HBO’s ‘Industry’ Puts Stock in New Talent To Capture Young Ambition in a Cutthroat World

Every generation has its ambitious go-getters seeking fortune for a wide variety of reasons. “Industry” dramatizes the upstarts of today, personified by a crop of young graduates desperate to rise inside a prestigious London bank. This HBO/BBC production finds a way to make the archaic world of finance accessible through its band of characters. It is a show about how today’s fresh college grads pursue wealth in a world where economics degrees are promoted as pathways to instant opulence. 

Myha’la Herrold and Marisa Alba play Harper and Yasmin, two up and comers who approach their goals with different wiring. They are part of a group of new prospects at Pierpoint & Co., a major London bank. Everyone here has the same goal: Rise high and make lots of money. “There were so many people that I knew who said, ‘I’m a banker,’ ‘I’m into finance,’ and literally I never even thought of questioning them further. It was a world I had to dive into head-first to figure it out,” Alba told Entertainment Voice. “I soon realized it’s more insidious than you would think. It even gets into everyday language and jargon. It was definitely a leap from my own life.” 

Of course, success can mean different things to different people. Harper is nervous because she is an American who did not attend a very prestigious college, going so far as to drag her feet in delivering her transcripts to the office. Yasmin wants to prove she can chart her own path away from her wealthy publishing family. Harper lucks out with a decent boss, Eric (Ken Leung), the managing director who has a calm but focused demeanor. Yasmin has to endure a sexist pig for a superior (while taking endless lunch orders). Surrounding them are fellow prospects like Robert (Harry Lawtey), who flirts with Yasmin but is self-conscious of his working class background, Gus (David Jonsson), who juggles boyfriend issues with the demands of the office, and Hari (Nabhaan Rizwan), who is willing to sleep in the building to get ahead. 

“Industry” collects seasoned talent behind and fresh in front of the camera. It’s not that different from the world of the story itself. For Alba and Herrold this show marks their TV breakthrough while the pilot was directed with tight precision by Lena Dunham. “I was at drama school at the time, in my final year,” said Alba, “I was studying in London and into the second term of my final year. I got the audition and thought, ‘this is so cool.’ Just reading it, the script was so amazing. You don’t get a script like that landing in your lap every day. That was in January and I didn’t get the part until June, so it was a long process.”

The first few episodes of “Industry” are all about the drive of its prospects. Moments capture the plight of every young newcomer who is made to get coffee and lunch for their superiors while dreaming of one day being a big player. The more personal stories rarely register. Harper has a long distance boyfriend who she masturbates with online, but her real obsession is bagging a worthy client for the bank. Yasmin’s own boyfriend is such a boring distraction it’s no wonder she starts subtly flirting with Robert. But it’s not a show cheering on ravenous greed. There is a price to pay in this world. The pilot closes on a sudden death that rattles the office, and it helps set the stage for Harper and the others to pause, if only briefly, to ponder the consequences of slaving to death just to feed the bank’s coffers. “I drew inspiration from a lot of experiences I’ve had in my own life. I think Yasmin is a people pleaser. She’s never had such a rough go of it. She’s the kind of girl where if she hears someone say, ‘Oh I love tulips,’ the next day they will walk in and find tulips on their desk. If her boss tells her to get a coffee she thinks it’s something tangible that she can do very well. But she doesn’t realize this is her workplace. She’s not supposed to cultivate friendships. These people need to take her seriously.”

Alba was particularly influenced by women she has met who have had to prove themselves in such a terrain. There are scenes where it feels like #MeToo has never been uttered in the halls of Pierpoint & Co. “I was inspired by a lot of women I know. A lot of girls I know, it’s about how do you make your indispensable as a woman if you’re not given the autonomy or the power to make major decisions? You have to do the small stuff and make yourself invaluable in that sense. I’ve been there. It’s a tendency in a lot of young women to be people pleasers. It’s hard to say ‘no’ a lot of the time. The world of the show is a different world, but that’s one of the ways in which it made sense to me.”

“Industry” does take a few detours into the recognizable tales of debauchery associated with the world of stocks and banking. Characters destress by clubbing and drinking hard, hooking up in bathrooms and then puking the next morning at a train station. Lacking is the more visceral energy of “The Wolf of Wall Street,” instead it’s more somber. It’s all a cover for when at the office Harper and Yasmin confront verbal attitudes bordering on hazing. “Those of us in artistic industries have the privilege now of living in a post-Me Too world. People have to behave in a way that’s right. There’s a general culture of understanding the general state of things now. Whereas you go into individual businesses and they’re not necessarily under the same microscope. Showing that and bringing it to light is important. Everyone is not up to speed as they need to be. I knew someone who worked in the finance industry and asked him to invite me to a party with friends who also work in the industry. I spoke to men and women alike about what it’s like to work in the finance industry. It’s funny because the men’s response was, ‘oh it’s great nowadays. If you’re a man or woman it’s the same thing. You just have to behave the same way. You can’t cry or whatever. And as long as you do that everyone will treat you the same.’ But when you ask the women they go, ‘it’s hell’ (laughs). I think it’s true in that world. If you cry, go cry in the toilets. You can’t give anyone the rope to hang yourself with. You have to be on your A game 24/7.”

This is that rare show where the viewer can sense how the actors themselves are flushed with the energy of trying something big. “We all had to move to Wales. It was far enough away where it was just us in this bubble for six months. That translates onto the screen. Even in the moments where we’re not laughing or joking with each other you sense that trust. Because we had grown so close as friends and could go that extra mile,” said Alba. 

Some of “Industry” will feel like a relic from a pre-Covid world, even politically when Harper advises a client that Trump may become more hostile towards China, and in a world of recurring lockdowns the bar scenes have their own nostalgia. But what is ageless is the emphasis on ambition in a hyper capitalist business where markets erase borders. Yet for Alba it remains a science that’s hard to master. “Culturally it’s interesting how in terms of the language and jargon, it’s so set within this financial world. It’s a specific world. But I wouldn’t give financial advice to anyone (laughs), including me.”

Industry” season one premieres Nov. 9 and airs Mondays at 10 p.m. ET on HBO.