At the Outfest Legacy Awards, where the creators and cast of Pose were honored with the Trailblazer Award—not to be confused with VH1’s Trailblazer Honor, which went to executive producer Ryan Murphy—Laverne Cox offered “our thank-yous for breaking barriers, our thank-yous for changing the world. Thank you for elevating all of us.”
Her words, while demonstrating the importance of the FX show, especially in the wake of the Trump Administration’s move to define gender, also comes just weeks after Netflix announced that Orange Is the New Black—an equally groundbreaking show for its representation of the LGBTQ community and transgender visibility—will end after seven seasons.
On the prison dramedy, Cox played Sophia Burset, a transgender inmate who fought for acceptance and stood up to bigotry from fellow inmates and guards. The role earned her an Emmy nomination—the first for any out transgender actor—for Outstanding Guest Actress in 2014 and 2017.
While Netflix’s decision to end OITNB may have come as a surprise to some, Cox was certain the series was going to come to its eventual conclusion when the streaming network renewed it for three more seasons in 2016. She says that creator Jenji Kohan even told them at the beginning of last season that the next would be the last, giving them plenty of time to digest the news.
“We had a really good run and television has changed tremendously since we started shooting six years ago,” says Cox, who jokes that “Netflix and Chill” wasn’t even “a thing” when they first premiered. “We’re part of making that happen. We all at Orange were paramount in Netflix becoming a superpower that it is right now. I’m definitely proud of that.”
And now, in some ways, Cox has passed to the torch to Pose as she continues to blaze her own trail in Hollywood, with no shortage of new and upcoming projects. “It’s a wonderful time to move on,” she adds.
Just like she put her stamp on Rocky Horror Picture Show by taking over the role of Dr. Frank-N-Furter in the Fox TV remake, Cox is performing a new audio version of Jacqueline Susann’s classic novel about three young women navigating the turbulent worlds of Broadway and Hollywood in Valley in the Dolls—opening up another cult classic to a new generation of fans.
While the 1967 film adaptation became a favorite within the queer community, Cox admits to never having read the story before working with Audible. “I just felt like it was something I needed to know,” she says of immersing herself in Susann’s fictional world and becoming particularly attached to Jennifer North, a beautiful showgirl seeking love (portrayed by Sharon Tate in the film). “I found myself feeling for her and there were a few moments while reading the book where I had to stop and go cry.”
Recalling one line where another character is told to think about plastic surgery to appear younger than she is, Cox says, “I don’t think a lot has changed [in Hollywood] in terms of how we’re supposed to look.”
Looking ahead, Cox is one of the many stars—Awkwafina, Gillian Jacobs, Rosario Dawson—in Jordan Peele’s new sci-fi anthology YouTube Red series Weird City set in a not-so-distant future metropolis. The actress is slated for at least one episode, appearing opposite Sara Gilbert. “She’s so talented,” Cox says, adding that she hopes to get to work with Peele more directly in the future.
She’s also teamed up with Dear White People creator Justin Simien on his upcoming social horror film Bad Hair about an ambitious young woman working in the music and TV industry who gets “a killer weave,” Cox says. “It’s so relevant to what’s going on in the world.”
Afraid to reveal too much about her role, Cox plays a woman named Virgie among a cast that includes MC Lyte, Robin Thede, and Vanessa Williams. While she doesn’t share any scenes with the diva, Cox says that she saw her on set and was able to keep her fandom in check. “I’m getting better at meeting iconic women and not losing my stuff,” she says, joking: “I’m still bad with Viola Davis, though. I still think I scare her, but that’s a digression!”
In the meantime, the Audible version of Valley of the Dolls was released on November 6, the same day as the midterm elections.
A pivotal time for many Americans, Cox has been vocal about several issues—particularly voting “Yes on 3” in Massachusetts to protect transgender people from discrimination—and getting out the vote, even appearing in an ad directed by Jodie Foster.
Though the actress was busy shooting a new film in New York, she said she voted early. “Hopefully the work I’m doing [will] make a difference,” Cox says.