Myha’la Herrold’s DMs are mostly filled with people telling her how much they appreciate her. As Harper Stern on the HBO sleeper hit Industry, she plays a gifted American outsider starting from the bottom at the fictional London investment bank Pierpoint & Co. Her performance has resonated. “Black people in finance send me messages and say, ‘I felt very seen,’” the 26-year-old actor tells me from her Brooklyn apartment. “And, honestly, that does it for me.”
Occasionally, an old white guy will crop up to gripe about the show’s inaccuracies—the chief complaint being that, in real life, people aren’t constantly having sex in the office. Herrold jovially dismisses this: “Boring! Loser! You’re not doing it!”
Her co-star, 25-year-old Marisa Abela, chimes in from her London flat. Abela portrays Yasmin Kara-Hanani, a rich-girl polyglot who, despite practically being bred to enter this world, struggles to find her footing. “I had the top one percent in my DMs,” she shares with a groan.
“Of course you did, bitch,” Herrold replies affectionately. “Of course you did.”
“Finance meme pages, and they’re all about where you summer and where you winter,” Abela continues. “I was just like, ‘Wow, this show is really niche. This is who loves Industry.’”
Clearly, the show has clicked with the financial sphere. But it’s also beloved by those of us who don’t have fleece vests grafted to our bodies. From Wall Street to Billions to Succession, the 99 percent have long found financial dramas irresistible. Industry, created by Mickey Down and Konrad Kay—two former bankers themselves—with a pilot executive produced and directed by Lena Dunham, takes a familiar formula and remixes it by focusing on the people just entering the biz. The first season, released in late 2020, introduced us to four horny, hard-partying grads vying to claim their spots among the Bloomberg Terminals. Their prefrontal cortexes may not be fully developed yet, but they’re still responsible for handling hundreds of millions of dollars and, even more daunting, navigating delicate professional and personal relationships. In their downtime, they snort and screw everything in sight. Enclosed in a hyper-macho environment, within a typically dude-dominated genre, Herrold and Abela are easily the most captivating part of the show.
In this way, Industry has emerged as the first great Gen Z workplace drama. (Nevermind the masses rejecting careerist ambition on TikTok or the trend pieces about elders fearing their 20-something colleagues.) Look past the suits and these kids are diverse, sexually fluid, and pharmaceutically literate. While the show takes place in rarefied spaces, it nails a dynamic familiar to plenty of young people: they can tell when they experience something not quite right in the workplace, but they usually end up brushing it off or, more often than not on Industry, perpetuating the problem. They also quickly understand that any outward promises of inclusion this generation have been sold are mainly lip service and corporate ass-covering. Yasmin has an abusive and demeaning manager; Harper is groped by a client early on in the series. “The show’s a collision of the old world and the new world. [We’re] right in the middle,” Herrold says of their characters. “It’s a hard place to be as a Gen Z cusper. It’s the worst of both worlds,” Abela adds. By season two, the even younger incoming grads are more confident about setting boundaries and speaking up. (Life may have been slightly ahead of art in this sense: after the first season aired, the actual junior bankers at Goldman Sachs rebelled, protesting unreasonable working hours and demands to be back in the office.)
Despite the clear fondness and close friendship Herrold and Abela have, they spend the second season, which premieres on August 1st, as adversaries. Season one ended with Harper double-crossing Abela and several other colleagues in favor of her mentor, Eric, played by Ken Leung. When they run into each other in the office after a long pandemic apart, the very first words the two exchange are “bitch” and “cunt,” the latter very much not in the affable British sense.
Now full-time hires and no longer at the bottom of the food chain, they’re pursuing different paths within Pierpoint. This time around, Yasmin is growing more assured and forceful. She’s still working on the foreign exchange desk—where her boss is no longer abusive, but has returned radically transformed as a different kind of asshole—and trying to schmooze her way into a gig in private wealth management, where she would be working for an alluring French female boss. Meanwhile, Harper goes rogue in the sales department, trying to reel in business with a billionaire titan hedge fund manager, played by Jay Duplass. She’s as bold and shrewd as ever though, as Herrold puts it, also “quite literally insane.”
Industry differs from your traditional finance show in that Herrold and Abela are, respectively, one and two on the call sheet. Writing Harper and Yasmin as the most compelling leads came naturally for Down and Kay, who recognized as junior bankers the specific challenges their female colleagues faced. “When we got on to the bars after work, there was always a sense that they were having a slightly different experience to you,” Kay explained. “There were a hundred negotiations that they were going through in their heads that me and Mickey, as men in that space, were just simply not having to do.”
Two hundred audition tapes came through for Harper before the creators found themselves immediately captivated by Herrold, a recent graduate of Carnegie Mellon’s theater program. Abela was wrapping up school at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art when Industry was the hot script circulating around campus. “The tagline for Yasmin was ‘vulnerability disguised by Prada,’” Abela says. “And I was like, ‘Guys, I got this.’”
Abela consulted with some female bankers ahead of time to get the lay of the land. Herrold chose to go in blind, drawing on the parallels to her real life. “I allowed my own personal experience of being a young black woman in America, getting her first big job and moving to a different country,” Herrold says. “I understood deeply the imposter syndrome that she’s feeling when she gets to this place, the need to impress these people, all of this new responsibility on her shoulders.”
As newbies on set, headlining their first performances, they learned how to navigate the unspoken intricacies of the job, on the job. Abela was inspired to be more assertive by two polar forces: seeing Herrold being unafraid to ask for what she wanted, while playing Yasmin weakly doing the opposite. “I’m trying to get better at having courage in my own convictions,” Abela says. “I think I’ve learned that from Yasmin, because I’ll read the script and I’ll be like, ‘That’s nauseating.’” As with their characters, they returned for season two more comfortable and confident. “I was super excited to come back and just be together and get to do this crazy show without the deer in headlights effect,” Herrold says. “Now I can just dig both heels into this with no fear because I know what it is. I know what’s expected of me and I can have a good time.”
Some of their demands revolved around the show’s sex scenes, which, even by HBO standards, are so frequent and matter-of-fact as to raise an eyebrow. (“I want to do it before lunch,” Abela says. “I don’t need a roast chicken floating around in my belly.”) In the most memorable moment from last season, Yasmin forces Robert, a colleague she’s psychosexually toying with, to eat his own ejaculate, a sequence that makes the Wolf of Wall Street plane ride look PG-rated. I ask the two to theorize why the sex on Industry got so many people talking.
“It’s not Game of Thrones. It’s not fantastical,” Abela says. “It’s not like we’re lying in sheets of fur and by candlelight. You’re at the office, you go home, in the same harsh lighting.”
“I’m pretty sure none of it is romantic,” Herrold adds. “I think people expect to see sex because two people like each other. On this show, you’re seeing sex because two people hate each other.”
Far more confounding than the sex is the financial jargon. (One representative line: “Ask Rishi for the level of one-year, one-year Euro swap in 500K DVO1.”) The production keeps consultants on hand to walk through trades so they can get the gist of it, playing each scene with the precisely calibrated emotion—though the actors still don’t quite understand what they’re saying.
“Even in these big trades, it’s not just like, ‘Harper’s making a big trade and it’s a lot of money.’ She’s scheming and plotting and scamming, or she’s lying to this person or she’s hiding something or tricking someone,” Herrold says. “When I say ‘sell at 62 spot 25,’ I have no fucking idea what that means. I’m not taking the skills and the information that I’ve learned from the show to make money in the real world. No way.”
Still, their stocks are rising. Industry has since launched them both to bigger projects: a few minutes before our interview, it’s publicly announced that Abela has a part in the upcoming Greta Gerwig Barbie movie. (Herrold puts her video call on mute to scream about the good news.) Herrold stars in the new horror satire Bodies Bodies Bodies, out in early August, and recently finished filming Leave the World Behind across from Ethan Hawke, Mahershala Ali, and Julia Roberts. “Julia’s literally the baddest beezee in the game,” she says. “I’m obsessed with her.”
Spending so much time in the world of high finance may not have made it any more appealing, but it did lead to one bizarre development: pity for the finance bro. “What Industry did was make me more sympathetic towards them. If I passed some bros on the street, I’d be like, ‘ugh,’” Herrold says. “And now I’m more like, ‘Oh, they’re hurting.’”