Myha’La Herrold of ‘Industry’ Discusses Black Representation in TV and Getting Your Big Break During a Global Pandemic

A selfie of Myha'La Herrold. She is a young black woman, make-up free, her hair slicked back, She has her nose and septum piercing with a ring, a silver ring can be seen in her left ear. She is posing with a bouquet of yellow flowers and smiling.
Credit: @mmyhala

Meet Myha’la Herrold, the breakout star from HBO’s Industry. She plays Harper Stern, a bright-eyed American trying to make her way into the finance world in London. The eight-part series delves into the lives of 5 young graduates all competing for limited permanent positions at an investment bank. We watch these multi-dimensional characters show grit and energy through their trial and tribulations by sacrificing their body, mind and egos in hopes of landing a permanent spot at Pierpoint & Co. The show gives a fresh and sexy twist to a rather tedious job and makes the business talk easy and understandable.

On top of her starring role in Industry, Myha’la has worked on the anthology series Modern Love and Rashaad Ernesto Green’s drama, Premature.

Screen Queens’ guest contributor Kadija Osman had the opportunity to chat with Herrold about her new show, her casting process and budding female friendships. The show had its premiere on November 8 and all eight episodes are currently available to stream on HBO Max and releasing weekly on BBC Two.

KO: What about Harper Stern made you want to play her and what was the casting process like?

MH: Harper’s drive is what I immediately identified with. Her success-by-any-means-necessary approach may not be one I share with her, but her fierce confidence in her abilities and her assuredness that she belongs amongst the best in her field is something I’ve always tried to lead with. What I love about Harper is she’s taken out insurance on herself, meaning she knows she’s the best because she’s worked hard to be as good as she is. I strive to put in the work that I know is necessary to be able to say ‘Yes I belong here because I have done the work and proven myself through it’. She’s also extremely good at scams which I am not, but wish I could be! (laughs) 

The casting process felt pretty fast to me. I sent in a series of self-tapes before I met the writers, Mickey and Konrad, over Zoom where they gave me some notes to re-tape with. I then met with Lena Dunham to read — that was a crazy experience. She was so kind and really just fun which I guess I wasn’t exactly expecting. I had no expectations really so it was all a really pleasant and exciting surprise. Shortly after I flew out to Wales to meet and read with the other cast. A few days after that read I got the phone call that I had the job! Two days later it was my birthday. One of the coolest weeks of my life.

Without saying too much, let’s just say Harper Stern isn’t all who she says she is. What is it like to see the fans’ reactions to her so far?

I love seeing how folks are reacting to the show and to Harper. The most affirming response I get is from Black women who actually work in the finance industry saying how excited they are to see themselves represented on screen. I’m not sure they will, but I hope people continue to root for Harper. One of my favourite things about this show is you’re never really sure who you should be rooting for.

A still from the TV show 'Industry. 5 young 20-somethings are seen dressed in business wear against a city skyline backdrop, they are all looking towards something off-camera.

What do you want viewers —especially black girls— to take away from your character?

Most of all, I hope that Black folks who watch this show will see Harper and recognise that she’s not a typical Black character we see on screen. She’s not a trope or a stereotype, and that doesn’t make her any less Black. The Black experience is multifaceted and vast and broad. If I were a young Black girl watching this, I’d think “it’s so exciting to watch a Black girl on screen not through a white, predominately male, gaze. And that means I can be whatever I want to be and it doesn’t diminish or discount my Blackness.”

How much did you know about the finance world prior to filming, and was it a bit daunting stepping into it or did it come naturally to you?

I knew absolutely nothing about finance other than I didn’t understand it. I did my best to know as much as I could and as much as I needed to know to make it sound like I knew what I was talking about. I knew as long as it looked like Harper knew what she was talking about then I’d done my job right! It did take a minute to adjust and get used to the language but eventually you sort of fall into a rhythm.

One thing I’m a sucker for when it comes to shows and films are female friendships. I root for them with all my heart so can you tell me a little bit about Harper and Yasmin’s friendship and how it evolves?

Harper and Yasmin sort of fall into a relationship that I believe if it weren’t for their work setting probably never would have happened. It’s also really satisfying to be a part of the making of this relationship that is riddled with competition and resentment but that is overpowered by the deep need they both have for camaraderie and respect. Though their hustles are a bit different, they both respect and are jealous of the other’s hustle which is SO REAL in female friendships. I like that over the season they become closer and more desperate for a more trustworthy and safe relationship but work becomes more intense the tension between them rises. It’s so anxiety-inducing to watch, especially because me and Marisa are best friends!

Credit: edlilly_

I know that you did some work on Broadway as well as the small screen. Is there a difference there as to how you approach it and which do you prefer?

I did the second National Tour of The Book of Mormon during college which was an amazing experience; the first time I really put my musical theatre training to work. I think my approach to a script or character is the same per theatre and film/tv, the difference is in the delivery. Theatre requires you to make all your expressions much bigger so that person in the very last row can hear and see you clearly whereas on-screen the camera is quite close and will pick up subtle movements. I like that on screen, I just have to feel whatever it is I’m feeling in that moment in the scene and the camera will catch me experiencing it instead of having to “show” it.

Nobody could have predicted a pandemic in 2020 which has made things pretty difficult for everybody so what is it like promoting a new show during these times and not having to see the reception face to face?

Because I’m doing this whole thing for the first time during a pandemic I don’t have much to compare it to, so I’ll just say it is as exciting and emotional as I imagine it might be if it were happening while I was traveling and being surrounded by people. In some ways, I’m glad it’s happening to me while I’m mostly by myself so I can just let whatever is happening inside me in the comfort and privacy of my own home…because lots of the time I’m freaking out!

Finally, at Screen Queens, we are all about making women and LGBTQ+ voices heard. Do you have any advice for young people who also want to come up in this industry?

The advice I feel most confident giving is BE YOURSELF and be yourself ALL THE TIME. I fought conforming to “the industry” or anyone else’s idea of what I needed to be or present as for a very long time. I’ve been very queer and very loud and very ME my entire life. I’ve been lucky to have a family and community who supported me in that. A few times I thought I had lost an opportunity because I was too eccentric or not “palatable enough” to be put into some kind of box or category. When I realised that I wanted to do the kind of work that was right for me and was fulfilling to me, I decided that if I continued to be myself proudly and all the time, the work and success and joy would follow. I may be over-optimistic or just plain lucky, but it worked out alright for me. And I know I’m much happier to have carved my own path than to have tried to fit the mold someone else made for me.

Industry is currently streaming on HBO Max in the USA and released weekly on BBC2 in the UK

by Kadija Osman

Kadija Osman is currently studying journalism at Ryerson University. Her favourite director is Greta Gerwig and she is also her inspiration for writing her own screenplay. She is deeply in love with Sophie Turner and tries her best to bring her up in almost every conversation she’s in. She hates to admit it but she never appreciated the score in films until she watched Me Before You, now it’s what she looks forward to when she watches something new. Her favourite films are Skate Kitchen, Lady Bird and Kingsman: The Secret Service. You can find her on Instagram kadija.osman or Twitter kadijaoxo.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.