TRACIE HUNTE, HOST:
You're listening to IT'S BEEN A MINUTE from NPR. I'm Tracie Hunte. Over the past few years, I've started getting into a very particular kind of TV - shows about crazy rich, power-obsessed, ruthless, mostly white dudes competing to screw each other over and have the biggest Scrooge McDuck pile of money to swim in - shows like "Succession"...
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MATTHEW MACFADYEN: (As Tom Wambsgans) Look. Here's the thing about being rich, OK? It's [expletive] great, OK? It's like being a superhero, only better. You get to do what you want. The authorities can't really touch you. You get to wear a costume, but it's designed by Armani. And it doesn't make you look like a [expletive].
HUNTE: ...And "Billions."
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PAUL GIAMATTI: (As Chuck Rhoades) Walk away.
DAMIAN LEWIS: (As Bobby Axelrod) I should. But then again, what's the point of having [expletive] you money if you never say [expletive] you?
HUNTE: The greed of these characters is just equal parts grotesque and fascinating to watch. But there's another show in this category, HBO's "Industry." It's about the finance world, but it shifts the focus to trading floor analysts, a group that's younger and more diverse than you would think.
MYHA'LA HERROLD: The show is set in this finance world, but it's really just about the relationships and watching all these young people sort of claw and gnaw their way through a really pressurized, hierarchal, sexist, racist, money-forward environment.
HUNTE: That's Myha'la Herrold, one of the stars of "Industry." Its second season is airing now. Myha'la plays Harper, a young Black American woman working for a bank in London. And one thing to know about Harper - she's just as ruthless as the characters in those other shows. The only difference - the stakes are much higher for her.
HERROLD: We have to do just a little bit of extra work because the second they see you waver at all, there's just a little bit more stacked against us.
HUNTE: I talked to Myha'la about the second season of "Industry," how Hollywood can be just like the cutthroat world of finance and why it's important to back herself. Enjoy.
So I have to say, like, watching this show - obviously, I'm Black.
HERROLD: Me, too.
HUNTE: And watching that first season was harrowing for me because it just brought up all my auntie protective side over you...
HERROLD: OK. Aww (ph). Well, I appreciate that.
HUNTE: ...You know, because I also remember that feeling of starting in my job, being the only Black girl or one of the only ones. But one thing I found really refreshing about Harper is that she really does not traffic in respectability politics. Like, she is not afraid to yell at people, cuss them out, you know, just take up room in the office.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "INDUSTRY")
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Let him? I'm not your keeper.
HERROLD: (As Harper Stern) Well, maybe I'm your [expletive] keeper. We should remember that.
HUNTE: How do you think she got to that point in her life?
HERROLD: That is a fabulous question. I'm a young, Black woman, too, entering my own industry at the sort of bottom of the pail. And I'm clawing my way up and doing whatever it takes to get to where you need to be. And what I discovered very quickly was that as a Black person, no matter what anyone says, there's always expectations - good, bad or otherwise - of who you are, what you're going to bring, what you're capable of, etc. So I understood it was my job to make myself undeniable.
HERROLD: I need to come in with all the questions y'all think you're going to ask me answered and more.
HERROLD: I need to come in with what you expect me to bring and more. And I have to convince you that I belong here even though I've been asked already. I took that from my own experience...
HERROLD: ...And then added the pressure of - Harper really believes that if she can't be in this place, if she doesn't stake her claim here, going home is like a kind of death. It's not an option for her. And we don't really know why she can't or doesn't want to go home. We find out more about it later. But to her, everything, her life, her value, her purpose, her success is riding on this job. So she really doubles down, and she comes in with the thought that she's just going to be like, I'm going to make myself undeniable. And then as soon as things start to get really hard, she's like, I'm going to just double down and never let anyone think I've made a mistake.
HERROLD: And more often than not, I'm like, sis, what are you doing? Like, tell the truth.
HERROLD: It's going to be fine. But for her...
HERROLD: ...Even letting them see her crack a little bit is, like, off the table.
HUNTE: Right. Yeah. I think I saw, like, in the Vulture interview, you said something like, you know, I see a lot of myself in Harper, except I don't do crazy [expletive].
HERROLD: Yeah, I did say that.
HERROLD: I think that's true. I mean, you know, if there were a handful of things different about me or my life and, you know, the - my family situation or whatever, you know - if there were a few things different, I may have ended up just like her. You know, I think she's just lacking some confidence and some love even though she's got it on lock on the professional side. Socially and in life, she just doesn't believe that she belongs.
HERROLD: But I've always believed that I do belong. And, you know, I'll continue to work and make my way, and things will be fine. You don't have to act crazy to get somebody to like you. You know what I mean? But, you know, Harper's my girl. I'm never going to - I love her. I really do, you know? I get her.
HUNTE: Yeah, me too. She's - yeah, I - as much as, like, I'm like, girl, relax.
HERROLD: Right. What are you doing?
(SOUNDBITE OF FLEVANS' "FLICKER")
HUNTE: Coming up, Myha'la talks about creating recognizable characters that you can't put into a box. Stay with us.
(SOUNDBITE OF FLEVANS' "FLICKER")
HUNTE: So you said that when you joined the show, the two creators, Mickey Down and Konrad Kay, approached you and were like, we're not Black American women, so we need you to fill her out. That sounds like a lot of pressure to, like, come up with an authentically Black character. How did you approach that?
HERROLD: Right. Well, by no stretch of the imagination did I come up with this character by myself.
HUNTE: No, no, no. No.
HERROLD: Yeah. Harper on the page was all there. The only thing that they meant by, you know, fill this with yourself was, you know, like, there was some moments in the script, like, where Harper presented, like, very anxious and apologetic and nervous. And there were some situations in which I thought that just wasn't something that I, as a young Black woman trying to make my way...
HERROLD: ...Would let anyone see me do. So that - there were those moments. Or, like, if it was something that they wrote that was, like, a very British slang or inflection, I said, can I say this this way 'cause it feels more American?
HERROLD: So those were the moments in which they said, you know, there's some things we can't - we just don't know.
HERROLD: Can you fill it with what you know? And it wasn't - it was less building of a character...
HERROLD: ...Than it was allowing my own experience to influence what they gave me ahead of time.
HUNTE: Yeah. One thing I really like about Harper is that her hair this season - like, we - like, when she's at work, it's in this, like, tight little bun. And then after work, it's, like, happy hour Harper with - like, all her curls are out. How did you and, like, hair and makeup team up to conceive her look this season?
HERROLD: Yeah. I feel very blessed to say we are super collaborative with our hair, makeup and costume team this time around. I told them - I was like, I think Harper is kind of a one do kind of gal. I don't think she has a lot of time or energy to put into...
HERROLD: ...Her hair.
HUNTE: Yeah. The first season was box braids, you know...
HUNTE: ...For the whole season, right? Yeah.
HERROLD: Easy - has them redone once or twice, maybe.
HUNTE: Right (laughter).
HERROLD: But this time around, the conversation about how we were revealing ourselves - the intimacy, the emotional aspect of all these characters - we really wanted that to show through in our looks. So at work, it was a unanimous out of her face in a bun, something easy. And then when she's away from work, we can bring in a little more texture just to show, you know, who she is outside of work...
HERROLD: ...'Cause we really didn't get a lot of that in the first season. So there is a little more freedom in the fro. It's relaxed. This very much, like, taking her hair down thing from work - she was doing that, you know what I mean?
HUNTE: Yeah. Right. Yeah.
HERROLD: And of course, I was excited just to show natural texture on film, just 'cause even though we have a range of Black hair, and the conversation around Black hair and the inclusion of Black hair on screen is so much more than it was even just a few years ago...
HERROLD: ...I really wanted to show my natural texture in a bit more - less contained, more free way, which - I was really proud that we could do that.
HUNTE: Yeah. And you should want to, 'cause the fro was magnificent.
HUNTE: You looked great.
HERROLD: Thank you.
HUNTE: So I feel like this is, like, a really interesting time for Black women on TV, you know, with, like, shows like "P-Valley" and "The Bear." You know, they're giving us Black women who are recognizable, but still, like, you can't put them in a box.
HUNTE: You've mentioned, like, you know, wanting to create your own shows. How are you writing characters that don't fit into a box?
HERROLD: I always find that my most authentic work is created not when I'm setting out with an exact purpose to send a message.
HERROLD: I come from a place of honesty. I just come from the feelings part. So if I'm writing something, I'm thinking, OK, what does this person want? What won't they do? What will they do? What are their struggles? What are their shortcomings? What are their whatever? You know, I build the character's inner life. And then if I'm doing it in the context of being a Black woman, it's going to mean so much more without me even having to put that effort in. You know what I mean?
HERROLD: Because I am, it will exist.
HERROLD: And I think "Industry" does a really beautiful job in that, because, you know, there's all different colors, classes, sexualities on the show. And we've never set out to make a big statement or commentary on what that means, that you're putting these people on the screen. You just allow them to live, and because of who they are, it paints a picture.
HUNTE: Yeah, I think that's so true. And I think it also works in the - as an audience member because, like, like you said, the show's not making any commentary. It's not, like - it's just putting these people there, putting Harper there at the center of it. And, like, you know, me being a Black woman, I'm watching it, and I'm kind of, you know - and I'm putting, like, my experience into it.
HUNTE: So, yeah, it is, like, a two-way street as far as, like, you know, putting things in context.
HERROLD: Right. And I love that you said that, like, that you were like, I'm watching this, and as whatever the person the viewer may be, I'm relating it to my own personal experience and putting it in my own context. And I think great art does that. It, one, allows the audience to do that, to make - to come to their own conclusions, to start conversations. And it doesn't force them to think a certain way.
(SOUNDBITE OF FLEVANS' "FLICKER")
HUNTE: Up next, Myha'la really wants to set the record straight. Stick around.
(SOUNDBITE OF FLEVANS' "FLICKER")
HUNTE: So one thing you and I have in common is that we were both raised by single moms. And I consider, you know, growing up with a single mom such a privilege because I learned really early to be, like, self-sufficient, you know, to nurture my friendships, to, like, you know - how to make found families, not just your blood family and all that stuff.
HUNTE: You talked a lot about how much you love your mom and how supportive she is. How did having her support allow you to create and play this complicated woman?
HERROLD: I don't think I would be able to do anything without that support from my mother. I mean, you know, life is, like, hard enough as it is, and then if you attempt to - if you go into an industry that is - can be incredibly unforgiving, and you're getting 99 rejections and a possible one yes for a job. And you just have to keep fighting and push through that. You know, my mom was always like, you can do anything that you want to do, that you set your mind to, that you work on. You can do it if you want to. And I know that you have the power to do that. So you go ahead and do it. And even - there were many, many moments where I was like, I should quit. I'm - no one's ever going to hire me.
HERROLD: I'm X, Y, Z, blah, blah, blah, whatever. And she was always there being like, who are you? What is that? Because you've never felt that way. You are as gifted and as driven as you've ever been and you ever will be.
HERROLD: So, yeah, I don't think I could have done anything without my mother. And particularly in the context of Harper, like - yeah, no. Actually, I was going to try to make some parallel, but there just really isn't one...
HUNTE: No, you don't have to make a parallel.
HERROLD: ...Because it turns out that - it turns out Harper's mother is horrible. So, you know, there's nothing really I can say there.
HUNTE: It's like, your mom is great. Your mom is perfect. Harper's mom...
HUNTE: ...We don't need to talk about it. There's no parallel.
HERROLD: Yeah, I was like, no, let me not reach here. Let me just tell the truth. That's just - there was nothing there. That was all my imagination (laughter).
HUNTE: Yeah. Now I'm thinking of, like, our, like, earlier thing where you were talking about if one thing different in your life, you could see yourself being a Harper. And I'm like, is the difference-maker your mom - like, just different moms?
HERROLD: Probably. If I had had different family, then probably.
HUNTE: Yeah. So building a character is one thing. But I want to talk about the control that you feel you have about how you're perceived. You know, you talked about being conscientious about how you're perceived on set. And on press tours for the first season, you talked about wanting to channel Rihanna. We're all trying to channel Rihanna, so...
HERROLD: Work. Come on.
HUNTE: (Laughter) So I'm wondering, two years later, what is a person you want to put out in public, and do you feel you can control it?
HERROLD: Do I feel I can control it? No. There is - let's see. Who do I want to put out there? I always try to come with my most authentic self. And something that I am learning, the more it seems that people want to get to know about me and my work, is that because I have no control of the perception of it and how it's then put out into the world, I find myself being less open. Not less honest, but, you know, there are some things you can just choose not to talk about. The less you share with people, the less they can misconstrue or, you know, misperceive or whatever...
HERROLD: ...Which has been kind of a difficult thing for me, a practice I'm currently using just because I am, like, an open book. And I am really honest, and I always want to - I like sharing myself with people.
HUNTE: Yeah, yeah.
HERROLD: I'm an actor, so obviously I don't mind that.
HERROLD: And so the difficult part has been sort of, like, preemptively deciding, OK, what areas of my personal life am I not comfortable - or even in my work - am I not comfortable sharing just to protect them? Because I don't want anyone to misunderstand, or God forbid, somebody reads something that's, you know, out of context or misquoted or - you know, once it's out there, there's hardly anything you can do about it. In fact, let me clear this up right now.
HERROLD: I was never on Broadway, ever.
HERROLD: I was never on Broadway. I was in a second national tour of a Broadway show - not the same thing. And that was when I was like, oh, cringe - 'cause a bunch of my friends are on Broadway...
HUNTE: Are actually on Broadway, yeah.
HERROLD: ...In that industry, and they're going to be like, this girl's going around telling people she was on - no. No, I'm not.
HUNTE: Yeah (laughter).
HERROLD: I promise that I'm not. I'm always saying I'm in - I was in a second national tour. It's not the same thing. And I hope that one day I can say I have been on Broadway, but that day has not yet come. But it's that sort of thing. You know what I mean?
HUNTE: Right. Well, you haven't been on Broadway, but you have a background in musical theater. Do you think Harper would like musical theater?
HERROLD: No, no. That's a hard no. I think not.
HUNTE: (Laughter) It's too earnest and openhearted, I think. Like...
HERROLD: OK. Well, actually, you know, interesting possibility - my instinct said no. But then I also had a picture of her, like - I had a - this is, like, you know - Season 3 pitch scene possibility options right now.
HERROLD: Her going to see something like "Wicked" and not expecting to like it and then being in tears by the end of it - I think that would be very interesting. You know what I mean?
HUNTE: (Laughter) Yeah, yeah, yeah.
HERROLD: You know, there's, like, those hard people who, like...
HERROLD: ...Watch a rom-com, and they're, like - tears are streaming down their face.
HERROLD: Maybe she's that kind of person.
HUNTE: Yeah, yeah.
HERROLD: But my instinct is no. But I don't know (laughter).
HUNTE: Yeah. I would love to see Harper go watch "Wicked" or something.
HUNTE: Like a London production or something. And then, like...
HERROLD: Yeah. Something on the West End.
HUNTE: Like, maybe, like, a client dragged her to it, and, like, she's like - yeah (laughter).
HERROLD: Oh, my God. Mickey, Konrad, if you're listening - Season 3 pitch, we're going to the West End.
HUNTE: Thank you so much for doing this. This was so much fun. I love talking to you.
HERROLD: Thank you so much. It's been such a pleasure. I'm excited for my mom to listen.
HUNTE: (Laughter) Yes.
HERROLD: Thanks for having me.
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HUNTE: Thanks again to Myha'la Herrold. Season 2 of HBO's "Industry" is out now. And she stars in the new movie "Bodies Bodies Bodies."
This episode was produced by Liam McBain and edited by Jessica Placzek. And, of course, come back here for more IT'S BEEN A MINUTE on Friday. And for that, we want to hear the best thing that happened to you all week. Record yourself, and email the file to us at email@example.com. That's firstname.lastname@example.org. All right. Until Friday, thanks for listening. I'm Tracie Hunte.
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