‘Anora’
Courtesy of Neon

Being that Anora is a sex worker, Madison has a good amount of racy scenes in the film, but her character remains in control and fights to get what she wants, never backing down. “People aren’t writing roles like this for young women right now,” Wolk adds. “Like, I wanna see bitches get nasty. And that’s what I love about this movie, is that bitches can get fucking nasty.”

I have a hunch that Wolk is a fan of Lena Dunham’s “Girls,” which didn’t shy away from the less glamorous aspects of being a 20-something woman — and I am right. “People hated it because it was like, here are some nasty ass bitches. Here’s nasty ass Hannah, walking the streets with her bush and her ugly dress and her bad fucking haircut,” Wolk says of the show. “But that’s just what people are, and that’s what people look like and it’s true.”

Of Dunham, Wolk says, “That’s a career I would love to emulate.” When I ask who else inspires her, Wolk pulls up the Notes app on her phone and opens a list titled “greatest influences.” Dunham is on there, as is Morrissey, prompting Wolk to point out a tattoo on her arm that reads “And I’m not happy and I’m not sad” — a lyric from the Smiths song “This Night Has Opened My Eyes” — which sits below a tattoo of Elizabeth Berkley as Nomi in “Showgirls.” The list goes on: Bret Easton Ellis, John Early, Kate Berlant, Sandra Bernhard, Todd Solondz, Amy Winehouse.

As for her current career goal, Wolk wants to “do a movie where I am fucking gross. Like fugly, sweaty, nasty, fucking it out. Just gross sex and everyone’s like, ‘Who the fuck is this gross bitch?’ I wanna do something like that. That’s a career goal for me.”

Since “Anora” wrapped, Wolk has filmed four movies and a TV show. She also moved to New York, where she’s devoting herself to “getting really fucking good at stand-up comedy,” and got permanently banned from Instagram. Now, the only social media Wolk uses is X (formerly Twitter), and even that has become “fucking nasty for me,” she says.

But, she continues, “I am somebody who will not back down. No matter how many times people tell me to back down, I’m literally addicted to not backing down. And I’ve done it all very publicly. But it’s gotten me into a good camp now where the pendulum is sort of swinging.”

After all, she’s gone from a social media scarlet letter to acting in a Cannes-premiering film from a revered director.

“I’m cognizant of the fact that this is potentially the beginning of the Ivy Wolk career and whatever fucking shape that will take eventually,” she says. “If this is a linear narrative, this is the beginning, you know? As an actress, I am sort of born now.”

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