Harry Lawtey is one of the stars of HBO’s latest drama set in the financial field, Industry. He plays Robert, one of the new graduates interning at the fictional investment bank, Pierpoint & Co. Recently, he sat down with AIPT to discuss his character, his process, and his experiences working on the high-profile show.
AIPT: Early on when you first heard of the series and was auditioning, what exactly interested you about Industry and made you want to be a part of it? How did those initial feelings evolve as you shot and completed the first season?
Harry Lawtey: I think it was just an obvious one when I first heard about it. My agent and everyone have sort of evolved and are really excited about it. I think it was one of those shows where there seemed to be a bit of buzz around it in London where we were auditioning. A lot of actors my age knew about it and were going in for it. It was one of those where you really felt like you wanted to be involved.
The kind of creative team behind it felt new and fresh and exciting. And obviously you had some exciting people attached like Lena Dunham who just brought an impressive level and real caliber and experience to it and really gave it some strong credentials.
Then when I eventually got the job and started working on it, I think that really developed. My respect for the writing and the show just kind of grew and grew. I knew it was good stuff straight from the off but the kind of depth and wit and intelligence in the story and the characters in it really kind of evolved. It was constantly being tinkered and changed and improved as we went on by the writers. It was a very malleable process. I was always excited to be involved.
AIPT: On the show, you play Robert, one of the graduates trying to make an impression at Pierpoint. Can you describe your character for us?
Lawtey: Like you say, Robert is one of the young graduates who has started an internship at this huge international investment bank. He’s got lots of charm and bravado and charisma. I think he’s a bit of a maverick, really. He certainly thinks of himself that way.
In his mind, those qualities are the qualities that he believes are required of him to make your way and be successful in the world of banking. That’s probably a slightly outdated perspective. I think the industry and the demands of it have moved on I think from the idea that he has in his head.
Behind all that and this front that he puts up, he’s very sensitive. A bit of a “Lost Boy” really. And he just wants to be respected and accepted and kind of validated and maybe looks for that in the wrong people
AIPT: I’ve read in a previous interview that you’ve done that you like to create backstories to the roles that you play to better understand where they’re coming from and their motivations.
AIPT: Considering the interesting lifestyle that Robert has, I’m curious to hear the backstory you created for him.
Lawtey: You’re right, I do do backstories. It’s really important to me. It’s kind of sometimes quite longwinded and feels a bit sort of academic and intense but I like to think it really helps me out later down the road in making certain choices as the character.
In terms of what’s in Robert’s, I maybe don’t want to give too much away because hopefully if we get the chance to tell more of the story, hopefully some of that will come through perhaps. He certainly has some of a checkered past. He’s not from the same socioeconomic background as everyone else on the show.
He’s really had to work and be lucky to get where he is and he’s the kind of person that has been let down by people before. Let down by family before. And has been quite isolated really and that’s probably what brings out this desperate yearning to be around people and be in people’s faces and be on their mind and to make an impression, I think.
AIPT: One could consider Robert a party boy. Did you have fun indulging into that side of the character or is that not too different from how you currently live?
Lawtey: No, it’s certainly kind of different from the way I live. Of course, like anyone, I enjoy cutting loose with my friends now and then. When I told all my closest mates about this job and the part I’m playing, they all found it hilarious really because I’m a lot more strait laced than Robert is.
It can be quite intense making a show like this. It’s a lot of work and long days. Fourteen-hour days. Letting go a little bit while you’re actually doing the job certainly made the long days easier.
AIPT: You touched upon this earlier but despite his wild image, there is a depth and complexity with Robert. He has this very loyal and close friendship with Gus; one of the few people that Gus actually gets along with. He’s not always looking to hook-up as shown by some of his restraint with female graduates like Harper. How do you, as an actor, balance all these different aspects of the character instead of making him seem one-sided, which could have easily been done with regards to Robert.
Lawtey: It’s just the joy for an actor really, it’s what every actor wants and looks for. Characters with various different dimensions and Robert certainly has that. Like you say, he can show restraint. He’s not an animal. He’s actually deeply sensitive really and quite emotionally driven. He certainly leads with his heart rather than his head.
Finding those nuances and working out the way you can shift from one state to another and also thinking about it more globally as a series arc and thinking how is this character going to be received throughout the course of eight hours of TV. That’s really just part of the challenge and as an actor.
It comes down to collaborating with the writers because they know it better than anyone. It’s their vision that you’re trying to interpret I suppose. You constantly have to be monitoring yourself. Monitoring your performance in a way that is being received so that you can, as I say, create those different faces and dimensions and make a character fully formed. You know?
AIPT: The featured graduates all have their own subplots in addition to working at Pierpoint. It seems that Harper receives a lot of the attention but I feel like Robert is kind of the glue that connects them all together. How do you see his role in the overall narrative of the season?
Lawtey: Like you say, he is sort of a middleman between lots of the key characters on the show. It’s brilliant for me because I get to, as I say, explore different and very rich relationships with lots of other actors which is one of the best parts of the job.
He’s constantly sizing himself up against other people and match himself off with other characters. As I said earlier, he’s got this obsession with validation. He’s completely glued towards this character, Clement, his boss, who shows almost literally no interest in him. Barely even looks at him and yet for some reason he follows him like a dog. Whereas, he has someone in Harper, who is prepared to understand him and see the real him, and he sometimes treats her with a bit of indifference.
He’s got this yearning to be something, some idea of himself in his head and he needs that to be confirmed by the likes of his boss. And by the likes of Gus, who is his friend but someone he idealizes as well. It all comes down to that misguided need for validation and wanting that from the wrong people who ultimately are just going to only make you feel worse. But that’s all part of growing up for him I think and learning to accept who he is and respect that a bit more.
AIPT: After completing the season and based off of your experiences, do you think you could have gone into finance if you weren’t an actor?
Lawtey: <chuckling> No, I think I would be useless. I really think I’d be rubbish at it. It’s funny though, I used to joke around saying I tried to become an actor so I didn’t have to wear a suit and sit at a desk all day, which is what we all ended up doing for six months. It was very much pretend.
Obviously, we tried our best to get grips with terminology and jargon. All that is very important to the show but really what is most important as an actor is that you understand the kind of stakes of what you’re playing and what it means to you and the people around you. If that’s something you have a grasp on then you can play it dramatically.
AIPT: Finally, what are you most excited for viewers to see most about your character in this first season of Industry?
Lawtey: I’m excited to see kind of what you said I suppose. People having their first impressions challenged over the course of a series arc. It’s just the same as I did when I first auditioned for the role, I had only read his scenes from episodes one and two. I haven’t been given the full episodes so when I first came and auditioned for him, I was playing him very much as a very certain type of guy and the casting director, Julie, was saying “No, no. He’s not like that. He’s very different today. He’s really nice.”
He doesn’t seem that way. He seems like a bit of a show off I suppose. I think that’s one of the joys of good writing. Good character driven writing is having first impressions challenged and deciding where you want to place your loyalty and allegiance to people to root for. So hopefully, people grow to like him and root for him.
AIPT: Thank you very much Harry. I know press days can be pretty long and thank you for speaking with me today.
Catch Lawtey’s Robert and the rest of the graduates in the season premiere of Industry this Monday, November 9, on HBO.
Want to learn more about the show before the first episode? Here are our first impressions.
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