With high stakes, intense pressure and even bigger egos, the corporate world has formed an unexpected backdrop to some of TV’s standout hits in recent years. Industry is no exception, taking a no holds barred look into the unscrupulous world of corporate banking. One of the standout characters, Harper Stern, played by Myha’la Herrold, perfectly embodies someone hellbent on corporate success. Away from the world of corporate finance, Herrold is set to appear in the Obama-backed Netflix adaptation of the bestselling novel Leave the World Behind which sheds light on the highly fraught themes of race, parenthood and class.
Some of the best and most divisive TV characters are those who do what we least expect them – something that first drew Herrold to the tenacious Harper Stern. She enthuses, “Harper was the first Black American woman character that didn’t fall into any stereotype or trope that I’d seen of Black American woman in television. She turned left when you’d expect her to turn right. That for me felt like the meaning of representation — a story of a unique or different individual still worthy of being told, which in turn makes people who watch it who are also unique or different feel seen. She made me feel seen.”
With fans of the show split over Stern’s character arc, Herrold is adamant that no character is good or bad. “I try not to come from a place of judgement when viewing a character because everyone has their reasons for doing what they do. And of course, Harper is my girl, so I’ll always side with her.” Herrold also isn’t shying away from the polarising fan reactions to Harper’s ruthless behaviour. “I always think a character or story that is polarising in some way must be doing something right. Some people may think it’s a moral issue, others may think there’s no issue because she’s a person doing what she has to do to get what she needs. Both are valid and spark heated critical debates, which I love!”
While Herrold herself admits that she couldn’t have gone through with Stern’s final decision, she still manages to bring a sense of relatability that makes her a hard character to dislike. She muses, “You [have to] approach a character with no judgement and full openness. I believe all people have that balance in them. I make some decisions that I think are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ or both. The really juicy drama lives in the place where the decisions are neither and both at the same time!”
Unsurprisingly, the pervasive toxic culture of the corporate world which enables misogyny and racism to often go unchecked is at the forefront of Industry. While significant progress still needs to be made, Herrold believes it’s important that shows don’t shy away from such topics. “Overcoming misogyny is an undertaking, even just psychologically, I’m not in a place to tackle it. I also don’t think it’s something to overcome, but something that we as a global people can first understand exists and then create foundational tools and teachings to help us avoid creating environments where misogyny can live.”
The hotly anticipated film adaption of Rumaan Alam’s novel, Leave the World Behind, also tackles underlying tensions between race and class. While Herrold remains tight-lipped on what we can expect from the film adaptation, she’s content knowing that she can’t please all the fans of the book. She concedes, “I’m sure this will be disappointing to some, but I don’t necessarily take the fans’ needs into consideration. I always do my best to do justice to the text and the role I’m given — and if I do that well, hopefully everyone will be happy!”
Another type-A character Herrold hopes will ‘annoy the shit out of you’ is the fiery Jordan in the slasher movie of the summer, Bodies Bodies Bodies, slated for this August. Premiered at South by Southwest film festival in March to rave reviews, the black comedy takes a bloody approach to Gen Z friendships in the digital age. The strong female cast drew Herrold to the project. “True diversity is important to me. And that doesn’t just mean how people look or identify. It means painting a true picture of a slice of life. If you do that thoughtfully and thoroughly there’s no way not to get a colourful cast of people. I’m very proud of how our film has done this.”
Away from the screen, Herrold continues to be a passionate advocate for unhoused people and relief for them. She insists, “I understand that truly at any moment in life I, or someone I love, could have been or may be in such a position. The thought of being hungry and not having anything to eat or being without a safe place to rest your head is a horrifying reality. At base level, every person should be able to have those things. As a person who’s been blessed with those things, it only seems right to me to do what I can to help people who haven’t been.”
Keen to tackle more complex characters, Herrold isn’t afraid to confound audience expectations. Rather than shying away from polarising characters, Herrold approaches these divisive characters with tenacity while showing their human nature.
Industry is currently airing on HBO.
Bodies Bodies Bodies is scheduled to be released on 5 August.
photography. Jingyu Lin
fashion. Anthony Pedraza
talent. Myha’la Herrold
hair. Peter Matteliano @ Bryan Bantry Agency using Oribe
make up. Sophie Ono using Mac Cosmetics Face and Body Foundation, Blot Powder Press + Eye Kohl Liner
fashion assistant. Sacha Singh
words. Katie Shuff