‘Anna Delvey Really Believed The Part She Was Playing’: Kacy Duke On What Netflix Got Right And Wrong About The Fake Heiress

Georgia Aspinall meets Anna's former personal trainer, Kacy Duke, for the real story behind Netflix's hit show...

Anna Delvey and Kacy Duke

by Georgia Aspinall |
Updated on

‘I’ve worked with people who have real money most of my career. When you have it, you never really flaunt it. So I did have doubts when it came to Anna [Delvey], but at the same time I thought, could I be wrong?’

Kacy Duke, 65, is full of energy. She’s just finished training one of her exclusive clients when I call her in New York, immediately ready to sit down and talk all things Inventing Anna – Netflix’s latest hit show. As a former personal trainer to Anna Delvey - the ‘Fake German Heiress’ convicted of fraud whose real name is actually Anna Sorokin – Kacy is instrumental to the series and portrayed by Emmy-winning Laverne Cox.

Who is Anna? Come to the final episode and you’ll realise no one really knows, not even her closest friends – but the show follows her life from 2013-17, when the Russian-born scammer moved to New York City and posed as a wealthy heiress in a (failed) attempt to secure a $40million (£29m) bank loan so she could build The Anna Delvey Foundation, a members-only club on Park Avenue.

In real life, the loan application was actually for $22million (£16m). That’s where creator and producer Shonda Rhimes has taken some artistic license, clarifying in the opening credits of Inventing Anna that ‘This story is completely true, except for the parts that are totally made up.’

Inventing Anna cast
In Netflix's Inventing Anna, Laverne Cox plays Kacy Duke. ©Netflix

Much of the other detail around Anna’s spending is true though – she did wrack up a $30,000 (£22k) bill at 11 Howard hotel (renamed 12 George in the series), her friend Rachel DeLoache Williams did pay $62,000 (46k) for their five-star stay at Marrakesh’s La Mamounia and Anna did accumulate debts at both the Beekman Hotel and W New York Union Square. She was also arrested at a Californian rehab facility, Passages Malibu, in a sting operation facilitated by Rachel.

It's those incredulous details that make the show so enthralling and have given Anna cult status. Anna, now 31, was paid $320k to be a consultant to the show, which she has said went to compensate victims and pay legal fees, telling The New York Times she doesn’t want anyone to glorify her story.

Its on-screen success certainly speaks to our larger recent obsession with scam artists. Earlier this month, The Tinder Swindler led Netflix’s weekly chart in 92 countries; next month, Amanda Seyfried is set to play convicted Silicon Valley fraudster Elizabeth Holmes in Hulu’s The Dropout; and there was even a call back to Fyre Festival in Inventing Anna, when Anna was shown living with founder Billy McFarland – himself the subject of two major documentaries – as he planned his now infamous ‘luxury festival’ con.

However, as far as Kacy is concerned, Anna is not the ‘Robin Hood’ character - taking from the rich to give to the poor (albeit herself, primarily) - some viewers are proclaim her to be. ‘She had to keep up her front by any means necessary,’ she tells me. Kacy never filed charges against Anna, but she says she is still owed for training sessions and Anna’s flight home from Marrakech (‘She can consider it a gift from the universe,’ Kacy jokes).

Kacy’s relationship with Anna began as client-first, friend-second but her job has always involved life coaching alongside workouts - that’s how she’s accumulated an incredible roster of celebrity clients. It’s also why she never intended to be associated with the story, so in Jessica Pressler’s investigation for New York Magazine (on which Inventing Anna is based), Kacy is anonymised as ‘the trainer’.

So what changed, how did Netflix convince Kacy to go public? ‘I trusted Shonda [Rhimes],’ she smiles. ‘I knew she would be fair with me and when she told me she wanted to offer Laverne Cox the role I thought “Wow, she’s perfect.” I needed someone to play me who had been through something in their life, who had to choose to fight back. It was just right.’

In preparation for the role, Laverne met Kacy for a four-hour lunch and numerous training sessions, where she would mirror her behaviour. ‘She came in one day with beautiful nails and I was like “They’re gorgeous!” and she goes, “Oh, but Kacy wouldn’t wear this, Kacy would go for natural or French tips.” I was laughing like, “Laverne, I’m Kacy!”’

Kacy Duke
Kacy Duke ©Photographer: Paul Morejón, Makeup: Tedrick LaMar, Hair: Yuki Yamazaki

As far as Laverne’s portrayal of Kacy on-screen goes, she says it was ‘pretty much’ spot on. ‘Laverne got the essence and humanity of me, but I’m not as light and airy,’ Kacy laughs. ‘I do have a lot of Kacyism’s but there’s a scene when Rachel throws a bone at me that would never happen! The name of my life coaching method is The Art of The Graceful Gangster – it’s about respectful badassery. The scene where Anna is trying to stay at my house and Rachel is on the phone reminding me I’m a “bad bitch”? I live a bad bitch life, no one has to remind me of that.’

How about Julia Garner’s portrayal of Anna? ‘That was spot on. The voice… Julia got her truly.’ Where there is more controversy, perhaps, is Katie Lowes’ portrayal of Rachel, the friend who filed charges against Anna and later wrote a tell-all book.

‘Rachel’s portrayal was pretty accurate but people can’t forget, Anna did something horrible to her,’ is Kacy's view. ‘She was a little whiny and wimpy in real life but that’s because she had more money taken from her than anyone. She wasn’t as much the bad guy as it seems; she was trying to protect herself and get her money back. I just wish she had been more honest with me, I didn’t know about the book.'

Anna has denied defrauding Rachel and was found not guilty of the alleged $62,000 theft relating to their Marrakech trip. At her March 2019 trial, she was found guilty of eight other charges, including grand larceny in the second degree, attempted grand larceny, and theft of service – all in relation to the banks and hotels where she accumulated debts – and was sentenced to four to 12 years in prison.

I’m hoping she will take the money she’s earned and build her foundation.

Nonetheless, Kacy thinks Anna believed her own delusions and that, had she been able to secure the loan, she would have paid everyone back. ‘Anna did not like to owe anyone,’ she tells me. ‘I think she really believed the part she was playing, like when you tell a lie so much you forget it’s not even the truth, it just becomes a part of you.’

So are they still friends? For Kacy, she will always believe in her but that doesn’t mean she’ll be along for the ride. '‘We haven’t been in contact since she entered immigration detention [in March 2021, after Anna overstayed her visa]. When she first came out of prison [in February 2021 after serving three years, before she was detained by immigration] she contacted me, she wanted to film a video of us having a reunion. I said, “You should not be doing anything right now, get yourself together and do some good.” I’m hoping she will take the money she’s earned and build her foundation, but if she comes out with her ego smelling like skunk again, she’s not going to learn. She’s smart and has it within her to do some great things with this fame.’

The biggest lesson she’s learned though? ‘All that glitters isn’t gold, and Anna wasn’t even that glittery.’

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