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Laverne Cox’s Inventing Anna Character Kacy Duke is More Than Just Mantras

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You may go into Inventing Anna expecting the Shonda Rhimes’ mini-series to be focused on the woman behind it all, answering the question: Who is Anna Delvey? But the Netflix show, out on Feb. 11, doesn’t dive deep into Delvey’s own psychology for that answer. Instead, we get to know Anna by meeting the people around her: like Vanity Fair photographer Rachel DeLoache Williams (Katie Lowes), and trainer Kacy Duke (Laverne Cox). SheKnows caught up with Cox to talk all things Inventing Anna, and the Orange Is the New Black star is the first to agree that Delvey’s story is just as much about the people who surrounded her as it is about the scammer (born Anna Sorokin) at its center — and why she hopes that her role will bring more attention to real-life legendary trainer Kacy Duke.

Inventing Anna chronicles writer Vivian Kent’s (Anna Chlumsky) investigation into Anna Delvey; Kent’s character is a proxy for real-life journalist Jessica Pressler who wrote one of the first major articles on Delvey for New York Magazine. As Kent pieces together how Delvey managed to defraud some of the biggest banks in New York City and maneuver her way into metropolitan high society, we’re taken on that journey with her: and one of the key characters we meet is Cox’s Kacy Duke.

Four-time Emmy nominee Cox plays real-life Kacy Duke, a famous trainer who briefly became friends with Delvey after falling for the fake German heiress’ front. As Cox got to know the character she was playing, it became clear to her that the accomplished trainer was far more than just a pawn in Delvey’s schemes.

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Julia Garner, James Cusati Moyer DAVID GIESBRECHT/NETFLIX.

“What’s beautiful for me about Kacy, having met her, I am deeply inspired by her,” Cox shared with SheKnows. Duke is a renowned trainer in New York City, who’s worked with a long list of famous clientele and developed a holistic approach to health and fitness.

Part of Duke’s philosophy, and an essential part of Cox’s performance, is reiterating positive mantras. That brand of positivity guided Cox through her performance and understanding the psychology behind Kacy’s elite athleticism. And just as Duke takes a comprehensive approach to fitness, Cox’s performance went beyond the gym and got into the heart, mind, and even bedroom of her character.

“She is this vibrant, healthy, fit, sexually vibrant woman in her 60s,” Cox said. “Kacy Duke is goals for me.”

“As I get older, Kacy’s an inspiration. I would love the world to get to know more about who Kacy Duke is, because she’s a pioneer in the fitness industry and she’s a Black woman. And we know historically that a lot of pioneers who are Black women don’t always get the flowers and always get the recognition that they deserve,” Cox adds. “Certainly Kacy’s lived an incredible life, she really has. But I think that more people should know who she is, and hopefully this show will allow that to happen.”

Get to know more about Kacy Duke and Laverne Cox’s portrayal of the pioneering fitness queen below.

SheKnows: What was your introduction to the Anna Delvey story? Had you been aware of the trial that was happening? Did you read Jessica Pressler’s piece?

Laverne Cox: When I was approached by Shonda Rhimes, and my team was proposed by Shonda about this show, I vaguely recalled seeing a news report or something like “Fake Heiress.” I was here in L.A., and I saw something about a “Fake Heiress” that was on trial. Then, I saw this woman with these big glasses and handcuffs in court and I was like, “Oh, that’s bizarre.” That was it. And I just sort of went on with my life.

When they approached me about the show, I think they sent Jessica Pressler’s article and I read it voraciously and became obsessed with the whole story. It’s such an incredibly well-written article that’s like, “Holy mackerel! This is insane.” Then I started reading everything I could and became obsessed with the story and then became intrigued by the character they were interested in me playing, Kacy Duke, and I started doing research on her. I knew really nothing beyond that one news report about a “Fake Heiress” until they approached me.

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Laverne Cox as Kacy Duke, Alexis Floyd as Neff Davis in ‘Inventing Anna’ AARON EPSTEIN/NETFLIX.

SK: Did that give you a clean slate for you to build a foundation and work on the character?

LV: For sure. The story is just, so many years later, it’s still so outrageous. Shonda [Rhimes] is genius for saying we should make this a TV show because it’s insane that it all actually happened. I got to go in with a lot of curiosity about the circumstances. Like, how does a 62-year-old woman end up in this mess like Kacy Duke, my character? Ultimately, Kacy was just doing her job. Anna initially paid her in advance for a number of sessions. And so she just was doing her job training another client and ends up in this incredibly strange, bizarre world.

But I think the thing about Kacy is that, once you become a client of hers, she takes a deep interest in your personal improvement, not only in terms of fitness, but in terms of your life. She believes you have to love the body you have to get the body you want. She had that theory of mindset, motivation, movement, that it all starts with your mindset. Her process for training is an inside-out process, right? So, show it love. She has a book called The Show It Love Workout. It’s a very holistic process for her. She becomes invested in her clients and that’s what happened with Anna. She was doing her job, but she does it in a way that she really cares. She really cares about you and wants you to be the very best version of yourself.

SK: Did you find that Kacy possesses a real empathy that Anna potentially lacks?

LV: Kacy really is this person. There was a moment when I was talking to my acting coach and met with Kacy and trained with her several times, and she just has all these mantras and she’s so positive and even though I strive to be a positive person, there’s a cynic in me. I would think, “Is Kacy for real?” Then I remembered that Kacy told me she had done fitness competitions when she was younger and I was like, “Oh, she’s an athlete, she’s an elite athlete.” And to be in her 60s and in the incredible shape that she’s in, she has the mindset of an elite athlete.

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Katie Lowes as Rachel, Laverne Cox as Kacy Duke in ‘Inventing Anna’ NICOLE RIVELLI/NETFLIX.

I went to a sports psychologist to really try to understand that mindset of an elite athlete, and that really helped me get into that space because I didn’t want to be in any kind of judgment of Kacy. That really helped me understand that elite athletes — that Kacy — has all this stuff about loving the body. “You have to get the body you want, the past is your teacher, the present is your creation, the future’s your inspiration,” all of these mantras. But there’s also the piece of setting small goals that elite athletes do; having a short-term memory around a loss. You have to get up every single day and train no matter what. And there’s a certain kind of mindset that you have to have to do that. And that’s very specific to an athlete. Getting into that psychology a little bit really helped me with Kacy to have even more empathy for her and locate the ways in which Kacy has empathy for other folks, but also is able to maintain a positive, upbeat attitude in the face of obvious insanity around her.

SK: Speaking of those mantras, Kacy has a lot of great lines in the series. My favorite was, “When you become angry, you become a character in someone else’s story.” Is there a part of Kacy that you hope to hold onto after this project? 

LV: What’s beautiful for me about Kacy, having met her, I am deeply inspired by her. Getting to sit down with her and hearing the details of her life: Madonna went through her exercise class in the ’80s; she was one of the co-founders of Equinox; she opened the first three, designed the space, hired all the staff; trained all of these celebrities. But even beyond that, the personal journey and struggle that she’s been through — and that’s not my story to tell — was just riveting to me and that she has gone through everything that she’s gone through. And she is this vibrant, healthy, fit, sexually vibrant woman in her 60s. She’s 65 years old.

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Laverne Cox as Kacy Duke in ‘Inventing Anna’ NICOLE RIVELLI/NETFLIX.

Kacy Duke is goals for me. I turn 50 in May and I want to go into my 50s, sexy and healthy and fit, and I want to go into my 60s still sexually vibrant. I love that we see this woman in her 60s having sex and being pursued by a hot man. That is paradigm shifting. But that’s just Kacy’s life. Kacy’s living that! So, I don’t want to leave that behind. I want to take that with me. Absolutely. As I get older, Kacy’s an inspiration. I would love the world to get to know more about who Kacy Duke is, because she’s a pioneer in the fitness industry and she’s a Black woman. And we know historically that a lot of pioneers who are Black women don’t always get the flowers and always get the recognition that they deserve. Certainly Kacy’s lived an incredible life, she really has. But I think that more people should know who she is, and hopefully this show will allow that to happen.

SK: Do you think this series offers a new perspective on the Anna Delvey story, and if so, what is it? 

LV: I think [Inventing Anna] raises a lot of questions for discussion about accountability. There are many people who have done things just as bad as Anna in terms of faking financial documents, and they’ve never served time in prison. All the Wall Street folks who tanked the economy in 2008 — none of them went to jail for that. Allegedly, the former President of the United States also has faked financial documents. It raises questions about accountability; who becomes accountable and who serves time in prison and who doesn’t.

I think it raises questions about transactional relationships and some people’s need to be attached to celebrity, fame, and wealth at any cost. They end up in circumstances that are really, deeply troubling. [Inventing Anna] invites us to ask questions about our own lives and our own culture around wealth and celebrity and our desire to be in proximity to that. I think it asks interesting questions about gender and accountability, as well. I think it raises more questions for discussion than it does that it tells us what to think. Especially considering there were moments I found myself rooting for Anna and hoping she might get the loan and open the Anna Delvey Foundation.

Then the ins and outs of how Rachel [DeLoache Williams] becomes a victim and villain and the complicated nature of that. It raises a lot of questions about heroes, anti-heroes, all of those kinds of questions. And, particularly, in relation to women more than anything else. This is mostly about women, but it’s also about a lot of people who are ambitious, and who want to use Anna in various ways to get their money for their film, to make a name for themselves as a lawyer, to revive their career as a journalist to just be in proximity to wealth and fame and power that they can advance their careers. But then, Anna wants to be in proximity to someone who works at Vanity Fair [Rachel DeLoache Williams]. All of these different kinds of questions is what the show invites us to contemplate and have a conversation about and maybe think about our lives differently.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

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