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Jay Duplass Wanted to See If He Could Survive the Brutality of Industry

Jay Duplass Photo: Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images

Jesse Bloom is that particular kind of American billionaire who has the means to buy everything — except taste, which explains why he has set up a basketball court inside his massive ancient British manor house and spends much of his time fiddling with a Wu-Tang Clan name generator. Industry’s Jesse, as played by actor-director Jay Duplass, is a superficially genial self-made man with an eye for COVID-related investments and a huge chip on his shoulder about British social structures. He comes to Britain to mend things with his son, Leo, a directionless boarding-school student, and crosses ways with young banker Harper (Myha’la Herrold) in the process. She wants to secure him as a client. He wants to make more money and maybe starts to see her as a bit of a surrogate daughter. They just might make their strange dynamic work, unless he drops her over a planned deal gone sour. Duplass, who has a genial nature himself, doesn’t necessarily seem like a natural fit for the harsh gray world of Industry, but as he explained to Vulture, he was intrigued to see if he could find his own way into the brutalism of the show.

In this episode, you show up in a shirt that reads “Of course I cum fast. I have fish to catch.”
They had written that into the script. I don’t know if it was something they had seen before, but oh my God, that shirt is so insane and yet dead-on at the same time. There’s something about that guy playing basketball in a great room that people clearly drank mead in over 500 years ago.

Was that shot in a real giant house in London?
It was actually in Wales, in the countryside. It was a giant house that various millionaires and billionaires buy and sell and probably don’t spend very much time in. They just buy shit and put it in there.

How do you get into the mind-set of a person like Jesse? He’s got so much money he basically occupies a different reality.
Well, I actually sat next to Jeff Bezos a few times when I was on Transparent. It was a big early Amazon show, and it went to the Golden Globes, and I sat next to him at one of the Emmys dinners. I got to know him pretty well, and I was surprised at how charming and considerate he was and how much he took an interest in me and my wife, who’s a social worker in Pasadena.

But I also approached it from the emotional angle of this guy in the U.K. trying to reclaim his relationship with his son, and it doesn’t go very well and he meets somebody else who’s a daughter figure — there’s this weird love triangle between him trying to make it work with his son and him cheating on his son with this daughter figure. But in terms of the financial stuff, it was superhard to ingest all that jargon and infuse some emotionality into it. Definitely the hardest job I’ve ever done technically as an actor.

One of those scenes comes in episode six where you’re on the phone with Harper, forcing her hand in this deal and screwing over Rishi. Logistically, how do you film that? Are you in the room with Myha’la while filming that?
I was in the room for that particular scene. Myha’la and I were always there for each other, at minimum on the phone with each other. The personality and delivery of that stuff makes a big difference. In that scene, I was literally sat down — see, I’ve used the British phrase — with her on the floor at her feet, delivering the lines.

There’s also a love triangle with Harper’s father figures: you and Ken Leung’s Eric Tao. You’re not in many scenes with him, but was his dynamic with Harper on your mind?
I was thinking specifically about how I would be different from him. In season one, his character was such a killer and very narrow in his focus and sometimes petty — just so rigorous. I was the opposite of that, trying to be very charming and charismatic and magnanimous and unattached, until, you know, the heartstrings get pulled.

I read that you came in with notes on Jesse’s character after the creators sent you the scripts. Where did you want to take him?
I was interested in making him less brutal and more charismatic. There’s this idea that a self-made person in the United States has to have this charm to convince people of their ideas and yet always have that killer instinct underneath. There was also a question of whether or not there would be flirtation or sexual crossover with Myha’la, and I felt there was so much of that in the show already. There was plenty of story to mine in Jesse failing to reclaim the relationship with his son and looking at Harper for that feeling. He doesn’t have anybody in his life he can share it with. Once he finds Harper, they have so much in common. His son is of a different ilk. He is a tremendously privileged person. Jesse is privileged now, but as privileged as you become, if you come from new money, you don’t ever feel privileged. In a weird way, it’s his only shot at real intimacy. The battle is about whether or not he can allow it to happen or whether or not his instincts are going to kill it.

It’s interesting to see those class dynamics play out between Jesse and Gus trying to get Leo into Oxford. They’re both obsessed with the Establishment in different ways.
I love the emerging relationship with Gus and the fact that he hired Gus to help his son, and now Gus is close to his son and Jesse can’t get there. There’s a jealousy of Gus and wanting to be part of that world and understand it and yet resenting it tremendously at the same time. He’s never going to get there. He’s born of poor Northeast parents and clawed his way up, and there is not Establishment in him that would allow him to ebb and flow with the world like that.

In an interview, you described Industry as “like brutalist art, for TV,” which is a description I really loved, but I wondered what makes it feel like that to you?
Just watching that first season, I was just like, Jesus, Lord, they don’t let up! There’s a relentlessness from the emotional perspective, and there’s also a starkness to it. It feels singular to me in the spectrum of what’s out there in the world. Succession could be seen as brutal in some way, but this is different. It’s not done for entertainment. It’s being used as entertainment, but it’s just like [Industry creators] Mickey [Down] and Konrad [Kay] lived in that world, and they’re so true to reality. I was overwhelmed by it in a lot of ways, and I was curious if I could survive in that realm.

Do you mean in that realm as an actor?
As an actor, but also the show was made in the fall and the winter in Wales. It was a brutal experience just physically. I was away from my family most of the time in a very, very, very cold and wet and rainy place. I was a fish out of water. I didn’t have any scenes with Ken. I was surrounded by 24-year-olds the entire time. I consider myself to be a young-spirited person, but there’s a moment where I was 48 and I was at a party with all of them and I was the only person over 25. The last time I was at a party like this, I was their age and they were being born! That was very surreal, but it set me up well to play Jesse.

Tell me about Jesse’s hair, styled with the little gray streak. Was that in the script?
Originally the part was written for somebody older than me, and I tend to look younger than I am. All this gray and white in my beard is all natural, but we thought trying to create a gray streak would be fun and good — until I realized how much fucking work that is in the hair-and-makeup chair every morning. It’s about an hour every morning to tone it and prep it. Apparently, the hardest thing to do is create realistic gray and white hair. But we had an awesome hair-and-makeup team that I called the Balkan Hair Team; there was one from Bosnia, one from Serbia, one from Herzegovina. They were my buds over there in Wales.

Jay Duplass Wanted to See If He Could Survive Industry