HBO's latest drama, Industry, revolves around the lives of several fresh graduates who are competing for a limited number of positions at a lauded (but fictional) investment bank. The series' premiere episode was directed by Game Of Thrones' Lena Dunham, with much of the drama centring on greenhorn Harper Stern (Myha'la Herrold) and her mentor, finance veteran Eric Tao (Ken Leung).
In real-life, though, does Leung have the sort of financial acumen that his character has?
"Many people have asked that," said the 50-year-old, laughing out loud. "It's funny because if you knew the truth, you would think it was hilarious how little I know about finance."
But he did go on to explain that the show has changed his perspective on the finance industry. "I used to kind of think, oh, somebody is in finance, all they care about is making money, and it's just numbers numbers numbers. Who understands how they're talking?"
"I didn't really give it much respect — but now I do, because I realise it's so much more than that, in that there is imagination being used and there is creativity being used in how money is moved. It's opened up a whole world I never respected enough to pay attention to," said Leung of his experience on the show.
Leung also answered a frequently asked question, although not in the way that you'd have expected — what were the challenges he's faced as an Asian American actor?
"I'm asked [that] all the time. For 25 years. And I go through phases, you know. At first I really tried to answer, and say 'oh I do my best' and so on. And I still got asked the same questions. So it's like wait, they're not asking this. It sounds like they're asking this question, but they're not really asking this question," said Leung.
He went to deconstruct the frequently asked question. "The question is really 'are you happy yet? Is this enough for you? Do things need to get better for you to be happy?' Maybe Asians, should we be quiet now? Should we stop protesting? Should we stop clamouring for representation now? And if that's the question then I'm not the one who should answer that, it's you guys. It's the audience. Is the audience happy with the representation out there? If they are, who am I to say any different?"
As the father of a five-year-old boy, Leung expressed hope that his son could accurately see his life represented on screen, that his son would be unconsciously told that his life is important.
"But it's a struggle when you still get Triad Boss #3 roles," he shared. "I still get audition scripts that, I swear, I have read this exact same script before, in some other show."
What about Leung's on-screen mentor-mentee relationship with his co-star Myha'la Herrold, who plays his protege Harper in the series — does this carry over to their professional relationship off camera too?
"A little bit," he said. "If she didn't obviously look so young, and I didn't know that she was as new as she is, I wouldn't think that she [was new at it]. She has incredible poise and is a very disciplined actor. She's very serious, and she's also up for anything, and ready to play. It did not match her being number one on a call sheet for a brand new show."
A call sheet refers to the daily production schedule which outlines the required cast, crew, locations and other notes for the shoot.
"As far as the mentor thing [goes], she likes the idea of me being her mentor. Partially, I think, it's for the show. And partially it's just our friendship. So sometimes she'll text me 'oh I'm worried about this or that, talk me through it', something like that. I think she does that not because she needs it but because she likes that relationship. I think that she's okay, I don't think she needs my advice, she just likes it, because it's kind of become our relationship," said Leung of 24-year-old Herrold.
As the series progresses, though, their mentor-mentee relationship might evolve. However, you'll have to catch the series for yourself to find out what happens next.
Industry is out on HBO (Starhub Ch 601, Singtel Ch 420) every Tuesday at 11am and 11pm.