Myha’la Herrold on Her Breakthrough Role in HBO’s ‘Industry’ and Working With Lena Dunham
For Myha’la Herrold landing a lead role in “Industry” was a case of life imitating art. The high energy HBO series follows a crop of eager graduates as they enter the world of international finance. Produced in conjunction with the BBC, the show is set in the slick offices of London banks and corporate boardrooms. Herrold plays Harper, a young American now working at Pierpoint & Co., a top UK bank. She and a group of ambitious graduates are thrown into Pierpoint’s cutthroat world of wheeling and dealing. Their plight is one familiar to many an intern or assistant. They hope to land permanent jobs at the bank. This entails hunting down clients, proving you can make money for the institution, or in the case of Yasmin (Marisa Abela), do any task commanded such as taking lunch orders. Some of their superiors, like Eric (Ken Leung), function as firm but wise sources of knowledge. Other bosses can be sexist bullies. Harper feels particular pressure because she is aware her academic degree is not as prestigious as those of her peers. Along with the feverish pace of office life, the ensemble of “Industry” also deal with the drama of broken hearts, lustful attractions and overbearing families with high expectations.
While Herrold had to absorb all of the financial information that drives the world of “Industry,” fully relating to her character came easily through an underdog similarity. This is her first major role in a TV series. Previously Herrold had mostly done short films and brief appearances in shows like “Modern Love.” She shared with Entertainment Voice about breaking through with her role as an aspiring financial mind.
“Industry” generates much energy with a fresh angle on the world of finance. How familiar were you with the world of this show before taking on the role of Harper?
I wasn’t familiar at all… So when this audition came in through my email I looked at it and thought, “Ok, cool, this seems cool, I’ll slap it on.” I sent in an audition tape and was asked to do additional tapes. I did those. Then I received additional scripts and got a sense of what was going on in the wider picture. By the script for the fourth episode I was sweating bullets. It was so intense. I just knew this was something special and these writers were something special. I knew that it was going to be really exciting. Then I was asked to do a meeting with Lena Dunham, who directed the pilot, which was crazy. I was like, “I’m meeting with you? That can’t be!” But it went very well and soon I was called to fly to London and test with some of the other actors. That was actually my first time out of the country, my first stamp on my passport. Then I came back home and two or three days later I was called and told I was cast, and two or three days after that it was my 23rd birthday.
How deep did you dive into the real-life environment of London finance to get a feel for it?
This is another testament to the writing and just the heart of the show. It is indeed a finance drama but it is only that because the drama is set in the finance world. Our setting is a bank but what’s really going on is what’s happening to these kinds of people and how their relationships start to build between the young graduates and each other, between their superiors, them and clients, etc. What’s exciting about placing it in a bank is that the stakes are so unbelievably high. They are responsible for billions of dollars at a time. So far as engaging with the finance world, I tried at first to understand what is a bearish market but it went right over my head, in-between my head, around it (laughs). There was just no way of understanding that. Math is not a thing that I understand. I was like, “I don’t get this.” Initially, production provided us with some resources, we met with a few actual traders on Zoom and they walked us through how Bloomberg works. We had consultants on set who helped us with the very serious lingo. That helped us get a basic understanding of what the thing was and how our characters should feel about it. Once I understood what was “good” and “bad” I could play it. But do I handle my own finances? Am I now a trader? Absolutely not! I would never do that to myself or to anyone else (laughs).
Lena Dunham directs the pilot and is also an executive producer on the series. What was it like working with her?
Getting to work with and to know Lena Dunham has been one of the greatest gifts of this project… It was exciting to get to know her as a person. It was so joyful to discover she is one of the most gracious human beings I have ever met. One of the things that I admired the most was how she handles professionalism. I aspire to be that kind of person in this world. She can lead a room with integrity and respect but while maintaining her very fun personality. She really knows what she’s after and has a clear vision. She knows how to communicate it so well. She’s an actor as well so she knew how to speak to me in a way that she understands. Lena would tell us and the writers, “bring as much of yourself to this as you can.” That experience inspired me to want to direct as well. As women there are all kinds of expectations put on you as well about a woman leading a room and she just surprises everyone. She makes everyone excited about wanting to work with her.
“Industry” is essentially about an ensemble. You and your fellow cast members were a team making a show about individuals also thrown into a group environment. What was the dynamic like between everyone?
These are some of my dearest friends now. Like, be at my wedding type shit. They were all inspiring and you could show up on set ready to play. That’s what you want with a cast. Everyone is so respectable about being prepared but to the point where you can try whatever. But for me, going to this other country all by myself for the first time, there was a massive amount of culture shock and there was this serious possibility of feeling incredibly lonely. So I kind of forced them all to be friends with me because I kind of needed them (laughs). But they all embraced me with so much love and kindness. We got on so well. You don’t necessarily expect that but it happened. We were all these young people embarking on our first massive project, living away from home for six months. So it was quite an emotional experience that made us lean against each other. Eventually that had an impact on how we moved within the show as well.
As you mentioned earlier, really grasping this world of finance can be quite challenging if you’re not familiar with its maze of rules and methods. But what is one thing you hope viewers take home from “Industry” when they tune in?
One thing I learned is that the world of finance is full of people from literally all over the world and all walks of life whether that includes race, gender, class, all of that. They all come filled with their own meaning of success. That’s what they really seek, success. Oftentimes that means money and they want it for different reasons. This show exposes so many of those stories. They all want a similar thing but for different purposes. This world is not just the top because it starts at the bottom. All of those stories are special and relatable in so many ways because of the emotion. This show is not about trading or about money. It’s about the relationships of the people in this world. Navigating it all in this pressure cooker environment makes for very exciting storytelling.
Like Harper, now you’ve made your debut in an equally high pressure environment. Yet the pandemic has also impacted everyone and everything in the TV industry. What is your next move now that TV and film production is moving forward again?
Man, I don’t know (laughs). Life is so unpredictable and I don’t know what’s on the roster. I personally have been hungry for escapism, for good TV, for something to bury my lack of ability of experiencing things with people, because I crave that. I hope people will fall in love with the world of “Industry.” As far as moving forward I’m a go with the flow person. I have been very blessed and privileged to have felt safe this year. I know that hasn’t been the case for everyone. I hope that continues to be the case for me. In the industry things have started to pick up again. I had the pleasure of working on a set post-Covid, so I’ve experienced what the new protocols are like. It was a pleasure. I felt very safe. Something I hope we hold onto after all this is that a person’s health, their well-being, is the most important thing.
“Industry” season one premieres Nov. 9 and airs Mondays at 10 p.m. ET on HBO.