Many people can relate to having to make concessions in order to rent somewhere to live, but a stylish new thriller makes rules such as “no pets” or “no smoking” look positively relaxed.
In The Girl Before, which is based on JP Delaney’s best-selling novel, a woman agrees to adhere to extremely strict conditions in order to live at a stunning high-tech house, and soon finds herself trying to get to the bottom of what happened to the home’s previous tenants.
The mini-series has been associate-produced by Loki star Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who approached her old friend David Oyelowo about playing the creepy owner of the residence.
Oyelowo says this was a first for him. “I don’t know that I’ve ever had a fellow actor send me a script,” he told Backstage, the film and TV podcast from Sky News.
“Other directors I’ve worked with, maybe producers… and yeah, literally where I was sat or stood when I read it was the place I remained till I finished. It was so compelling.”
Mbatha-Raw, who also stars in the show, says it was her first time being involved in casting conversations.
“I knew it was a role that was so juicy and interesting and something that I had never seen David do before – as talented and as diverse as his career is,” she said. “This was a role that I felt like would be a juicy departure for him to play.”
The show also stars Jessica Plummer and Ben Hardy – both former EastEnders actors, though they weren’t on the soap at the same time – as the couple who lived in the house before.
Oyelowo is brilliant as the sinister, enigmatic homeowner. He admits he related to the character – despite not really wanting to – especially when watching a scene involving Plummer’s character, Emma.
“It was worrying for me, not only connecting to the creepiness, but also there were just aspects of his character,” he said.
“I’m quite a neat freak, and there’s one moment in particular where I think it’s a split screen where Gugu is putting up her clothes very neatly and Jessica’s character is just throwing them in the top shelf, and I’m so horrified by Jessica’s side of the screen.
“There were definitely moments like that, where I was like, ‘maybe I should go and see the therapist’.”
Plummer told Backstage that it was a role she was determined to win – despite the audition process not going as smoothly as she had hoped.
“As soon as I got the [scripts] for the audition, it was like, ‘right, I need to book this, this is me, I am Emma, how am I going to make this happen’?” she said.
“Which is funny, actually, because my first audition over Zoom was a complete nightmare – the door rang, my daughter fell off of her trampoline. Then later on for my recall audition I got sent a few of the drafts of the scripts and even more so, I knew that I had to be involved.”
The actress says the house, which is really a character in the series in its own right, was a treat to film in.
“It is just as stunning as what it is on screen, if not maybe more,” she said. “It was like insanely big, very, very cold because it was in a warehouse, builders came in and built this house from the ground up – it was fully functioning.
“A lot of the time on sets, you’ll turn on a tap and you have to pretend that there’s water running, but it was exactly what you saw on screen.”
The Girl Before is out on BBC One on 19 December – hear our review in the latest episode of Backstage, the film and TV podcast from Sky News