“More nudity for all of us!” – Myha’la in conversation with Saweetie
By Alex James Taylor | Film+TV | 16 May 2024
Photographer John Edmonds
This article is part of HERO Vault – Gems from back in time and also part of Print Edition

Myha’la’s lead role as fledgling analyst Harper Stern in the deliciously stressful finance drama series Industry reflected and resonated with the US actor’s own journey. Both Myha’la and Harper were new to their respective careers, figuring out individual ways of navigating and excelling with steadfast ambition.

From this immediate and affecting breakout came a leading role in last year’s twisted apocalyptic blockbuster Leave The World Behind, performing as part of an intimate ensemble alongside heavyweights Ethan Hawke, Julia Roberts and Mahershala Ali. With Myha’la’s success came fans and followers who passionately connected with Harper’s realness, balancing the emotional seesaw of struggle and success. Among them was Bay Area rapper Saweetie – “I had to slide into your DMs, that’s how much you ate that.” From that message, a friendship grew between these two West Coast artists, each with defining projects ahead primed for 2024: Saweetie is preparing her highly-anticipated debut record, while Myha’la picks up Harper Stern’s story in the third season of Industry.


Saweetie: Look at us matching, grey shirt, grey shirt.
Myha’la: Oh my god, we caught the vibes. [laughs] Stop it! [Myha’la moves the camera to show she has the same sofa as Saweetie]

S: [both laugh] Are you my soulmate?
M: Also, you’re from Santa Clara, right?

S: I’m from Hayward, I was born in Santa Clara.
M: I’m also from Bay. Something is in the water. [laughs]

S: Are we in another dimension?
M: We’ve just entered our own matching dimension. [both laugh]

S: The question everyone will want to know is: how did we end up linking, and the truth is I slid into your DMs! [both laugh] I binge-watched Industry and fell in love with your character. I just love a woman who does what she wants to do. I admire the ambition. As soon as the show ended I missed you, I missed your character, so I was like, “Maybe I’ll just DM her.”
M: I was like, “Whaaaaa?” I was so excited and blown away. I’m so glad you liked it. I was drawn to that character for that very reason. I was like, “Oh, she really means business, by any means necessary.” Which I relate to, to a degree, obviously. I don’t think I’d make most of the choices she makes, but the idea behind it – the ‘why’ – I get it. I’ve done that, it’s what we have to do, being the only woman of colour in a space, I’m going to show up and be like, “I’m better than you,” because I have to be. I’m so glad you enjoyed the show.

S: How was that process? Did you submit your tape, did you go in-person? I’m fangirling, I need to know.
M: I’ll tell you the whole tea. It was almost nine months since I’d been out of school and I was auditioning for anything and everything. A few times I got close to projects that would’ve changed my life, but I didn’t get them. Also, during school and when I graduated I was shaving my head to the skin, I was quite androgynous and didn’t fit any boxes. So after that third ‘no’, when I was really thinking I was going to get that job, I was like, “[cry noise] Maybe I’m going to have to start growing my hair out, maybe I’m going to have to start wearing make-up, eyelashes and present more feminine.” I was really having a crisis. I got this audition through [Industry] and they asked me to put myself on tape. I forgot about it and it was due in a day or something and I was drinking with my roommates and… I don’t know if I’ve told this story before [laughs], I was a little bit drunk when I filmed the tape and then a day later my team called like, “They really love this, they want to give you a few notes, retape and they’ll send you the first four episodes.” I was like, “Ain’t no way.” Of all the things for me to be considered for, finance drama was not the thing. I read the first four episodes in one night and I was in my bed sweating with excitement, like, “This is the coolest, best written thing I’ve read, maybe ever.” Then I had a meeting with Mickey [Down] and Konrad [Kay], our creators, and they were like, “We really loved your tape. Send your new tapes whenever you can.” I sent them and then a few days later they brought me in to do a session with the director, Lena Dunham. We read two scenes and one day my team were like, “They want to fly you to Wales and chem test you with the other actors.” I was really lucky because I’d just got a passport, I’d never had one before because I’d never left the country. I went to Wales, took a train from London with a bunch of the other actors, Harry [Lawtey], David [Jonsson], Freya [Mavor] and a few others, read with them, and then came home the next day. The day after that, which was a few days before my birthday, I got the call that I’d got the role.

S: Wow, and how was that transition to London?
M: Massive culture shock. I just felt left out of everything.

S: Really?
M: Yeah, I mean they were talking about stuff that they knew about, like UK culture, things I couldn’t relate to. And the way they made jokes, I was just like, I don’t know how to get into this. [laughs] But they embraced me pretty quick because my humour is quite dry and actually relatable to the way they interact with each other. Also, truly, I was like, “I’m alone, I’m American, I’m scared and I need friends.” But that’s how it really was for all of us, it was everyone’s first big gig. I love visiting London.

S: I want to move to London. I love the culture, the fashion. There’s a sense of regalness in the air. I love how people carry themselves.
M: Have you spent a lot of time there?

S: I’ve visited a lot of times in passing for shows and I’ve always enjoyed it. I just love the culture. Growing up, I always moved around a lot so I enjoy the challenge of getting into a new community.
M: One of my favourite things about London’s culture is the ‘outsideness’ of it all, the culture of drinking and eating on the street. I find it very fun and European. There’s one place [we went to] and they have poles on the lower level. It was one of the first nights out we’d all had in London and one of my cast mates has a video of me on the ceiling of that place.

S: [laughs] Crawling up the poles?
M: I’d got up there, flipped on the ceiling. [laughs] And all my little white boy co-stars are like, “Woo! She’s with us!” It’s very funny.

S: I love that. So when you were shooting the show, what were some of the other challenges you faced?
M: I didn’t clock how hard it would be to lead a show. They always say that number one on the call sheet sets the tone. Whoever is the lead of the production, their attitude, the way they walk around really does influence the vibe of the thing. I was acutely aware of that, it might have been subconscious, but I understood that my responsibility was not just to show up and say the words, but – and I always feel this way – to protect the integrity of the writing and the attitude on the set. I think the biggest challenge was really stepping up, being totally present and over-prepared every single day. I worked every day for six months – I hadn’t ever done that, I’d never done more than one episode of TV before. In the moment, I was like, “I got it, I got it, I got it.” Then literally the day that we wrapped, I had an unbelievable panic attack, I couldn’t stop crying for like three-and-a-half hours. I don’t even know exactly what happened. Marisa [Abela], who plays Yasmin, I called her, and she came and found me and said that I’d cried myself to sleep and she’d put me to bed. I woke up and didn’t know what had happened. I was so overwhelmed and my body had finally given me permission to accept the feelings I was pushing away for the length of the filming, because I felt the responsibility to be strong and push through and be a leader. Then at the end I totally let it all out in a big, big way.


S: Spoken like a true hero. From the outside looking in, I would’ve never known that.
M: Thank you, that’s the goal. I’m sure you can relate to this as well, you are the leader of your everything…

S: Yes, however I’ve gotten into acting and what I really appreciate about going onto acting sets is that, instead of me stepping into a music video where I’m a part of the treatment – it’s my song, I wrote the lyrics – I’m now servicing another artist and their project. I feel like there’s a different pressure.
M: As cliché as it might sound, there’s very little that I wouldn’t do for my art and to retain my artistic integrity. I think it’s one of the most beautiful things to say: “I did everything I could, I showed up every single day, I was reliable, and I really ate that.” You know what I mean?

S: Girl, you ate that. I had to slide into your DMs, that’s how much you ate that. [both laugh] I had to be like, “Hold on, let me find her.” Still fangirling, Leave The World Behind – what was it like shooting that movie?
M: It was so many things. That was another huge, new challenge and endeavour for me. I’d never been on a production of that scale. Money-wise, the set, it was huge, and then of course, to know I was about to walk into a room where I have to meet the mark of Julia Roberts, Mahershala Ali, Ethan Hawke, and Sam Esmail [director], I was like, “OK, cute – you’re going to have your work cut out, you’re going to need to keep up.” So on day one I was like, “I’m ready to take notes.” But beautifully, I was embraced as a peer immediately, nobody juniorised me on that production, which then gave me permission to do my thing, to rise to the occasion. What I find with people who really do this is that they’re like, “We are in the room here together. We’re all after the truth of this moment, we’re all on the same team.” That was a really beautiful, relieving thing and also a testament to those artists and who they are as human beings. I felt very seen. They’re also all really nice, so thoughtful, kind and encouraging. Mahershala is totally a father figure, he was really easy to lean on. Ethan as well, he’s really playful, he’s always trying to switch stuff up, which I love. And Julia really went out of her way to support me… particularly on the press tour, she requested for all her press to be done with me. I was like, “She’s doing that because she understands the influence she has in this world and she’s bringing me along with her.” That felt so selfless and thoughtful. She was pulling me up with her, which is so special and nice and rare. So overall, it was a very educational, very big, very exciting experience.

S: Women like that are really important. Let’s face it, the entertainment industry is extremely cut-throat, so when you come across someone like that, it really does touch your heart. Shout out to her. Industry took you six months to shoot, how long did the movie take?
M: I think the whole process was about three months in total, and then all the post-production. One of the big adjustments was that I’d come from doing TV, which is quite quick. They’re like, “OK, we have a lot of pages to do.” The days are fast, we do a handful of takes and then, “That’s great, we’re moving on.” But on Leave The World Behind, they were like, “We will do this until the end of time to get it perfect because we have the time and resources.” There were some days where I’d be sat in my trailer like, “Am I going to work today?” But the beauty of film is that you have that time, it’s like one episode of TV but you have to get it right, there’s nothing beyond it. That was a cool thing to learn because I’m so used to, “I have to be fast!”

S: What do you prefer, film or TV?
M: I don’t think I’ve done enough film to definitively say, but I do like the long-form of TV. I like that I get to spend six months over eight or ten episodes developing and discovering a character and really fleshing them out. In a film, you only have one hundred or so pages to let the world know who this person is, but with TV you have that times however many. You get to explore the nuances and contradictions of a character, which is what makes them human, and that’s really exciting. With Industry, we came in young and inexperienced, just like our characters, and then by the third season, they’ve been doing this for a while, and we have too.

S: One thing I really loved about your Industry character is that, no matter how crazy her decision was, you could always see the contemplation through your eyes, of like, “Should I do this, should I not?” And then you’ll be like, “No bitch, I’ll do this.” [both laugh] I could see you processing your emotions, so I understand what you mean by giving your character that time to grow. You’ve played some amazing roles, what is your dream, dream role – what’s a character you want to try in the future?
M: I’m still so young and have only done so much, I’m excited and ready to dip my toes in everything.

S: But what’s your dream, like if it could just be handed to you?
M: I studied musical theatre in college and my childhood dream was always to be on Broadway. But I really love TV and film, so I think my dream role would be something in a movie where my character can sing, then I can introduce the world to that part of me.

S: You can sing? Are you a soprano or an alto?
M: I’m a mezzo girl, I can do it all. [both laugh] I had classical theatre training – I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a soprano because I know some and they can do shit I can’t do, but I have a lovely wide range.

S: Do your fans know this?
M: I think most people don’t. Tell me about Richtivities !

S: Richtivities is my single and I’m going to drop my first album this year.
M: What can you tell me about it? I’m so excited about it, congratulations.

S: Thank you. How Richtivities came about: one day I was doing a whole bunch of rich shit. I think I was jet-skiing, I had a boat, and I was like, “Damn, this is a rich activity – this richtivities!” And I just started screaming it with my friends. [Myha’la laughs] I wanted to bring that to life as a song. When it comes to the album, I have a lot of songs I’ve recorded, but my goal is to give my essence to it. I don’t know what that is yet, but once I’m done recording, I’ll put the songs together and see what tells my story the best. My main message is a girl from the West Coast – because I feel like we’ve seen so many successful female rappers from down south and from the East Coast – but what does a girl from the West Coast… I know I can’t generalise all the women out here, but just to give them women light – who can I put a shine on? There are other female rappers I like, Kamaiyah, another upcoming girl called Stunna Girl, I feel like we haven’t had our moment of California female rappers.
M: That’s so wonderful. I so appreciate you saying, “How can I shine a light on the place I’m from, the people from where I’m from.” It’s such a special thing you can do for yourself and for your community.

jeans by LOEWE SS24

S: This album is sensitive to me because… OK, so two years ago I cut all my hair off. I discovered meditation and I was trying to find something. I don’t know what I was looking for, but I was trying to find it. I was thrown into this industry in my mid-twenties and having all that success at one time, it takes its toll not just on your body and mind, but on your spirit and how you view the world, it’s like a different layer to the world. I just needed to take time and find something. I still don’t know what I’m looking for, but I have a better sense of self, and hopefully that comes through in this album. I’m still searching for the answers, but that’s my goal.
M: One of the most exciting things an artist can do is whatever is authentic to them. Something magic happens when a creative is like, “I’m going to word-vomit all over the wall and see what happens.” The through-line will be you, where you came from, what you’re going through, what you’re heading towards. I can’t wait for you to discover what that is, it’s going to be stunning.

S: Thank you. My biggest promise to myself is just do what makes me happy. I don’t want to make something so – I don’t even want to say perfect, I don’t want to come up with a strategy that pigeonholes my creativity and what I’m capable of. I’m literally just figuring it out every single day.
M: What a beautiful thing.

dress by GUCCI SS24

S: I feel like we’re at this point in the world where people just want you to be you, so I’m happy we’re living in this moment.
M: Me too. I feel like the more that capitalism attempts to… crush us [both laugh], the harder we’re like, “I refuse!” So there’s so much amazing art coming from the streets and spilling out of people, because they’re fighting a sort of monopolization that’s happening over creativity. I feel like the monetization of creativity is what stifles us. I want to make art and make people feel things, make myself feel things and share that with people. I refuse boxes because I don’t fit in them and don’t want to fit into them. That’s one of the most uncomfortable things, when someone tries to put you in a box, because I’m not shaped like a damn box!

S: That was the motivation for cutting my hair. I have this campaign called Pretty Bitch Music, and when people hear me say it they think I’m talking about your features, what you put on, your looks, but I’m really talking about your energy. When I told people I was cutting my hair, it was the most insensitive comment, but people were like, “But are you still going to be pretty?” [Myha’la makes a shocked noise] But for me, my type of person, my ego was like, “Oh, I’m really cutting my hair now.”
M: Obviously! Like, “Thank you, that was the push I needed!”

S: It really made me love my campaign even more, because for me, ‘pretty’ has always just been energy. I love a confident woman. I live in LA – full of bad bitches – and if you’re a bad bitch with a stank attitude and you’re not treating people right, that’s not Pretty Bitch energy. That’s been my whole public messaging. When I cut my hair it was like, I’m a pretty bitch regardless, because my energy is internal, it’s not what I look like every day. I was really proud of that moment, and I love that you said you were cutting your hair every day – I felt that. It’s a weight lifted off your shoulders when that hair comes off. [Myha’la nods] I feel like I’m in my truest form.
M: Yes! I miss it all the time, sometimes I’m like, “I can’t wait for someone to ask me to shave my head!” It will happen and I will feel so liberated. And let me tell you, you looked fine as hell with that haircut! It’s great, and every version of you is Pretty Bitch Music. When I cut my hair off, or my hair is still short and will probably be forever… I somehow feel more beautiful. I don’t know if it’s because I can see myself and I’m like, “Good for you that you’re choosing to be seen.” You know what I mean? I’ve never felt more confident as I did when I was bald.

S: It was the first time I’d seen myself. I didn’t understand why I felt that way but I literally couldn’t stop staring in the mirror, I had a different connection. Girl, I got naked and I just stared at myself.
M: Girl! My camera roll was going stupid when I shaved my head. [both laugh] I love that! Good for you.

S: I felt like a panther. I felt in my truest, human, animalistic form. I hope every woman can experience that moment of empowerment.
M: In whatever form it happens. Everyone should experience the liberation of a shaved head.

S: And being naked and staring in a mirror.
M: Yes, more mirrors, more nudity for all of us!

hair COURTNEY CODY AINEY; make-up TIMOTHY MACKAY at THE ONLY AGENCY using CLÉ DE PEAU; lighting JOHN LAW; photography assistant LANCE CHARLES; fashion assistant SOPHIE BOHMEIER; digital tech TRAVIS DRENNEN; post production TWO THREE TWO

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