It is a chilly November day and David Jonsson is all smiles. And rightfully so – this month is the release of his much anticipated lead role in the BBC/HBO show Industry.
Set to be a binge-worthy blockbuster in the same bracket as Billions and Succession this gritty portrayal of the underbelly of finance in London shines a light on the ugly side to the banking machine that keeps the economy going.
At the fictional firm of Pierpoint & Co. greed, power, ambition run rampant and there’s no place for weakness or the faint of heart. We follow a troupe of young recruits that survived the ruthless interview and selection process to win a seat at the laudable Pierpoint graduate programme only to fight for their right to stay. As the programme heads tell their bright eyed recruits: by the end of it, over seventy percent of them will be packed off home.
Among the colourful characters and storylines are banker stereotypes, intimately recognisable figures to anyone who has worked in or been near the world of finance. Although doses of Hollywood creative license are interwoven to compress the banking world into a fast paced series of intense anecdotes, the show does a largely brilliant job of exposing the toxic undercurrents of its subject matter.
A largely unknown cast play their respective roles beautifully under the guidance of an excellent script (by creators Mickey Down and Konrad Kay) and the collaborative direction of four directors (including Girl’s creator Lena Dunham who took the helm of the pilot episode).
Eager to a fault their characters are openly susceptible to the whims of their superiors and subsequently collapse, rally and morph around them to survive.
Jonsson plays one of the main four characters the story is based around, diving into the deep-end of what will undoubtedly be a hit show that will make his name a household one.
We caught up with the bright young star over digital video conference to talk about Industry, his journey, his love of cinema and turning up to Eton unannounced:
DDW: How did you get started? Tell us about the journey that led you to Industry
David Jonsson grins, looking fresh and confident. Straight away, he has all the hallmarks of a star; expressive eyes, a broad winning smile and a charisma that translates even on a Zoom call with a sometimes spotty internet connection.
DJ: I am an East London boy. I was born and bred there, I’m from a very humble working class family. My path to acting was well – [laughs]… I was quite naughty at school and I was on a report card a lot where they sent you home and told your parents to fill this form out that lists your behaviour.
One day I came home and my mum said ‘what are you going to do with your life!?’ – I was 11 or 12 at the time – and I just said ‘I want to act!’ And she said ‘fine!’ … and honestly that was the moment. I think she was really just trying to tell me to be serious with something.
But I grew up on film – I used to watch Sidney Poitier and these really old films, my dad sort of raised me on it. I would watch these people and automatically fall in love… That’s where it came from, and I’ve been following ever since.
DDW: It’s so important to have that guide, that Northstar, to follow. Everyone should have that moment young.
DJ: One hundred percent. My family has been instrumental in that for me – they are very loving and nurturing but also very good at keeping me focused, pushing me and stopping me from procrastinating.
Somewhat ironically – we get off track whilst discussing the importance of focus in life. We swap stories about our shared love of film; going from Forrest Gump, to the underrated talents of Jim Carey and his incredible performance in Man on the Moon (the 1999 film about the late Andy Kaufman). I mention that he was robbed of an Oscar that year only because he is considered a comedic actor…
DJ: Well the thing about that is – it always gets me… What is a comedic actor? Listen – I’m young and I’m still figuring it all out, you know, but I would hate to be pigeon-holed so that I could only do that.
If his performance in Industry is anything to go by – Jonsson is in no danger of being pigeon-holed anytime soon. His scene-stealing portrayal of stiff upper lipped Etonian Augustus ‘Gus’ Sackey is delicately crafted, showing incredible depth in character.
Jonsson embodies it so fully, embracing the cold calculated stratagems of a complex investment banking graduate hell-bent on success, that the viewer is pulled in with no chance of escape. We follow Gus through his unrelenting drive and steely entitlement whilst a pressure cooker of mounting secrets, vulnerability and hidden sexuality start to boil to the surface.
The journey is filled with anxious tension brought forward informed by the show’s creators own experiences in banking. Providing an unfiltered insight into the gritty world of finance they give us extremely rich characters, spot-on dialogue and an honest exposé of the slang, bravado and self-interested sharks that would surround a group of young graduates starting out.
Jonsson credits the script for enthralling him from day one:
DJ: I was in the desert filming, playing an Mi5 officer, at the time I got the script. I was in a totally different mindset but when I started reading, I could just feel everything that [Mickey and Konrad] wanted me to feel, I could smell it… even down to the way it was going to be shot, everything was so precise and human, even the sex scenes were portrayed in a way that they were not salacious – they felt real, natural and candid.
And when filming this candour translated into the set itself. Mickey and Konrad totally brought it to life. They were very much involved on set and whenever I had questions I could come up to them and ask ‘is this for real? I mean – would this actually happen?’ And they would reassure me that that’s how it works and that it was based on their own experiences.
DDW: Gus is so polished, vulnerable and comes across with this braggadocio, bravado-filled icy exterior. Even the way he wears his immaculate shirts and suits is so precise…When you were developing him as a character, what inspiration did you use to flesh him out?
DJ: Gus is very different from me. Im an East London boy – I grew up in a very humble family. He’s just not that – he went to Eton and Oxford – these power-league schools, so one of the first things I did is that I just showed up at Eton…
I just went and they showed me around… it was mental. You walk around this incredible place and you can feel the sheen and braggadocio from these kids who are thirteen and going around in their outfits with their tail coats and popped collars. I then went to walk around Oxford to see what that life is like.
I also read loads of books – Gus is incredibly intelligent, quick and witty. I remember reading the Art of War by Sun Tzu and it really resonated. There’s something really tactical about the way Gus plays the game a lot of the time.
He keeps a copy of William Thackeray’s Vanity Fair on his shelf which he took from the library at Eton when he was a student and writes his life plan on the first page: ‘Millionaire by 25, Cabinet Minister by 35, Prime Minister by 45’. He’s that meticulous.
DDW: Unbridled ambition seems to run rampant throughout. Did the cut-throat and competitive nature of the characters translate to the relationships between the actors off-set?
DJ: There’s definitely an element of real friendship between them but also that element of ‘I need to get what’s mine’ and that’s part of what the show spins on. It’s funny because as we filmed it the four of us [lead roles] naturally spent a lot of time together…For all of us it’s our first ‘big thing’ so we all instantly gelled. But you know it was weird because in the show Gus is Gus and he does whatever he wants to do…and that rubs off on you.
I spent a lot of time in character in this amazing trading floor built for us (at Pinewood Cardiff). It just felt right to live like him and be him in this space. Gus is also in the Investment Banking division which is the ‘Ivory Tower’ as it were and so I spent a lot of time away from the other guys. Which means that sometimes the night before we would all be hanging out together normally and the next day I would come in as Gus and they would ask what was wrong with me [laughs].[For the characters] There’s definitely that friendship but it just turns instantly and you don’t really know who’s your ally. I think everyone navigated that really well – we were really good off-set but on-set you never really knew what you were going to get.
DDW: Overall there’s a great cadence to the show – filled with youthful energy and fast pace. Did it feel that way when filming? From an outside perspective it would seem that Lena Dunham (of Girls fame) who directed the first episode, set the tone for direction. Did that pace carry throughout?
DJ: We had 4 incredible directors (Lena Dunham, Tinge Krishnan, Ed Lilly, Mary Nighy) and each one was very different with their own styles and visions which was really interesting.
But with Mickey and Konrad constantly involved and knowing what the show was so profoundly, it allowed the directors to add their vision but also jump right into the rhythm.
Lena definitely set the tone but each one of the directors added to it to make it what it is.
DDW: As a city, London, features so prominently across the show, it’s almost a love letter to it showing its underbelly as much as its beauty. Did that come across when filming?
DJ: Absolutely. I think out of the four main cast I am actually the only Londoner – I am the only person actually from London. I do feel that sometimes when you’re a Londoner you forget the surprises – you forget that there’s the London Eye or the other sites… you just carry on. And it was amazing doing the show and watching it back and totally re see London.
The architecture … the views. [Directors] Ed and Lena really made it an important point to grab specific shots, tracking shots of the bridge or… a building. London is almost like another character in the show and I am super proud of that as it’s my city.
DDW: The name of the show is interesting. The fact that it’s called Industry is such a clever title as it seems to speak to not just the financial industry in itself but as a statement piece about all the toxic industries that have bubbled over in the past few years. It feels like a good mirror for people to come back and look at the current state of the world through the lens of one of finance.
DJ: I remember us talking about this on set very briefly – the name Industry – it almost suggests consumerism in the title and you can’t tell if you’re the consumer or if in a way you’re the supplier…either way you’re in the industry. Nevertheless, ultimately, it is a show about life and young kids trying to make it through.