At 14, Myha'la Herrold Was Singing In Her School’s Christian Rock Band
The Industry star insists she was still very “anti-establishment.”
Myha’la Herrold and her mom are tight. Growing up, it was just the two of them, and her mom was her best friend, sounding board, and own personal hypewoman. But when Herrold was 14, the pair found themselves in a puberty-fueled rough patch. “Yesterday at dinner I was like, ‘Hey, I’m so sorry for those four years when I was a teenager and we were at odds just because of hormones, school, and being young,’” the Industry star tells me from the UK, where she’s celebrating her mother’s birthday. Yet despite their spats, she never stopped championing her daughter. “Like any other 14-year-old, insecurity ran my life,” Herrold says. “But the thing that helped me not totally succumb to that was my mom. From the day I was born she was like, ‘You’re amazing, you can do anything you want to do.’”
Much of Herrold’s insecurity came from the fact that she didn’t quite fit in at the Catholic school she attended in San Jose, California, both because of her unparalleled acting prowess and the color of her skin. “I heard a lot of like, ‘She's getting that because she's the only Black one,” says Herrold, who now stars as the ambitious-to-a-fault young banker Harper Stern on HBO’s Industry. “Then when I told them I got into Carnegie Mellon they were like, ‘Oh my god, of course you did. They must have a quota.’” But her mother was always there to remind Herrold that what made her different was also her superpower. “She was like, ‘Just wait. I know it's hard right now, but you're going to be like 25 years old and so happy.’”
Now 26, Herrold is one of Hollywood’s most exciting rising stars. This summer alone, she co-starred in the Gen-Z slasher satire Bodies Bodies Bodies, filmed Leave the World Behind alongside Julia Roberts and Mahershala Ali, and reprised her role in Season 2 of Industry. “There was a lot of fake it ‘til you make it, because I didn’t have any sort of real confirmation other than my mother [that I was talented],” Herrold says, crediting Industry as the project that made her believe in herself. “Now I know for sure that I’ve earned my place here, because I have evidence that I can do it. And I got out of it alive.”
Below, Herrold reflects on her Tumblr days, bleaching her hair, and why musical theater will always be her first love.
Take me back to 2010, when you were 14. How were you feeling about life?
[It was] devastating. Being a young, queer, mixed person in a very white, suburban, tech-focused place was weird and hard. I was pretty excited for high school, because I was going to a school that a lot of the friends in my local community theater were also going, but it was a private Catholic high school and I was very anti-establishment. There was a dress code where girls had to have their hair long enough that they could put it back and [we couldn’t have] unnatural hair colors. So all of those things were challenging for me, because I was always expressing myself on the outside.
I remember during my freshman year, I had blonde braids. I bleached [my hair] and someone was like, "Um..." I was like, "Blonde is a naturally occurring hair color." Because I'm Black, I was waiting for someone to be like, "Well not [for you]..." They were always like, "Well, it's borderline." So then it was my goal to be as borderline as possible.
Was your hair your primary vehicle for self-expression?
No. My first two years of high school, I was making a lot of my own clothes. My grandma was a seamstress and I learned how to sew from her. I got into a Tumblr sub thread at some point [that inspired me to] make these sort of genderless, boxy clothes. But they were all really cute. I hand-painted a cat on the front of one of them.
We weren't allowed to wear were tight jeans, skinny jeans, or leggings. But I noticed if I wore jeans that were tight — or something that was the same as a very thin, white person — I got in trouble and they didn't. So I had a lot of those arguments. I was also in our Christian rock band. We had band uniforms and I was like, "I'm not wearing some dowdy, oppressive floor length moment in this Christian rock band. I'm taking us to American Apparel and we're going to find something that is in dress code.”
Hold up, you were in your school’s Christian rock band?
Yeah, it was really weird. The leader of the band also happened to be the principal, who was 80 years old. We played all the masses, which was entirely foreign to me. I was singing worship songs and whatever.
Outside of finding style inspiration, was Tumblr a big part of your life?
Absolutely. I experienced a lot of body dysmorphia, and even developed an eating disorder, so Tumblr was a place where I often expressed my deepest self-loathing and woes in pictures. There would be pictures of people with bruises, or just weird stuff.
Unfortunately, the principal found my Tumblr. He called me [into school] on a Saturday and he had my Tumblr up on his desktop and was just scrolling through it. He was like, "I'm not a prude, but this seems like... is someone hurting you?" I was like, "Well, you are right now by invading my privacy.” Then a female administrator coerced me into telling her about my eating disorder. And they tried to accuse my mom of encouraging some sort of weird thing. They were like, "We called CPS just to make sure." It was the worst day of my life.
I’m so sorry. What a horrific experience for both you and your mom.
She was like, "Isn't that completely illegal for you, as administrators, to invite a minor to school and then coerce them into talking about things they don't want to talk about?" So it was pretty insane. They made me delete my Tumblr, which I was very upset about because then I had no outlet anymore. I just felt all these feelings and had no way to express them.
It seems like you had a lot of creative energy at that time, whether you were channeling it into Tumblr or in the band. Did you always know you wanted to pursue the arts?
I've always known that I wanted to be a performer of some sort. I wanted to be a dancer, then once I reached 15, I said, “Oh, I want to sing.” Then when I went to college [at Carnegie Mellon] for musical theater. When I graduated, I still believed that I was going to go and do musical theater. But in the musical theater world, there weren't many options. That world is incredibly small and the same 100 people are in the same things all the time. At the time of graduating, and still, there just weren’t any shows or stories that I was super drawn to. Then finally, when I got Industry, I was like, “Oh yeah, this is what I'm really, really good at.” Musical theater is my first love, but TV and film is just really doing it for me.
What do you think your 14-year-old self would think of your life now?
I think she might be like, “What happened to you? You used to be so much fun!” I'm a huge homebody. I love to be home with my tea, my man, and my cats. I love an early bedtime. So she might be like, “What happened? Why are we not going out?” Then I hope she would be like, “Damn, you really did that.” I hope she would see me and be excited about what our life's going to look like.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.