“I was going to be a human-rights lawyer,” says Marisa Abela, 24, of her intended career path. She knew what acting entailed—her mother, the actress Caroline Gruber (Disobedience), worked consistently in television, film, and the West End since Abela was young—and decided she wanted none of it. “I think I rebelled against it because I could see it took a lot of gumption,” Abela says, “and it scared me quite a bit.”
Fate won out, though: on a visit to the University College London, where Abela had been accepted to study history, her mother pointed out that the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art was just down the road. Within a matter of weeks, Abela had deferred her place at U.C.L. and was walking the halls of England’s best-known drama school.
Abela’s next big moment came as she was getting ready to graduate, when a new HBO show created by two former British banking executives started drawing attention. Billed as the “millennial Mad Men,” and with a pilot episode directed by Girls creator Lena Dunham, Industry would follow the experiences of a fictional investment bank’s new recruits and promised a fresh take on the highly sexed, high-strung world of finance.
Within a matter of weeks, Abela had deferred her place at U.C.L. and was walking the halls of England’s best-known drama school.
“Basically, everyone in their final year of drama school was auditioning for these parts because the whole premise was ‘We need these unknowns from London, and they actually should be 22-year-olds,’” says Abela, a welcome break from Hollywood’s ordinary predilection for casting actors in their 30s as hormonal and naïve new grads.
Abela landed the role of Yasmin, the office people pleaser. Derided by her male colleagues for her wealth, good looks, and poise, Abela’s character asks whether a beautiful woman can be taken seriously inside the male-dominated hallways of finance.
In preparation for the part, Abela spoke with a handful of young women holding similar positions at firms in London. “It’s a difficult environment to express any kind of femininity,” Abela learned. “There is no crying anywhere. If you’re having a really stressful day, run to the toilet. Don’t give them any ammunition to be like, ‘She can’t handle this.’”
Industry also drew attention for its abrasive sexuality. Threesomes with colleagues, sex in scant office bathrooms, graphic masturbation scenes, raunchy selfies—it’s all covered. “It’s something that we’ve not necessarily seen before,” says Abela. “And I think that’s really interesting, not shying away from horny young women and their sexual desires.”
Abela also had a small part in the 2019 British TV series Cobra, playing the prime minister’s daughter, and, during lockdown, acted in Five Dates, an interactive rom-com about the unpredictable world of online romance.
Looking forward, Industry has been commissioned for a second season, and Abela is keen to get back into the role of Yasmin. “I’ve been messaging the writers,” she says. “It’s really exciting.”
Bridget Arsenault is the London Editor for Air Mail