Meet Marisa Abela, Industry’s most bankable star
The hit drama’s breakout actor talks privilege, power and partying over Picantes at Ned's Club
Monday 10 October 2022 By Stuart McGurk Photography by Jem Mitchell Styling by Aimee Croysdill Hair Styling by Eliot McQueen Makeup by Ciara O'Shea Manicure by Cherrie Snow Produced by Charlie Helm
When I met Marisa Abela, the 25-year-old breakout star of Industry – the banking drama that manages to be the best show on TV while portraying the industry in question as a cesspit of backstabbing, endless stress, toilet sex and cocaine – it was the day before the recently appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer, Kwasi Kwarteng, unveiled his ‘mini-budget’ to Parliament.
Having laid out £45bn of unfunded tax cuts, the pound tumbled to an all-time low against the dollar, thousands of mortgages were withdrawn overnight, and the Bank of England was forced to make a £65bn intervention to prevent the widespread insolvency of pension funds.
There were calls for the Prime Minister, Liz Truss, to quit, and for Kwarteng to reverse-ferret. But the Daily Mail knew who was really to blame. Having celebrated ‘A TRUE TORY BUDGET’ on the Saturday, by Tuesday the paper thundered: ‘FURY AT THE CITY SLICKERS BETTING AGAINST UK PLC’.
Coat, Huishan Zhang; shoes, Versace; sunglasses, Nanushka
So much of our world now is fuelled by a desire to make more and more money’
Investment bankers were, once again, the villains of the picture – something that both explains Industry’s runaway success, and ensures its second season, which recently began on BBC One, is set to soar as the value of the pound falls. After all, TV antiheroes like Tony Soprano and Walter White may have been terrifying, but they never doubled the rate of your mortgage. Now that’s scary.
‘I think that’s one reason people really enjoy watching the show who have nothing to do with finance,’ says Abela, who plays the entitled Yasmine, an heiress to a publishing fortune who sees the world of finance as a way to strike out on her own. Abela’s cover shoot has just wrapped up at Ned's Club, part of Soho House’s outpost in the Square Mile. She’s sipping water from a Barwell glass and is the picture of poise; less hard-living banker, more actor with the world at her feet on a lunch break. ‘You get to peek behind the curtain, to see what goes on backstage. So much of our world now is run by and fuelled by this desire to make more and more money.’
If Succession is the Godfather of the genre – underlings battling it out at the pinnacle of power – then Industry is the Goodfellas, telling the tale of scrappy up-and-comers (in this case, recent graduates at fictional investment bank Pierpoint) who’ll do anything for their next score.
Coat and dress, both Michael Kors; boots, Louboutin; earrings and rings, both Alighieri
Industry has been called the first true Gen-Z workplace drama, and it is, yet it’s also a description that misses the point. In the first season, we watched the new Pierpoint grads – ruthlessly ambitious American Harper (Myha’la Herrold), cocky Jack the lad Robert (Harry Lawtey), Etonian Gus (David Jonsson), along with Abela’s privileged Yasmine – as they willingly threw themselves into a world that remains anything but enlightened. All-nighters remain common. Bullying comes as standard. Drugs remain at Wolf Of Wall Street levels. It’s the workplace that woke forgot.
Abela’s boyfriend, also an actor, went to Yale before he attended RADA, and has friends that went into banking who recognise the reality of it. ‘That thing of people spending the night on the bathroom floor just because they’ve got to be back at work in three hours…,’ says Abela, ‘people saw that and really recognised it, and thought “I’ve done that”.’
They also took it upon themselves to pitch Abela storylines for the second season – one of which, insider trading, the creators had already included. ‘That’s a big one that comes up, because it’s the thing everyone’s scared of. They saw season one and were like, “how is that not in there?”’
The second season sees Abela’s Yasmine move away from Pierpoint’s trading floor – and her bullying boss Kenny, who picks on her because of her privilege – and into the arena of private wealth management. It’s a world that the multi-lingual Yasmine is more comfortable in, yet it soon comes with its own problems when she asks her estranged father to let Pierpoint manage the family funds.
‘Two weeks before Industry came out, I sat bolt upright in the middle of the night, and I was like, “I’m gonna be naked on the BBC!”’
Jacket and trousers, Michael Kors; shoes, Piferi
Abela grew up in Brighton with actor parents who always hoped she’d follow in their footsteps. Unlike Yasmine, she did not grow up wealthy, and only attended an exclusive all-girls school with the help of a scholarship. She remembers being constantly corrected for mispronouncing things. ‘I’d drop my T in the lunch line and things like that. I remember one girl who took it upon herself to correct me all the time. That really stayed with me.’
One time, Abela had four girls from the school over to her house, a small semi-detached bungalow, for dinner. Once there, ‘they all joined hands and touched one end of the hallway to the other. They were like, “how funny – we can touch the end”. It was mortifying.’
She coped by putting on a posh accent, saving up any money she had to buy a Jack Wills top, anything to try and fit in. In many ways, she says, she knows how to play the role of Yasmine so well because she’d always been playing her.
‘I would never have been able to play Yasmine if it wasn’t for that school. I was always in character. I felt like in a way I didn’t need drama school. And I was so aware of what money could bring from an early age.’
One birthday, Abela remembers, her best friend’s dad picked them up in a chauffeured Bentley, took them to Harrods, and told her to pick anything she wanted for a present. She chose a Christmas stocking for her dog, only later realising her choice could have been rather more ambitious.
Eventually, she says, she rebelled by shunning the wealthy girls at school – and her faux-posh act with it. ‘I went the complete opposite way. Like, “ello!” [She does a passable Danny Dyer impression]. I didn’t brush my hair. I’d spend Fridays and Saturdays with girls from the local area, drinking a two-litre bottle of Strongbow in the park. My poor mum.’ But it was, she adds, just another character. ‘I was either trying to be like them or extremely not like them. I was like, if you can’t beat them, join them. And if you can’t join them, f**k ‘em!’
Yet even away from set, she says, she finds Yasmine’s character can be hard to shake. It’s her breakout role – she got it straight out of RADA – and so people assume she’s the affluent character she plays.
‘They imagine the reason I understand that world is because I’m from it. Even the things I’m invited to are all very Yasmine-centric. Like, I went to an Annabel’s party in London the other day, and it’s hard to not see me as Yasmine. It’s an odd world to be the centre of, especially with everything that’s going on at the moment.’
One of the most refreshing things about Industry is how it treats the more salacious aspects of city life – drugs, sex, more drugs, more sex – as matter of fact, rather than as cautionary tales. Season two kicks off with Yasmine doing lines of cocaine as if they were espressos, but the show doesn’t seek to moralise, or even turn it into much of a storyline.
Above: Abela sips Champagne (natch) from the newly restocked Barwell crystal coupe, now available from sohohome.com
‘Totally, she’s just doing a bit too much. I remember after reading those first episodes, I said to the writers that I needed to know if this is going to turn into some terrible addiction. Like, is she going to end up in hospital? And they were like, no. And I think that’s cool, because the truth is it’s not a cautionary tale. There are just a lot of people in this industry who do a lot of drugs. I think if you’re the kind of person who craves the intensity of dealing with that much money and that much stress, and putting up with that much toxicity and brutality, chances are you don’t mind a line every now and then.’
The writers, she says – Mickey Down and Konrad Kay, both former investment bankers themselves – are even very specific about exactly how large each line of cocaine Yasmine does is. ‘They’ll literally write, ‘It’s a fat line’, or ‘A little bump’. Because Yasmine is doing quite a lot, so she’s not…’ She’s not Tony Montana? “Ha ha, right!’
Of course, she points out, what she’s actually snorting on screen is lactose powder. ‘It’s disgusting. I’m always like, tell me when you’re going to do that one shot that’s going to pan down to it, because if they have it [the camera] on my face, I can go out of shot and come up and then I don’t need to do it.’
Sex, similarly, is both abundant and, for Yasmine, liberating. For Abela – whose character dumped a sexually unsatisfying boyfriend in the first season, and embarks on both male and female trysts in season two – it’s a joy to play a woman with a healthy sex drive who isn’t judged for it.
‘And I think we kind of haven’t seen that before. I grew up watching TV where like, you know, the wife is lying in bed reading and is saying, “Stop it, no, no, no” to her husband. It becomes ingrained, this idea that you’ll get married and your husband will want to always have sex with you. Like, it’s cool to play this character who is intensely confident in her body and sexuality and is explorative. It’s a good thing.’
One notable change she did request in the second season was a sex scene where she was due to choke her partner, instead insisting she should simply cover her partner’s eyes. ‘For me, what’s great about Industry is that they don’t feel the need to have shock value. So, it’s like, OK, what are we trying to tell the audience in this moment where Yasmine is like gagging or choking [him] or whatever? That she doesn’t care about him really, she just wants to get her pleasure in. And that she still loves being in control of men. So what can say that? Because I didn’t want it to be confused that Yasmine’s kink was violence.’
Abela wasn’t overly nervous shooting the more intimate scenes, but did have a moment before season one aired when the reality of them being on TV really struck her. ‘I remember quite clearly two weeks before Industry came out the first time, I sat bolt upright in the middle of the night, and I was like, “I’m gonna be naked on the BBC! Like, what was I thinking?”’
Next up, the actor will be seen in Greta Gerwig’s much-anticipated Barbie movie, which has already seen shots of stars Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling in eye-straining dayglo go viral. She can’t say too much, other than it’s a small part: ‘No, nothing! I mean, it’s so funny, I don’t have a huge role in the movie. You’ll see, there are a lot of cameos.’
But it’s a different role that could really send the 25-year-old’s career into the stratosphere – a rumoured Amy Winehouse biopic to be directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson, with Abela reported to be the director’s first choice as the late singer. ‘At this point, everything is speculation,’ she says judiciously. ‘But yeah… it sounds like a great project.’
Blazer, top and shirt, all Balmain; shoes, Jimmy Choo
Blazer and trousers, both Azzi & Osta
She was, she allows, a huge fan of Winehouse growing up. ‘Definitely. I was really the perfect age. I grew up hearing her music. I was very young when they came out, so I don’t think I realised then how much of an amazing poet she was.’
For now, she’s simply enjoying how well Industry’s second season has been received – and imagines there will be a third, though she hasn’t heard anything yet. ‘I honestly haven’t. But the writers are very committed with the show, so I’m sure it’s the goal.’
And while she may not share Yasmine’s background, the character has, she says, altered the way she interacts with the world for the better.
‘She taught me a lot about my tendency to apologise for myself,’ she says. ‘She helped me see how I can fall into the tropes of like a young, bumbling woman feeling embarrassed about taking up space in a room.’
She does not, it goes without saying, feel like that anymore.
Industry airs on Tuesdays, BBC One, at 10.40pm. Series one and two are available on iPlayer now.
Buy the newly stocked Barwell crystal Champagne coupe (pictured above) now from sohohome.com