Industry’s Harry Lawtey on the Art of Risk Taking
Harry Lawtey knows a thing or two about spontaneity. The 13-year-old went from being an awe-inspiring theater kid in the crowd to Sylvia Young acting school in the space of four weeks. Lawtey spent most of his childhood on a military base in Cyprus (his father is an aeronautical engineer), and after a West End production of Oliver Twist came to town, he was transfixed. Fagin’s gang was almost entirely from the prestigious school, and seeing them up there sparked something for Lawtey. The family were heading back to London in two weeks – just as Sylvia Young was hosting auditions. Getting in would mean moving to London much sooner than expected, but he believed in himself. “I had the conviction to go there,” he says.
Risk and reward, and the messy tango between the two, are the central themes of Industry, the thorny financial drama where Lawtey plays the fragile infernal Robert Spearing. In the world of Pierpoint & Co, the fictional institution at the heart of Industry, his fortune can be raised (and simultaneously razed) in the time it takes to rip the sheet off a scratchcard. To succeed on the court, you need confidence, strategy, luck, knowledge, but also stupidity, lies and manipulation. Never mind that the show, written by former investment bankers Mickey Down and Konrad Kay, unleashes finance jargon (“buy the dip!” “run the VIX!”) so obscure that the only way to treat what happens is to activate the subtitles. The biggest thing Industry never shot makes exchanges as intense and tense as watching a car chase or heart bypass surgery performed before your eyes. “It’s stressful, but in a fun way,” Lawtey says.
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Industry debuted in November 2020 to critical acclaim. The show’s graduates, victims of their pressured workplaces, have become known for their dissolute champagne-and-coke rampages across town, and we’ve seen them regularly destroy themselves like a gunpowder-laced ouroboros. It was less learned than Mad Men — the urgent sex, but also a little coarse, the inert work, the poisonous camaraderie. But the intriguing interdepartmental politics mixed Machevillian tendencies of game of thrones with the brutality of the sacrifice of your own son Succession.
IndustryThe second season picks up after COVID, jumping forward a few years as the Pierpoint staff returns to the office. Lawtey says the party animal Robert is affected by the pandemic in a “more powerful” way than the other characters. “He’s had two years without external validation, a lot of soul-searching and trying to figure out if he’s really happy.”
Lawtey’s own pandemic was more prosaic. He spent a lot of time with his family in Cyprus, and when Industry debuted, lockdown measures were still in place. “The cast all went on Zoom to celebrate and chat, and we ended the call and that was it. And then my phone blew up. There was no sort of outlet for how I felt. , which is a bit of a shame, really. That said, I can’t complain too much.
This self-effacement is common in the conversion with Lawtey. When a director told him earlier this year that his process was almost neurotic, he added that “every good actor [he’d] worked with is a bit neurotic. Lawtey tells me “that doesn’t mean that I’m a particularly good actor. I think we all walk a fine and fragile line between self-confidence and self-confidence. While Robert is competing with no one but himself, desperately trying to move from his working-class roots into the golden, obnoxious spaces synonymous with wealth and power, Lawtey is much more grounded. Even his voice, deep and richer than most 25-year-olds, is peppered with the flat, clipped vowels (“mum”, “luck”) of Barton-upon-Humber, near Hull, where he lived before moving in Cyprus.
He has had the chance to adapt since Industry came out of. Filming for the second season was “less exciting, but more fun,” he says, as the novelty had worn off. “The first time, I felt massively overwhelmed. The second season doesn’t have the same kind of novelty, but it was more enjoyable, because I didn’t have to worry so much about whether I was good.
While Harper (Myha’la Herrold), the series’ de facto leader, thrives in Pierpoint due to a budding attraction to chaos, Robert flounders. “A lot of all of his motivations are tied to the cycle of aspiration,” notes Lawtey, who includes his kinky tet-a-tet with co-worker Yasmin, culminating last season in him ejaculating on a mirror and eating it on his order. “He was in a very dark and desperate place towards the end of the first season. Now he has to deal with who he hangs out with because there are people in his life who can really make him feel good, and then he there are people he may be more attracted to who just aren’t good for him.
Although Robert is largely resisting the pull Yasmin has on him this season, there are what Lawtey calls “starting issues.” Robert must woo Pierpoint’s sleeper client Nicola (Sarah Parrish), who sexually assaulted Harper last season and then threw her under the bus. She sees a kindred spirit in her working-class roots and he sees someone who can help her overcome her insecurities, but she’s a dangerous ally. On Industryeach risk is calculated.
Lawtey’s work on Industry did not go unnoticed; he is to appear alongside Christian Bale, Lucy Boynton and Gillian Anderson in Netflix’s horror pale blue eyeand he recently wrapped filming the Russell T Davies drama You and me, which filmed in London this summer. He’s excited to make more shows that people around him can watch and enjoy, although he’s watched Industry — including said mirror scene — with her parents in lockdown. “I just had to smile and put up with it, because I wanted to share the show with them. There were a lot of tactical moves to get a cookie and not come back for nine minutes.
He is particularly close to his family. A week before leaving home to see Sylvia Young, Lawtey was asked by his doubtful father if it was the best idea after all. “He admitted he didn’t want me to go. He thought that I might not be able to handle it, that it might be too soon.
But there was something that 13-year-old Harry knew deep down: it wasn’t about trying and succeeding, or trying and failing. He loved his life in Cyprus. The trick was just to try. “I was determined to make it work,” he says. He defined success on his own terms: the mere fact of wanting to make it a success was, in his mind, a success in its own right. “At the end of the day, it was a chance worth taking,” he says. No risk, no reward. “And that changed everything.”
The second season of Industry will air on September 27 on BBC One and iPlayer.