Raunchy banking drama Industry is the real Sex and the City
Greed is still good. You might have thought the mantra of Thatcher-era City bankers had gone out of fashion, but the BBC’s 2020 drama Industry proved otherwise. The Lockdown hit about a group of young financial goons was shocking in its portrayal of the backstabbing required to get ahead in the cut-throat world of finance … and the depraved after-hours shenanigans of banks.
The trading floor of the industry’s fictitious bank Pierpoint & Co was an unparalleled place where colleagues were shockingly nasty to each other and their daytime financial shenanigans were followed at night by hard partying with champagne, cocaine, pills and casual sex. As one critic put it, “they knocked all day and knocked all night”.
Now Industry is back for series two, as are many of its hedonistic characters. The plot is primarily focused on Harper Stern (played by Myha’la Herrold), a smart but insecure American who harbors secrets about her past.
She is led by the vicious and unpredictable Eric Tao (Ken Leung), another American who has reinvented himself in London. Harper’s closest confidante is Yasmin Kara-Hanani (Marisa Abela), a posh graduate whose manager Kenny Kilbane (Conor MacNeill) gleefully humiliates her in front of colleagues.
Greed is still good. You might have thought the mantra of Thatcher-era City bankers had gone out of fashion, but the BBC’s 2020 drama Industry proved otherwise
And the bizarre thing is that it’s all true. Co-creators and writers Mickey Down and Konrad Kay, who both worked as City bankers before going into TV, insist the gritty world of Pierpoint & Co comes directly from their own experiences. ‘Obviously everything is dialed up to 11 for the drama because we’re doing a TV show,’ explains Konrad. ‘But the general tenor of the way people talk to each other is very, very true to life.
“When Eric goes mental on Harper in the office, I saw versions of that happen all the time when I was at Morgan Stanley,” he adds. ‘And the toxic relationship between Kenny and Yasmin… I watched it play out every day. I was involved in one of those relationships. I was under someone who treated me in a pretty horrible way. It is certainly very widespread.’
Still, it shows how some young candidates are willing to put up with infamy in a pressure-cooker environment to earn bags of money, and how unapologetic they are about their aspirations to get rich. Again, Konrad says this is absolutely true.
“I think, culturally, it’s strangely becoming more appropriate again not to downplay what motivates you. We’re swinging back to people not having to hide the fact that they want to be successful, they want to be rich .’
As series two opens, working from home during the pandemic has just ended and Harper, Yasmin and their fellow student Robert (Harry Lawtey) are back on the trading floor (The look of the industry is all sharp angles and glass-sided buildings, but while some exteriors were shot in London, is the crazy trading floor a set at Cardiff’s Great Point Seren Studios).
Tensions rise as traders learn that the London and New York teams have been pitted against each other in a battle for survival, and new character Danny Van Deventer (Alex Alomar Akpobome) from the New York office has been installed to monitor London’s progress.
Animosity still simmers between Harper and Yasmin after Harper double-crossed her friend at the end of series one when she got a guy fired to save Eric’s career. “The feud is very petty,” says Myha’la Herrold. ‘But they have no other option but to cross paths, and that makes it even more stressful to be in the same environment together. Each tries to connect, but the other person is never in the right place – until they finally decide to be honest with each other.’
Harper’s main relationship is with Eric, played by Star Wars and Lost actor Ken Leung. He’s a fabulously unfiltered financial predator, and Ken credits Girls creator Lena Dunham, who directed the Industry pilot, for giving him the courage to make Eric so outrageous.
“She struck a tone where I felt like I could try anything,” he says. ‘It became a bit, “Let me do something crazy just to make Lena laugh.” It felt like a bunch of friends getting together and playing with the circumstances. Like the carpet in the trading room was red and it gave me this image of sharks on the trading floor’.
The metaphor is an apt one, since a compelling part of Industry is that Harper, Eric, Yasmin and Kenny are self-centered and largely unsympathetic characters whose relationships with others are purely transactional.
But their greed and ruthlessness match, which is a key part of the show’s unique selling point. “Banking is a very hard-edged world, and when you buy into it, you have to be a pretty tough person,” says author Mickey Down. So the broad message of season two is, “Are you willing to give up your ability to create long-term, loving relationships in order to be successful and make money?” If you reduce it, it is the cost of ambition.’
The industry has a significant ensemble cast. Transparent star Jay Duplass joins the show as Jesse Bloom, an eccentric hedge fund billionaire whose business Harper becomes very eager to secure. Newcomer Indy Lewis plays Venetia Berens, a recruit whose confidence Yasmin finds threatening, and The Ipcress Files’ Katrine De Candole is Celeste Pacquet, a manager who appreciates Yasmin.
Harper’s closest confidant is Yasmin Kara-Hanani (Marisa Abela, pictured), a posh graduate whose manager Kenny Kilbane (Conor MacNeill) gleefully humiliates her in front of colleagues
The show’s executive producer Jami O’Brien says expanding the cast for season two allowed them to open up the world of the industry. ‘If season 1 was partly about these young graduates getting their feet wet at Pierpoint, we wanted to challenge that by seeing them take on their own clients.
Opening that world might just be a little more fun. We love Eric and Harper, but we thought, “Wouldn’t it be interesting if that relationship was challenged? Who else is out there for Harper to hang out with, and how will that affect her?”
And with such a pressured environment in the office, the financiers continue to let off steam at night with wild forays into sex and drugs.
The graphic sex scenes will no doubt get plenty of attention, but despite the abandon the characters enjoy throwing themselves into, the shoot was carefully staged with an intimacy coordinator to ensure the cast felt comfortable. “It’s like choreographing a stunt scene in a way that hopefully everyone feels comfortable and there are no surprises,” says Jami.
The industry also carefully balances the male and female nudity (there was a male full-frontal last time) to ensure the women don’t feel exploited. ‘The only nudity in the pilot was male,’ says Konrad Kay.
‘I am very proud of the sex scenes in season two. Someone used the word “full-on” about season one, so in season two we tried to make them more character-driven, more intimate, more romantic. Hopefully it worked out. I actually think there’s more sex in season two, but it’s far more interesting sex.’
German-French actress Katrine De Candole admits she was worried about the X-rated scenes when she signed up to play Celeste. ‘I had been given so many warnings that it would be disgusting and in the end I was like, “That was it?”‘ she laughs. “It was a lot less flashy than I expected.”
However, she found it more difficult to sniff fake cocaine. “Someone said it was powdered milk and it was disgusting,” she says. ‘I tried to get away with not doing it for as long as possible, because when you do it a lot, it gets pretty clogged up in there.’
But it’s all part of a day’s – and night’s – work for the hedonistic young bankers willing to betray anyone who gets in the way of their big money deals at Pierpoint & Co.
Industry, Tuesday, 10.40pm, BBC1.