Myha’la Herrold talks collaboration, representation on HBO’s ‘Industry’

Photo of the actress in HBO's TV show, "Industry"

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Much like the recently graduated investment bankers they portray on HBO’s new drama series “Industry,” Myha’la Herrold and her castmates found themselves navigating a high-stakes, high-visibility job without many prior roles under their belt. But make no mistake: Inexperienced does not mean unprepared.

“We all went to school and we prepared for this,” Herrold said in a roundtable interview with The Daily Californian. “So it was like, here’s our training in action, you know? It was cool.”

On “Industry,” Herrold plays Harper Stern, an American woman who moves to London to work as a graduate employee at the high-level investment bank Pierpoint & Co. Though there are several graduates who participate in the program, the firm can only offer permanent positions to a few — the rest are eliminated as part of an annual “reduction in force.”

“The ultimate goal is to be undeniable and not to get fired and to be the best person in the room,” Herrold said, describing Harper and her coworkers’ motivations. “Which I also sometimes identify with.”

Herrold sees many parallels between herself and the character she portrays, especially in their work ethic and their prioritization of career over romance. But there are some key places where the two differ: While Harper is severely cutthroat, Herrold prefers a softer approach.

“My goal is to be a pleasant person to work with, a good collaborator, a cooperator, a good listener, a good responder,” Herrold explained. “I want to be the kind of person that other people say, ‘Oh, she’s really good at her job, and she’s also the kind of person I want to spend time with.’ ”

This seems to have been a successful approach. While on set, Herrold forged tight bonds with many of her costars, including Harry Lawtey, Marisa Abela and David Jonsson, each of whom play fellow graduates at Pierpoint. But Herrold made an especially strong connection with Ken Leung, who portrays Harper’s mentor and desk supervisor.

“I learned so much from him over the process,” Herrold gushed. “Not just what he was doing with the script, but how he handled himself on set, how he handled his work, how he worked with the director, or the writers, or other actors, or even the grips and the camera folks. It was a real privilege to watch him move from my point of view.”

Herrold reported that the on-set environment was extremely positive and that collaboration was encouraged between the actors, writers and directors. Across its eight episodes, “Industry” saw four different directors come and go, including “Girls” creator Lena Dunham. Though some of the directors only worked on one episode, Herrold remarked that they all brought excitement to the set. In particular, though, the show’s writers were a key part of fostering that collaborative environment.

“From the beginning, they were like, ‘We want you to pour as much of yourself into this role as you can. We want your insight. We’re not American, and we’re certainly not Black women, so whatever you can contribute in the realm of the world, we want you to do that,’ ” Herrold recalled. “So us as actors, we felt really a part of the process of creating these characters and building these relationships in the confines of the world that the writers created for us.”

For Herrold, portraying Harper was especially rewarding because it was an opportunity to bring to life a unique, unpredictable form of representation, one that isn’t typically found on television.

“I was very excited to be a part of this show that tells the story of a Black American woman in this finance industry that is not what you would expect it to be,” Herrold said. “Because the reality of the situation — that maybe we haven’t shown in this industry — is that Blackness is multitudes. There are all kinds of different Black experiences. And I was really excited to be a part of one that I hadn’t seen yet, that demands that we interrogate what all of these things mean as Black people.”

In terms of what the future has in store for “Industry,” Herrold is as excited as the audience is to find out where Harper and her colleagues are headed.

“Wherever the writers want to take this, I leave myself in their very capable hands,” she laughed. “I’m looking forward to being surprised, just like I imagine everyone else is. Whatever it is, I’m here for it.”

Matthew DuMont is a deputy arts & entertainment editor. Contact him at [email protected].