Myha’la Herrold (Modern Love) is ready to stake her claim as lasting talent with the release of her first television starring role, Industry. HBO’s latest hit is about the high profile, high stakes world of finance, centered on the new class of intakes at London’s prestigious investment bank, Pierpoint & Co. Herrold is the clear breakout star and I found myself rooting for her character, Harper Stern, every single episode.
Harper is an American transplant, not born with a silver spoon in her mouth. She has to work extremely hard, often choosing herself and risking a lot to maintain her rightful place at Pierpoint & Co. Harper is exactly the kind of character you want to win on a show like this. She’s ambitious, naturally gifted, and trying to make a name for herself as the only Black woman in this often harsh and male-dominated company. Harper has hipped herself to the game to get what she wants, and I love seeing Black women thrive and shine.
During this deeply engaging conversation with Complex, Myha’la Herrold discussed music’s role in the show, how she hopes to make Black Twitter proud, HBO’s belief in Black women and our stories, Harper’s growth, and vulnerabilities, and more!
Music plays such a huge part in Industry, with a lot of good tracks that align with the themes of the show. What do you feel like Harper’s soundtrack would be?
I have a whole Spotify playlist that's called “Harper” that includes everything she would’ve been rocking from her fifth-grade dance to her high school years. Songs she’d be rocking to with her white friends, her Black friends, and her family. Harper has a lot of range, like me, and a song like Usher’s “Yeah!” would be her favorite track at her high school dance. Otherwise, she'd probably be like a total wallflower.
What songs and types of music got you into the mindset of portraying her?
While we were filming, Euphoria had come out in the States and I was listening to the original score that Labrinth did. I love that show and that original score by Labrinth was very visceral to listen to. Anything deeply emotional put me in the headspace to portray Harper because regardless of what was going on in her life or the scene, everything was intensity at a millionth degree.
I'm really glad that you brought up Euphoria because I do feel like something that has been pretty impactful, at least for me and a lot of the people in my friend group, is how HBO is thriving when it comes to Black content. HBO is telling more authentic stories about Black women and allowing us to have our voices amplified, whether it be through talent or writing. Euphoria, Insecure, Lovecraft Country, and I May Destroy You have been some of the biggest titles this year with that kind of authenticity that we've been craving to see in our communities and within ourselves. Can you tell me about your experience on this show and the importance of having a certain level of creative freedom to portray these kinds of stories and what's most important to us in our communities?
I felt so blessed that from the moment I entered this project, Mickey Down and Konrad Kay, our creators and writers, said to me, "Listen, we can only write so much about this experience. We are inviting you to bring as much of yourself and what you think is appropriate here to the story. Please fill it with all the things we cannot." I know that that is so rare. Already, I was like, "This is going to be very special that they were inviting me." They're like, "You're American, you're a woman, and you're a Black American." Even with the lingo, they were like, "If something feels more appropriate, say." By the end of it, I was adding in all kinds of craziness.
I love that you said that you guys are collaborating on Harper’s story. Talk a little bit about how you dove deeper into this specific industry and finding other Black and/or brown women to talk to to have a fresh and authentic portrayal.
One of the first people I spoke to was a woman of color and consultant from the industry that the show brought on. She provided insight into the technical parts, but also shared her personal story and knowledge. I was like, "Wow, this is exactly the person Harper is going to be in five years.” While I wasn’t as well-versed going in with investment banking, I did relate to Harper being a newbie in the workplace.
When I signed on for this role, I had just graduated from college and moved to New York City. In a lot of ways, it felt like my experience was mirroring Harper's. She had made it to this very prestigious, high caliber place. I had just entered the largest scale TV show that I had ever been a part of ever in my life, suddenly with a lot of responsibility and in a country I had never been to before. We were kind of doing this dance; Harper would do [something] and I'd be like, "Okay, I'm right behind you girl." Then as she got more comfortable in her environment, I too became more comfortable in my environment.
And of course, you have the experience of being Black in this world, and that oftentimes means working harder in every space we enter.
Exactly. I knew what it felt like to be a Black woman training in my special skill and then entering the world, trying to make it with my special skill. I have to be 10 times better than everybody in the room to get noticed. I have to look like I know what I'm doing before I get there. You can't see any cracks in this liner. I was already living this. So, when it came to Harper's experiences, I like, "Yeah. I know this." It might be acting, but I know exactly what she's going through. Then I just added a bunch of jargon on top of it. I think just because I've lived it, it will be authentic. Hopefully, across all industries & careers, people will be able to be like, "I know exactly what that feels like."
What are some personal nuances and lived experiences you brought to the role?
My experience is as a mixed Black person in America, growing up mostly with my white relatives. I've always had an interesting push and pull situation where I question, “What is my Blackness?” “Can someone else tell me what my Blackness means?” “If I do or don't know about this thing, does that then impact my Blackness?” It's always been really interesting to me to watch Black stories and relate to some things and not others. So, with my portrayal of Harper, it was really important for me to say and stand in the fact that audiences are going to see a Black woman in this show because I'm Black. You mentioned I May Destroy You; in that show, creator Michaela Coel let everyone know that the Black experience is multifaceted. Every single Black person’s experience is different. With Harper, no one will be able to negate that about her. Harper’s experience is inherently a Black experience because I'm always Black and so is she. I am very excited to not only be telling my own Black experience in this story because it's me but also one that we don't hear about often.
I love to see the many layers of Harper and multi-faceted Black women onscreen in general, tell me what the feedback and reception have been thus far, and does Black Twitter approve?
We don't see many stories that center Black women in finance and I'm telling you they are out there. It's nice and amazing to hear from critically acclaimed writers and publications like, "This is a great show.” I'm only worried about Black Twitter. They are the people I'm worried about the most. Thus far, they have been very kind to me. The most exciting thing is seeing Black women being like, "Wow, PTSD," or like, "Harper's giving me what my experience is. It's so exciting to see my story on screen." That is the most fulfilling, greatest honor I could ask for, or even imagined for myself because I know that these people exist. They just haven't seen themselves onscreen. It's a huge privilege to be able to be one of the first people to do it.
Well, there is no shortage of dynamic women on the show and I feel like there is so much potential for them to partner together and dethrone some of their male counterparts, particularly with Harper and Yasmin. Talk about that dynamic.
Well, I'm biased because I know the ins and outs of these people and I’m very close to Marisa, our working relationship is amazing. I think with Harper and Yasmin, their relationship is so rich because there is equal parts amount of resentment and adoration. Harper so desperately wishes she could wear heels, be more conventionally attractive, and could work a room as Yasmine can do. She thinks, "If I had that, I would be unstoppable” because as she sees it right now, she has the smarts, but she can't use my assets so to speak at work, and she isn’t very charming. So, she admires and resents Yasmin. From Yasmin’s perspective, she's like, "Harper is so intelligent. She is so forefront in her relationships. She's given all these opportunities because she presents as a professional and non-threatening because of the way she walks in the room." Naturally, Yasmin wants that. They kind of gravitate towards each other sort of in an accidental way. I think outside the bank, these people would never have crossed paths, but here it’s a nod to the woman's struggle in this business.
Speaking of pivotal relationships, Harper’s boss, Eric, is proving to be a true ride or die for her. In a lot of workplaces and on this show, you never know if something inappropriate will be asked of you to advance. Harper’s boss is a wild card and cringy at times, so at first, I wasn’t sure if his intentions were pure, but now I see he has her back and wants her to succeed. Tell me about what Harper likes about Eric?
Yeah, that relationship was cringy, but in a good way. You never know when a working relationship as a young person if your superiors are going to take advantage of you. What Harper likes about herself and Eric is that neither of them is doing what anyone expects them to do. No one expects a young Black professional to come in with falsified records to lie about this, to be doing drugs. She's not giving you anything you want and Eric's the same way. He's this Asian American man who dresses in the middle of the floor and swinging his bats while yelling at people. All of these things are unprofessional and fireable [offenses], but what she likes about him is that he takes no shit and he puts down more money than anyone else in the room. So, Harper is drawn to emulating because, in her eyes, that makes you undeniable and irreplaceable regardless of your attitude.
What does Eric value about their relationship, especially since he’s risking a lot professionally as well?
Eric’s got this sort of underdog thing going on and he sees so much potential in Harper. He's like, "I see something in you that is in me, being othered and capable. I'm going to give you the opportunity because I know you could be what he calls a world killer, just like I am." Because he's talking about success on paper, but it also complicates things because it puts you in their thrall. He can say, "Oh, well, I gave you this opportunity. Here's what you're going to do for me." We always know that's possible. Harper is also capable of doing that. We watch her try to manipulate a superior in the bank, which is ballsy and weird and crazy. She's the only one who would try that because she's like, "Here's how much money I brought in this month."
You are killing it on this show, so how does this character play into the legacy you want to leave career-wise?
My mom always said be yourself 100 percent of the time and the rest will follow. Money, success, friendships—just focus on being healthy and happy. So, I've always said, I'm going to just like do me and hopefully, the work will find me. After a sort of tumultuous year of getting very close to something and not getting it and getting very close to something else and then seeing who they cast and being like, "Wow, okay. They were never going to want me; this project came along. they saw me and only me and what I was offering. They said, "You are so interesting. What you bring to the life of this character is something we could never have thought about because we don't live in that world. We like you exactly how you are. This has been a great place to start telling stories because this is the only kind of story I could ever tell, the experience of a young, Black American girl and what goes on in her life and all kinds of different avenues. I like that this is a good start but also an intense one. Hopefully, we'll keep throwing some exciting things out there.
In terms of my legacy, I just want to be known for artistic and personal integrity and that flows throughout my work. I'm really proud of this as a start.
Industry is available to stream over on HBO Max.