For Myha’la Herrold landing the role of Harper Stern as the 2018 college graduate was the start of a long line of trailblazers. After nine months of auditions, Herrold achieved her first television appearance on the HBO series The Industry, adapting her training at Carnegie Mellon for the screen. At 23, it was her first major job, her first series regular, and her first time out of the United States.
In the high-stakes British-American banking drama The Industry, Herrold plays the confident and calculating Harper Stern. Hailing from Binghamton, New York, a black female junior banker arrives at Pierpoint & Co., a prestigious and aptly toxic fictional investment bank in London, with a chip on her shoulder.
In the first season, she and her fellow superiors must survive Reduction Force Day (RIF) and prove their worth to the company or return home, which Harper has no intention of doing. After lying about getting her degree and making a heinous and costly mistake, Harper manages to emerge unscathed and secure her place at Pierpoint.
“[Harper] was unlike any other black woman I’ve ever seen on the page,” Herrold, now 26, said. is whether people will react to it.”
Excited that Herrold had to delve into Harper’s mystery, she felt the weight of her role. A newcomer to television and a leading role in the series, Herrold was assigned to carry The Industry on his shoulders along with other 20-year-old actors. Like her character, she doesn’t give in under pressure. According to Herrold, Harper “doubles down and shifts into third gear.” What attracted Herrold to the script was “the opportunity to start a conversation about representation”.
“I wanted to do it fairly. The script was so good that I wanted my writers to be proud of it,” she continued. “I wanted to be proud of myself. All these things weighed on me. Then, of course, I was the only American, a young, black woman. I was very afraid that the British would say: “She’s too loud.”
However, as the second season of HBO’s The Industry drops on Monday, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Herrold is the perfect fit for the job.
Filled with drugs, sex and rivalry, workplace drama decides whether Harper and her young co-workers can maintain their humanity as they wander the soul-altering facility. For a young Machiavellian enterprising person, this means achieving success by any means. Although Herrold admits that she and Harper are both ambitious people, the work for each of them looks different.
“For me, hard work is not necessarily about lying in bunkers and cheating. I don’t do any of that,” Herrold said. “We strive for excellence. We are not afraid to do what needs to be done. It’s just that the circumstances are different. If she wants to win a client over to her side, she can lie to this and lie to that, make a reverse deal that will ultimately lead to the collapse of everything jar, when I can just walk up to a person and ask him.”
After reading the script, Herrold still felt like he was being seen in some ways by Harper’s arc. No matter how mean Harper can be at times, she considered it an honor and fortune to portray the character on screen. Growing up in a white-dominated biracial community, Herrold recalled a familiar “otherness” akin to what Harper feels in her personal and professional journey to and through Pierpoint.
“I am mixed and grew up in a predominantly white community. I’m queer and I’m an actor. I tick a lot of boxes, but none of them suit me,” said Herrold. “For most of my life, I felt pretty alienated from my otherness. Seeing a black woman say, “I’m black and I do all these other things that some people would say, ‘That’s not very black of you’ made me feel very visible.”
The biggest gulf between Harper and Herrold is that socially, Harper sees no value in social etiquette and maintaining good relationships. As Herrold describes, it’s Harper against everyone. Harper doesn’t trust anyone. However, Gerrold, whose astrological chart consists of the Sun in Aries, the Moon in Scorpio, and a reluctantly rising Aquarius, believes that people are inherently good.
“I’m not interested in burning bridges and Harper isn’t afraid to do that. We are kind of on two very sharp ends of the spectrum. Mine might be a little more naive than hers. I think in many ways I learned some things from her in that regard. But I think the biggest difference is that I believe good will prevail. I’m a Gryffindor and Harper looks a lot like a Slytherin,” she said, laughing.
But sometimes burned bridges light up the way. AT Season 1, after a female client rapes her, Harper reports the incident to a white line woman named Daria, who gaslights her. (When Harper asks if Daria will vouch for her on RIF Day, Daria tells her that she is not “culturally appropriate” for the environment.) While her cranky and abusive managing director Eric, an Asian American, is no saint, Harper critically aware of his position in the company; she defends him on RIF Day and ends up kicking Daria out of the company.
That’s where Harper’s charm lies: she’s a resourceful, complex, stubbornly determined young black woman navigating the corporate space, uninterested in being anything big, and she’ll never apologize for it. She knows that in an institution like Pierpoint, fellowship is a façade.
“Who is higher?” Herrold asked. “No one is looking after me. I’d rather be a big person for myself.”
Having played Harper in the first season, Herrold received many appreciative messages from black fans and viewers. She was pleased and proud to share this life experience.
“They appreciated that they saw a real person with as many flaws as good qualities,” she said. “It was really nice for me and I felt like I did a good job in the sense that I brought a real person to the screen who was related in some way, and perhaps the most related thing about her is that she is not some kind of then the archetypal black female character on screen. As we approach the second season, it will be a fight, a tooth and a nail.”
While viewers may have rooted for her in season one, Herrold hints that season two could be a test for her fans. She recalled fans tweeting that Harper did what needed to be done, but Herrold questions that notion: “Did she do what she had to do? I dont know. Was it very characteristic of Harper? Absolutely.” According to Herrold, the difference between the first and second seasons is that Harper is now more confident in her cunning plans.
“In Season 2, you don’t learn much, but a little more about her history, which could justify why she’s so desperate to secure her place in this bank, but is actually in London,” she said. “Her ultimate goal throughout the first season and into the second season is not to go back to what she was running from. I also watched season 2 and thought, “I don’t know how many people will be rooting for her.” Because a person can do so much until they catch up with you, and she is no exception to this rule.
Gerrold is thrilled to see how fans and foes alike may be feeling towards the end of Season 2. It’s unclear if this will be the beginning or the next chapter of the Harper Stern villain era, but Herrold said her character is “one of the savviest villains, for acid.”
“Perhaps Harper’s obsession with self-interest is true enough that she thinks it’s the right thing to do, that it’s good. This is the only way to get what I need,” she continued. “But what is surprisingly charming about Harper is that she deceives everyone in the next play and ends up trying to win over everyone she needs, even those she deceived. Somehow she still manages to get them to do what she needs.”
Portraying Harper, Herrold wants to continue creating art that sparks conversation. One day, Herrold hopes to return to the stage, but it has to be the right time, place and project, she said. From living alone in Wales for six months to starring in her first film, the A24 horror film Bodies, Bodies, Bodies, the California native’s journey is only just beginning. Right now, she’s in the metaphorical marketplace of life, making deals with the devil and trying her luck as Harper Stern.
“I completely understand how she got here. Whether I agree or agree or I think it’s morally right doesn’t matter because you know exactly why she did what she did. I’ve said it so many times and I’ll keep saying all I care about is whether black Twitter likes me,” Herrold said, laughing. “As long as I don’t have my shit revoked, I’ll be fine.”
The second season of “Industry” will premiere on Monday, August 8. one.