The IMDB filmography page for Myha’la Herrold is jarringly short given that the actress serves as the lead of an HBO series. But it’s easy to see the natural talent that makes her the perfect fit for the role of Harper, an American in way over her head as one of a handful of new hires fighting to come out on top in a London investment firm.
Awards Radar had the chance to speak to Herrold about landing this gig, the kind of Black character she hadn’t seen before, and the many relationships at play on set and on screen.
Q: This is your first big TV role – how did you end up as the star of an HBO show?
A: I don’t know. Anytime anyone asks me that, I’m like, I got lucky, I guess. No, I sent in a tape when the audition came across my e-mail, like most things. I heard pretty soon after that that the writers wanted to chat with me, they liked my tape. I had a chat with Mickey and Konrad. I resent the tapes after that, and they were like, awesome, they want you to meet the director. It’s Lena Dunham, don’t say anything stupid. And I was like, okay, I’ll try. Met Lena, read with her, it was fantastic. A few days after that they said they were going to send me to London to chemistry read with some of the other actors. I did that, it was fantastic. It was my first time out of the US and then shortly after that I got the call that I got the role.
Q: So what appealed to you about the character?
A: Oh my gosh, so much. So much was exciting to me about the scripts when I first read them. It’s pretty rare or has been rare in my experience that you read something and you’re immediately sucked in and nothing about the script makes you believe that you’re reading a script. I just felt fully immersed in the world and particularly identified with Harper because she was the first Black character I had read that didn’t follow any of my expectations or any of the characteristics of a Black character on TV and film. She just didn’t do any of that. And that to me made it feel so real and was exciting because I think it introduced a new kind of Black character or introduced this concept that black people on film can and are many, many things, that we are multifaceted, that there is not a singularity to the Black experience. Personally, she’s mixed, she’s American, she’s a woman, I am all of those things, and was entering her career, the workforce at the very beginning, which is exactly what I was doing. I really identified with how she had a sort of fake it till you make it attitude. She came in with this aggressive confidence which is so clearly overcompensating, which I have done, and I think a lot of people do. So I really felt for her, I felt like I understood her experience because I was going through it at the same time.
Q: What did you find most challenging to relate to about her?
A: I don’t know that I felt it challenging to relate. I understood her panicked response to stress. I think I personally take an okay, I’m incredibly nervous and anxious and stressed out about this thing that’s super important to me, I’m going to breathe through it, and I’m going to make some conscious, aware decisions that will benefit me later. I think Harper’s more like, act now, think later, which gets her in a little bit of trouble, and she somehow manages to sort of save it all. But that was one of those things where I was like, damn girl, get some therapy. You know what I mean?
Q: How much do you know about investing baking? And how important is that to saying all these lines and talking about this in the script?
A: Yes. Not much. I have a very limited understanding, but a great appreciation now that I’ve gone through it. It was one of those things where I looked at this and was like, okay, let me see if I can figure out what does this mean? Investopedia.com! And I still don’t understand. But what I could understand was, in the context of this situation in this line, whatever I’m talking about is a good thing or a bad thing and that’s playable. Something positive or something negative, so I had to sort of give myself grace and a break after a few months and being like, this is just not something my brain can comprehend, and that’s okay as long as it looks like I know what I’m talking about.
Q: I think it does. So what is it like being one of the few Americans in this cast and shooting in London?
A: I mean, it’s a dream. I’d always wanted to visit London, so being able to be there for work was the most exciting for me. I got to experience the city in a way that I felt like I was a part of it because I was there not just as a tourist, but I felt like I was really there for a purpose. And also immersed in this very specific sector, the finance world, on Bank. Being one of the few Americans was, I think, similarly to Harper, I am the odd man out. There were so many cultural references in slang in casual conversation that just went right over my head. I was like, hilarious! But I have no idea what you’re talking about. But I feel really lucky the entire cast embraced me and embraced that in me and taught me so much, so it was kind of like a throw yourself in the deep end. Not only was it my first major project but I was doing it in an unfamiliar place, but I very quickly could call it home because everyone was very kind to me and embraced me.
Q: I’d love to hear about your costars and the real-life dynamics you have with them. Let’s start with the other primary American, who I’d like to hope is a little bit nicer in real life than he is on the show.
A: Oh yeah, Ken is family now. Ken is one of the most wonderful human beings I’ve ever met in life. Not only is he wildly talented and intelligent but he’s also super considerate and really, really easy to talk to, very approachable, so unlike Eric, his character in the show. That was that was a special relationship. I think that that brought a really beautiful element to our characters’ relationship. He was the person I could relate the most to the fastest and he has all of this experience. So I immediately forced him to be my mentor and was like, hi, can you help me through this thing? And he was so available and it was nice to have him so close to me on the desk but also in life. So I would go to him often when I needed comfort or support about work or otherwise, and he really gave that to me. So I have respect and deep love and appreciation for him.
Q: For when I speak with him, is there anything I should include to catch him off-guard?
A: Oh my gosh. You know what, I think Ken is one of the most difficult people to catch off-guard. He’s got this calm preparedness always. So I’m not sure that there’s anything you could say to him that would throw him. He’s surprising and amazing, so I think what will happen is that he will catch you off-guard.
Q: Got it. What about Marisa Abela, who plays Yasmin? That’s a very interesting and complicated relationship.
A: Absolutely. I think again, my personal relationship with Marisa definitely brought a really stunning element to our relationship onscreen. She was one of the first, her and Harry and David, because we were the youngest in the cast and spent the most time together, was the first person that I gravitated towards and just was like, hi, I need friends. Please be my friend. Let me lean on you. I love her deeply. We are definitely sisters and we both really look to each other professionally and personally so I felt very much like I had someone to lean on and a bouncing board for ideas and we both trust each other professionally. So it was really fun to explore the personal relationship that’s so complicated between Yasmin and Harper while we were building this really deep, strong personal relationship as friends outside of work.
Q: And then there’s Freya Mavor, who I had seen in a movie called The Keeper where she plays the romantic lead right before this, which is nothing like the character she plays here. That relationship is even more complicated between Harper and Daria.
A: Harper and Daria is an interesting one and also, I think, pretty common. Not only are you coming in as a newcomer to a toxic cesspit of sexism and hierarchy and money, but there’s also then that element of being women in this male-dominated environment. What I think happens is, we’re drawn to each other, we want to support each other but then we’re also operating in this space that has all these rules that were created by and are run by men for the most part and they just operate differently. As hard as she tries to, Daria wants to aid Harper and support her, but again, in some respects, feels threatened by her and also is maintaining this position of power that she then sort of abuses but then goes back. It’s all very complicated, and Harper in a similar way is like, ah, another mentor but it’s also like, could this be my competitor? Could I put myself in that spot? So it’s definitely a dog-eat-dog and you end up forcing yourself to put your feelings aside because the most important thing is printing business, is making money, is staking your claim, is having success.
Q: I don’t want to say too much about in case anyone reading hasn’t seen all season one, but Harper makes a pretty big and consequential choice at the end of the season. Were you happy with the direction that took and what does that foreshadow for season two for Harper?
A: I was gooped and gagged and shocked like everyone else was, I think, but that’s what makes these scripts so good. All of it is rooted in reality. This is probably what happens. Was I happy with that? I think I was more excited to do it because it’s just so cringe and horrible. I personally love to hate a character. Or hate that I love them all the same time. I think it really sets us on this precedent of what the rest of this show is going to look like, that you can have no expectations other than somebody is going to do something to gain. I think it sets us up in a real nice way.
Q: How do you take the show tackles the potential for abuse and harassment in the workplace?
A:I think, like a lot of other large, thematic things that the show incorporates, like racism, sexism, what the show does with abuse and harassment in the workplace is just show it. All the show does is say, this happened or this happens, and we’re not going to make any suggestion about how you the viewer should feel about it, which I really appreciate as well. As a viewer, I don’t like being told how to feel about something. But I think Industry, Mickey, Konrad, and everyone else on the show does a really good job of just opening the curtain, allowing you to see what happens and how it plays out, and giving our audience the option to feel how they feel, or just start a conversation.
Q: I watched the first few episodes pretty quickly because I saw them at AFI Fest back in November and then I was continuing to watch one a week, and then all of a sudden, everything was available on HBO Max. Is this a show that is better to binge or better to be spaced out?
A: Ooh. I’m a big binger. I think it’s a personal preference thing. If I had not been in the show and been a viewer, I would have been like, well damn, I guess I have to watch the whole show now at 11pm on a Wednesday or whatever it was. It is definitely binge-worthy. I think the pace of the show, the excitement, the leaves you wanting more lends itself to being very bingeable, but if you’re a masochist, maybe like to wait a little bit.
Q: Do you have any other projects that you’re working on that you want to share?
A: I just wrapped up my shooting schedule on the new A24 film called Bodies, Bodies, Bodies. So that’s on its way at some point, eventually, you never know when shit’s going to come out, but I loved it. Again, I bonded with all my cast members and I’m very, very excited about the finished project. I think it’s going to be really special.
Q: Do you have a sense of any timing for season two of Industry?
A: No, I wish I did. But no, I have no idea. I imagine 2022. When in the year, I don’t know. Don’t quote me on that, because you never know what’s going to happen. We’re about to start shooting.
Season one of Industry is now streaming on HBO Max.