• Interviews

Marisa Abela on “Industry”

Marisa Abela, who plays a trainee banker, Yasmin Hanani, is one of the breakout performers from the acclaimed series, Industry, a London-set drama about the world of high finance.

Executive produced by Lena DunhamIndustry follows a group of 20-something graduates competing for a limited set of permanent positions at Pierpoint & Co, a prestigious investment bank.   Through their ‘work hard/play hard’ ideology, we watch this group of mostly well-connected, entitled yet ambitious overachievers as they navigate their way through countless drug and sex-fueled shenanigans.

Abela has been seen previously in Man in a Box (2008), Cobra (2020) and Five Dates (2020), and through her role as Yasmin, who deals with such controversial issues as sexual harassment in the workplace, it seems her time to shine has arrived.

Industry is becoming one of the most talked-about shows on TV.  How did the role come about for you?

So, I was in my final year of drama school [RADA] at the time, and it was about January or February of my final year and a lot of people in my year were auditioning for the show because they were of the thinking, ‘let’s find unknowns to lead this amazing HBO/BBC show.’  So, a lot of people in my position in drama schools were auditioning. I was one of many and I ended up getting the part.

What do you like about Yasmin?

In her heart she’s kind but I like the fact that I see her in so many of my friends, I see her in so many young women in that she is this young woman who is waiting for permission to go after what it is she wants – rather than taking it.  And I think it’s a really great opportunity to play a young woman like that but at the same time, she has a real fierceness about her. When someone like Robert [Harry Lawtey] lets her be powerful, she really goes for it, and I really love that about her. I also have to say, I wish she stood up for herself more in the beginning and didn’t take so long to learn her lesson.

And that is?

That no one is going to give you agency, you have to take it for yourself.

In what ways do you see yourself in Yasmin?

I see myself in her in that I find it difficult to say no to people sometimes. I think as a young woman at the beginning of your career, it’s difficult to assert yourself powerfully because you feel it could cost you something that’s not worth it. And I see myself in her being afraid to offend people in positions of power. I connected to her in that way and her fears.

She deals with sexual harassment in the office. What do you think of how she deals with it?

Well, who knows what the right way to deal with a situation like that is? I think she deals with it the best way she can because unfortunately, she is in an environment where it doesn’t feel that she would be supported if she brought it to anyone else’s attention. And I think that’s why she gravitates towards Daria [Freya Mavor] at the end of the series because she can sense that she maybe would be more receptive to listening to her. I think that’s what the show does so well is with both Yasmin and Harper [Myha’la Herrold] and the way that they deal with harassment or bullying in the workplace because there’s no right way to deal with it. Maybe there’s a wrong way but watching them struggle how to deal with it is the interesting thing. And in hindsight or as an observer, you could say, ‘Well, I would have done it differently,’ but it’s scary.

Your mother (Caroline Gruber) is a theater actress. I imagine as a child you grew up watching her on stage?

Yes. I grew up in auditoriums and theaters and lighting boxes, watching show after show with the cast and crew. So, I kind of grew up in the theater as opposed to on set. But yeah, it was something that I was brought up around, definitely.

You were studying to be a lawyer, before deciding to be an actress?

Well, I got into a ton of universities in the UK and while I was looking around, I was supposed to do History with a Law conversion, but I just wasn’t interested. (laughs) And I was down the road from RADA, the drama school I ended up going to, when I was looking around the universities and I just remember thinking, ‘This is what I want to do.’

Were your parents disappointed that you didn’t pursue a career in law?

Oh, God no, they wanted me to be an actor! I think being a lawyer would be me rebelling. I told them growing up that, that’s what I wanted to do because every time I was in a school play or a show, they were both like over the moon and like, ‘She’s going to do it!’ They were sort of nudging each other. So, I think my way of rebelling was just pretending I was going to be a lawyer.

I read that you taught yourself to surf during COVID? Most people have learned how to cook or spent time gardening or reading but I’ve never heard anyone learning to surf during this time.

(laughs) Well, I live by the sea; I live in Brighton. And I didn’t exactly teach myself to surf, I sort of taught myself. There were lots of people going surfing, and I would just sit on the beach and watch them. And then after a couple of weeks, I gave it a go. And it sounds like I was amazing from teaching myself how to surf but it really was not as elegant as it sounds. (laughs) So I gave it a go.

That’s not easy!

Right, exactly! (laughs)

Do you see yourself pursuing any other artistic endeavors than acting one day?

I definitely see myself directing one day. I also write, I am not sure how good I am yet and hopefully, I will get more confidence as I get a bit older, but yeah, I write in private as of the moment.

Do you enjoy the other side of the business, like getting dressed up for red carpets and photoshoots?

I do, who doesn’t? I love that stuff. Not as much as the job, I love the job more and would rather never go to an event if it meant I could be working every single day of the year. But it’s so much fun.  It’s also fun to be able to enjoy the fruits of your labor with the cast. I love doing press events with Myha’la and Harry and it’s really fun to be able to relive what we went through together with the press.  It’s kind of a weird time to be doing it because we are also doing it over Zoom, but it feels nice that so long after filming Industry to be able to go back to it.

Are you interested in fashion?

Yeah, I love fashion. I have always loved walking around shops. I think styling is a completely different game though, just because I love clothes and I love dressing up to go out with my friends but dressing up for an event is a different thing entirely. The women and men who style for photo shoots and press events are amazing. And I definitely can’t do it without them, not that I have had to so far because of COVID, but I can imagine that I would need the help probably.

What would you say to someone who has never watched Industry? Why should they watch it?

I would say it’s a fun show, it’s a fast show, intelligent, but warm, although the characters maybe not so much.