Myha'la Herrold and Ken Leung Are the Captains of 'Industry'
On the HBO series, Herrold and Leung play cutthroat investment bankers. But at a Brooklyn pizza joint, they let their guards down.
Myha'la Herrold, the star of HBO's Industry, is giddy when she enters Dellarocco's, a pizza spot on a quiet block in Brooklyn Heights. Already sitting at a table is Ken Leung, who plays her mentor-slash-abusive boss-slash-competitor on the series. As Harper Stern and Eric Tao, their relationship bristles with tension. On this muggy July day, Herrold greets Leung with a warm embrace and they immediately start chatting, barely stopping as Thrillist's photographer snaps away.
For fans of Industry, the financial drama created by Mickey Down and Konrad Kay that begins its second season on August 1, Herrold and Leung might look out of place at this low-key restaurant. We're used to seeing them under the harsh lighting on the trading floor of the fictional bank Pierpoint & Co., clothed in crisp shirts and blazers, or dining in London's finest establishments, trying to woo clients via oversized glasses of wine. Both Herrold and Leung walked to Dellarocco's from their respective homes close by. Leung rolls up with a Starbucks iced coffee, black, smoking a cigarette, while Herrold bounds in later in a corset top and low-cut skirt, eager to eat her gluten-free margherita pizza. (Dellarocco's was her suggestion; on the way out, she orders a pizza to take home to her boyfriend.)
During our interview, I feel like I'm in the middle of an admiration society. Leung and Herrold wield the kind of compliments Eric and Harper would never dare say aloud. "I have always felt safe with Ken," Herrold says. "I think because there's that trust, we know we can go anywhere. The relationship was what it was on the page, and then it got creepier and more layered and strange, because as people we love each other. In the show, it's like, do they love each other or do they hate each other? It's all of that."
The first season of Industry ends with Harper saving Eric's job at the expense of the women trying to make Pierpoint a less toxic environment, therefore securing a permanent gig for herself and knocking her competition out of the way. Sure, Eric locked her in a conference room to berate her, but he also overlooked the fact that she didn't actually graduate college, and, for both of them, ambition takes precedence.
When Season 2 opens, Pierpoint is just emerging from COVID. Harper is living out of a hotel where she meets Jesse Bloom (Jay Duplass), a billionaire who made money off the pandemic. Eric, clipping his toenails on the trading floor, lures his protégé back into the office, but Harper, in courting Jesse as a client, puts a wedge between them. Eric is no longer the "world-killing alpha" he once was (Leung's words), and Harper is still out to prove she's "the baddest and the best" (Herrold's). Theirs is a platonic office romance defined entirely by mutually parasitic co-dependence.
Though Industry has gotten a lot of attention for its explicit sex scenes—many of which Herrold participates in—Harper's connections with older male mentors are made all the more unsettling because they are deeply unsexual. In fact, according to Leung, a reference to the notion that other people assumed Eric and Harper were sleeping together was cut from Season 1, and Herrold recalls that a scene where Duplass' Bloom makes what could be a pass was axed out of Season 2. "For those of us who have intimacy scenes, it is our job to maintain the integrity because it is the easiest, cheapest route to go for sex," Herrold says. "And sex exists, but why does sex exist? For a lot of reasons. People have sex for money, for power, for love, for a lot of other things, aside from just being sexy. So adding this sexual element wasn't necessary, I think, because there was so much other twisted shit going on."
Before arriving in the UK to film the first season of Industry, Herrold hadn't clocked the Harper-Eric dynamic as being the series' central one, but she was immediately drawn to Leung. "It didn't dawn on me how close we were going to have to be as human beings, as actors, as characters, until I met Ken and I was like, 'This motherfucker is cool,'" she says, addressing him. "I just thought you were so cool and stoic and kind of mysterious." Herrold was fresh off of finishing the conservatory program at Carnegie Mellon University, while Leung was a veteran best known for his work on Lost and in Rush Hour and Saw. Leung, for his part, knew he was going to have to play elder statesman in a cast filled mostly with 20-somethings playing promiscuous, substance-abusing interns duking it out to stay at Pierpont beyond its infamous "reduction in force" day.
Lena Dunham, who directed Industry's pilot, explained to Leung that the newbies might look to him for guidance, and he was open to playing that role. Herrold laid it all on him, asking questions about his process, even his techniques for memorizing lines. (The jargon-heavy scripts, based on Down and Kay's own experiences, make memorization key.) Leung was impressed by Herrold's openness.
"You give voice to things that people may typically keep to themselves," he tells her from across the table, and she seems surprised by his assessment. "Especially if they're young, there's a feeling of wanting to come across a certain way, to impress in a certain way, to be cool. And your coolness comes from the fact that you don't do that, that you are just great and you know what works for you and what doesn't. That's a great energy to be around."
Their comfort with one another has led to fairly experimental methods. Before filming one intense scene that happens late in Season 2, they tried a version where they sang all their lines like they were in a musical. "I don't know if you know, but Myha'la is an amazing singer," Leung says like a proud dad.
While all that "twisted shit" is palpable in the chilly world of Industry, you can feel a shared warmth between Leung and Herrold. After Season 2 wrapped, Herrold, who also stars in A24's upcoming Gen-Z satire Bodies Bodies Bodies, went on to film a role in the literary adaptation Leave the World Behind opposite Julia Roberts and Mahershala Ali. Leung, meanwhile, went off to Vancouver for a part in Netflix's live-action Avatar: The Last Airbender series adaptation. Herrold is arguably more pumped for that than he is. "I'm so fucking excited," she says. "Ken doesn't even get how major this is." He responds: "I kind of do now." At first, he had it confused with James Cameron's Avatar. He promises to show her photos from the set after I leave.
"You can only get to that place of pure play once you build trust, and there's no judgment or insecurity in the relationship, because you might try something and someone doesn't respond, and then you're like, 'Aw, fuck,'" Herrold adds. "But I can do the stupidest thing ever, and Ken's like, 'Brilliant. You're the best actor in the world. I love that.' And he can turn around and scream in my face, and I'm like, 'Wow, a little spit. Did you get that?'"
After we've finished our interview and the bill is paid, Herrold and Leung have no interest in getting up. So while the rest of us—photographer, publicist, reporter—all head out into the sticky heat, they stay seated, still catching up. For the brief time I was there asking questions, it's almost like I was interrupting their time to just hang out—Eric and Harper, off the clock.