We’ve all fantasized about a life enabled by a bottomless bank account. We imagine the magazine-spread-worthy houses and the exotic trips. We ask ourselves if we would quit our jobs or continue to work. We wonder if the money would change us.
What if in that scenario you were 15 years old, living, more or less, on your own in a penthouse in Manhattan? It’s hard to envision seriously without resorting to Hollywood caricatures like “Blank Check” or “Richie Rich.” But if you add a modeling contract and a father who happens to be one of the world’s most successful and secretive Russian businessmen to the mix, you would have Anna Anissimova.
While still a teenager, Anissimova made headlines when she dropped $23 million on designer Diane von Furstenberg’s townhouse in the Meatpacking District. That was just an investment piece. She was living in a $10 million, 75th-floor apartment in the south tower of Time Warner Center. That apartment has since been listed for $50 million, or roughly $70,000 a month for those who prefer to rent. “I miss those views,” she said.
By the time Anissimova was 19, in 2004, her ostentatious antics had made her grist for the tabloids. She was soon labeled a Paris Hilton derivative.
“I always resented the title ‘the Russian-American Paris Hilton,’” Anissimova, 30, tells LLNYC from her Los Angeles retreat. “It was back when Paris Hilton was what Kim Kardashian is today. She was everywhere.” Anissimova admits that at the time she wasn’t completely undeserving of the moniker.
That same year, Anissimova paid $550,000 to rent singer-songwriter Denise Rich’s Southampton estate for just two summer months. There she entertained a whirlwind of flashy, club-promoting, Manhattan merrymakers throughout the season – including her now-husband of five years, movie producer and entrepreneur Peter Schafer. It was a record for a Hamptons rental at the time, and people started talking. Who was this ostentatious teenage party girl with seemingly unlimited resources? Where were her parents?
In September 2004, New York Magazine published a profile on her, filling in some of those details and crowning her with the dreaded nickname.
“It was annoying because one person wrote that and it spread like wild fire. It was everywhere,” she says of the “Russian-American Paris Hilton” sobriquet. A Google search of her name indicates that it still is.
But more than a decade later, Anissimova says she is a different person. And she genuinely seems to be in the midst of a new chapter in her life, as a wife, a new mother and a working Hollywood actress – her fifth feature film is being released in November.
“I always resented the title ‘the Russian-American Paris Hilton.'”
“I am a very family-oriented person. I have a husband and kid now,” she says. “The first word that comes to mind when I describe myself is ‘mom.’ My daughter, Lila, is 17 months old, and since I had her everything I thought I knew, everything I thought was important, has completely changed.”
For the last several years, she has kept a relatively low profile, quietly dividing her time between her sprawling mid-century home in the affluent Pacific Palisades neighborhood of Los Angeles, her apartment at Time Warner Center, her mother’s new $20.1 million Carlton House co-op and her mansion in Water Mill. Her Instagram account — a favorite venue for the rich to provide photographic evidence that they are, in fact, rich — is actually an ode to her daughter. Excluding the odd image of a helicopter or private jet, there is no evidence of conspicuous consumption or reality-star-like drama.
“Looking back on it, I don’t regret anything,” Anissimova says of her early years enjoying her outrageous fortune. “I was 19, my parents were going through a divorce and were busy with their own stuff. I did have a very frivolous lifestyle. I stayed in houses in the Hamptons and took amazing trips to Europe with my sister and all of our friends. I mean, it is kind of crazy to look back at the access I had with no parents around. But it kind of made me into who I am today. I got it out of my system.”
Anissimova came to the United States at age six. It was 1991, the Soviet Union had collapsed and Russia was confronting its most uncertain period since the October Revolution.
“We went back a lot so all my memories sort of blend. But I do remember seeing soldiers and tanks on the street,” Anissimova says.
Her father, Vasily Anisimov (the last name is spelled differently because in Russian, family names have gendered endings), was a entrepreneur trapped within the confines of the Soviet system, she claims. She insists that despite his public image as an oligarch, he is a self-made man, and was never involved in the gangster capitalism that ruled Russia in the early 1990s.
She says that for the most part he grew up fatherless. And his mother had to scrape by to support him and his two brothers.
“His mom would sell milk from a little box without heat in the middle of winter. He saw what she had to go through to provide for them. He said that watching her freeze and come home sick broke his heart. I think that ever since he was 16 he told himself that he was going to make it and provide for everyone,” Anissimova says.
Her father seems to have kept that promise to himself. In 1994, he founded Coalco, a company that succeeded in effectively cornering the world’s supply of aluminum for a period. The company has since diversified its holdings to include manufacturing, mining, energy production, real estate and finance. Today, Forbes estimates that Anisimov is worth $1.9 billion.
The zeitgeist of the Yeltsin years was smash and grab. Vast amounts of public resources reverted to whomever could hold onto them the longest. It was a dangerous moment. Businessmen were sometimes assassinated. Criminal syndicates controlled large parts of the economy. And the men we now call the oligarchs – including Anissimova’s father – fought tirelessly to make their fortunes.
Afraid for the safety of his family, Anisimov bought a condo in Spring Valley, N.Y., about an hour outside the city, and moved his wife and two daughters there. None of them spoke English at the time.
“When we moved to America it was a scary time. My parents weren’t together and I saw that my mom was having a really hard time. I couldn’t understand anyone because they spoke this weird foreign language,” Anissimova said. “My best friend was a birch tree in our backyard. I just lived in my imagination. I would always pretend to be someone else, imitate people and act things out.”
As Anisimov’s wealth grew back in Russia, the family’s life in the United States improved. By the time Anissimova was 15, her mother was living in Brooklyn’s Mill Basin, a status neighborhood for Russian transplants. But Anissimova chose to live in a $4 million apartment in the Chatham on East 65th Street with her college-aged sister. She had signed a modeling contract with Elite Model Management the year before.
“I remember I had just turned 15, and we went to Life [a club at 158 Bleecker Street]and I was walking up to the door with my agent and a couple other girls. The doorman said, ‘She is a baby! If she doesn’t have ID, she can’t come in.’ But my agent just said, ‘She is a model at Elite,’ and magically that velvet rope lifted and from that point I was like, ‘Huh, alright, this is how New York works. I get it.’ That was not a good thing for me to figure out at 15 because from 15 to 21 I was a wild child,” she says.
“I was out every night. I don’t know what happened to high school. I don’t even know if I got through high school. I was dancing on tables, drinking and smoking cigarettes way too early. And it was great. I don’t regret a second of it.”
She says as she entered her early 20s, she dreamed of becoming an actress, but that making her dream a reality was hampered by her jet-setting lifestyle and whirlwind romances.
“I knew that I wanted to move to L.A. and pursue an acting career, but falling in love with boys always got in the way. I was engaged, and then I moved to Miami, and then I moved back to New York, and there was another boy, and then I ran away from that,” she laughs.
Once, to break an engagement, she stole off to Nairobi and the Maasai Mara game reserve in Kenya for a safari with a couple of friends. In the meantime, she instructed a friend to poison her fiancé against her.
“She would say, ‘She is not the girl for you. She sucks.’ So when I came back, he sat down and said, ‘I don’t think this is going to work,’” Anissimova says. “I know it’s terrible. But I was so young. I was 22.”
But while Anissimova was living loud and fast, her parents were retreating, working harder than ever to avoid the press in the face of a personal tragedy.
In 2000, Anissimova’s half-sister and her husband were murdered in Yekaterinburg. The couple were bound and stabbed to death by burglars, who supposedly panicked when her half-sister started screaming that she was the daughter of Anisimov.
“He was one of the top three businessmen in the Urals, so everybody knew his name,” an unnamed source told New York Magazine. “It was like shouting ‘I’m the daughter of a Rockefeller!’”
“I don’t think any parent should ever have to lose a child. That is probably one of the hardest things anyone could ever go through. It was definitely really hard for my dad. I don’t think he would ever really show me that he was struggling. After all, he is a Russian man. But I can tell that it changed him and that it is something that he thinks about every single day,” Anissimova says.
Since that tragedy, Anissimova says her father has been obsessed with security, providing her with a driver/bodyguard.
“A man in his position definitely has some control issues,” she says. “But what parents don’t realize is they cannot control things like that. Awful things happen. All we can do is be the best parents we can and pray.”
Anissimova and her father usually talk twice a day. She will go to Moscow once or twice a year and he will visit her regularly in New York, and less often in L.A. This year they spent September together in New York.
“You could definitely describe him as a workaholic. I’ll say, ‘Let’s watch a movie.’ But he can’t watch a movie. He can’t sit still. He thrives when he is in his work place, when he is making deals. He was always like that,” she says. “He is willing to help a complete stranger out. He likes to say that ‘the only time to look down on someone is when you are helping them up.’ That always stuck with me.”
But for parts of the Russian public the name Anisimov doesn’t conjure such beneficial images. Anti-corruption protestors have targeted Akulinino, a lavish village outside Moscow set within a 44,000-acre parcel owned by Anisimov’s firm. Inside the gated-community, Putin’s closest bureaucrats and businessmen have built mega-mansions to the ire of Russians calling for reform. For them, Anisimov is guilty by association.
But it’s inarguable that Anisimov is favored by the Kremlin. He serves as president of the Russian Judo Federation, a symbolically important position, since Putin is well-known to be a judo devotee. “I don’t think he is sparring Putin,” Anisimova jokes, producing a gold medallion he was awarded. “That would be fun to see. Putin appointed him.”
Recently, his name has appeared in connection with the conflict in the Ukraine after the U.S. attempted to extradite Dmytro Firtash, a Ukrainian oligarch with connections to both the Russian mob and the Kremlin, on bribery charges. Firtash was arrested in Vienna but released after Anisimov paid his 125 million euro ($141 million) bail, Bloomberg reported.
“We don’t pay attention to criticism,” Anissimova says of political accusations against her family. “Why would we?”
Despite the increasingly strained relations between Washington and Moscow, she doesn’t like to think about politics.
“I don’t like to think about where things could go because I have so much family in Russia. It makes me sad,” she says. “In my heart I just want America and Russia to be best friends. All the sanctions have affected my dad’s business, and put him through a lot of stress. It’s just harder.”
For Anissimova, her father is “dad,” not a political figure. She calls him on FaceTime at breakfast so he can see his grandchild.
“I feel like a very blessed person. I am a very lucky girl. And regardless of all the money we have, the love I received from my parents was endless and I am best friends with both my mom and my dad,” she says.
Asked if there is anything in life she wants but cannot have, Anissimova said that she wants to be a respected actress, ideally on television, but that takes time. “In terms of something else, there’s nothing,” she said.
“I don’t feel like I have made it yet. I’ve done five films. I’m working. I have stuff coming out. But every day it is a challenge,” she said. Her latest film, “Flutter,” a British dramady, will hit U.S. theaters November 17. In it she plays a bookie who isn’t what she seems. “It’s a dark, funny movie,” she says.
Anissimova only recently returned to making a real push for her acting career. She decided to stop working for a year after she had her child and she says she was at a big agency that didn’t give her much attention. Her new agent books her for auditions sometimes seven days a week.
She also restarted her charitable work, volunteering at Hearts of Los Angeles, a youth-acting program; raising money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation; and meeting with the Environmental Media Association, which encourages environmental awareness.
She says that despite her wild youth, she has always had a complicated relationship with money. In high school she would ask her driver to drop her off a few blocks away from school. She still does that sometimes.
“I mean, I don’t know where that comes from, but there has always been some kind of shame,” she says, adding that she hopes to make peace with her fortunate situation.
“I want people to know that I am an average girl,” she says. “Everything I did in my past and all the money that I have doesn’t define what I am like or who I am. I am just like anyone else in this world trying to make it through one day. I have the same problems as everyone.”