Greed is still good. You may have thought the mantra of the Thatcher era’s City bankers had fallen out of fashion, but the BBC’s 2020 drama Industry proved otherwise. The lockdown hit about a group of young financial whizz kids was shocking in its depiction of the backstabbing required to get ahead in the cut-throat world of high finance… and of the depraved after-hours antics of the bankers.
The trading floor of Industry’s fictional bank Pierpoint & Co was an uber-toxic place in which colleagues were shockingly nasty to each other, and their daytime financial machinations were followed at night by hard partying involving Champagne, cocaine, pills and random sex. As one critic put it, they were ‘banking all day and banging all night’.
Now Industry is back for series two, as are many of its hedonistic characters. The action is focused mainly on Harper Stern (played by Myha’la Herrold), a smart but insecure American who harbours secrets about her past.
She is managed by the vicious and unpredictable Eric Tao (Ken Leung), another American who’s reinvented himself in London. Harper’s closest confidante is Yasmin Kara-Hanani (Marisa Abela), a posh graduate whose manager Kenny Kilbane (Conor MacNeill) joyfully humiliates her in front of colleagues.
Greed is still good. You may have thought the mantra of the Thatcher era’s City bankers had fallen out of fashion, but the BBC ’s 2020 drama Industry proved otherwise
And the bizarre thing is, it’s all true. Co-creators and writers Mickey Down and Konrad Kay, who both worked as City bankers before going into television, insist that the cruel world of Pierpoint & Co comes straight from their own experiences. ‘Everything is obviously dialled up to 11 for the drama because we’re making 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 at Harper in the office, I’d see versions of that happen all the time when I was at Morgan Stanley,’ he adds. ‘And the toxic relationship between Kenny and Yasmin… I saw that play out every day. I was involved in one of those relationships. I was beneath someone who treated me in a pretty appalling way. It’s definitely very prevalent.’
Yet it shows how some young graduates are willing to put up with disgraceful treatment in a pressure-cooker environment in order to make bags of money, and how unapologetic they are about their aspirations to get rich. Again, Konrad says it’s absolutely true.
‘I think, culturally, it’s weirdly becoming more appropriate again not to play down what motivates you. We’re swinging back to people not having to hide the fact 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 graduate Robert (Harry Lawtey) are back on the trading floor (Industry’s look is all sharp angles and glass-sided buildings, but while some exteriors were shot in London, the frenzied trading floor is a set at Cardiff’s Great Point Seren Studios).
Tensions rise as the traders are told the London and New York teams have been pitted against each other in a fight 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 fizzes between Harper and Yasmin after Harper double-crossed her friend at the end of series one when she got someone sacked to save Eric’s career. ‘The feud is very petty,’ says Myha’la Herrold. ‘But they have no option but to cross paths and that makes it even more stressful being in the same environment together. Each tries to make a connection but the other person is never at the right place – until they finally decide to be honest with each other.’
Harper’s chief relationship is with Eric, played by Star Wars and Lost actor Ken Leung. He’s a fabulously filter-free financial predator, and Ken credits Girls creator Lena Dunham, who directed the Industry pilot, with giving him the courage to make Eric so outrageous.
‘She set a tone where I felt like I could try anything,’ he says. ‘It became a bit, “Let me do something wacky 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 that gave me this image of sharks on the trading floor.’
The metaphor is an apposite one, as a compelling part of Industry is that Harper, Eric, Yasmin and Kenny are self-centred and largely unsympathetic characters whose relationships with others are purely transactional.
But their avarice and ruthlessness ring true, which is a pivotal part of the show’s unique selling point. ‘Banking is a very hard-edged world and when you buy into it you need to be a fairly hard-edged person,’ says writer Mickey Down. ‘So the broad message of season two is, “Are you willing to give up your ability to make long-lasting, loving relationships in order to be a success and make money?” If you reduce it down, it’s the cost of ambition.’
Industry has a sizeable 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 File’s Katrine De Candole is Celeste Pacquet, a manager who takes a shine to Yasmin.
Harper’s closest confidante is Yasmin Kara-Hanani (Marisa Abela, pictured), a posh graduate whose manager Kenny Kilbane (Conor MacNeill) joyfully humiliates her in front of colleagues
The show’s executive producer Jami O’Brien says that expanding the cast for season two allowed them to open up Industry’s world. ‘If season one was partly about these young graduates getting their feet wet at Pierpoint, we wanted to challenge that by seeing them taking on their own clients.
Opening that world is maybe just 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 influence her?”’
And with such a high-pressure 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 garner lots of attention, but despite the abandon with which the characters enjoy flings, filming was carefully staged with an intimacy co-ordinator to ensure that the cast felt comfortable. ‘It’s like choreographing a stunt scene in a way, so hopefully everybody feels safe and there are no surprises,’ says Jami.
Industry also carefully balances the male and female nudity (there was a male full-frontal last time) to ensure that the women don’t feel exploited. ‘The only nudity in the pilot was male,’ says Konrad Kay.
‘I’m 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-led, more intimate, more romantic. Hopefully we succeeded. I think there’s actually more sex in season two, but it’s far more interesting sex.’
German-French actress Katrine De Candole admits that she was worried about the X-rated scenes when she signed up to play Celeste. ‘I’d had so many warnings that it would be raunchy, and in the end I was like, “That was it?”’ she laughs. ‘It was a lot less raunchy than I expected.’
She found snorting fake cocaine trickier, though. ‘Somebody said it was milk powder and it was disgusting,’ she says. ‘I was trying to get away with not doing it for as long as possible, because when you do it a lot it gets quite 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 in the cut-throat world of Pierpoint & Co.
Industry, Tuesday, 10.40pm, BBC1.