SPOILER ALERT: This piece contains spoilers for all episodes of “The Girl Before,” which arrived to HBO Max on February 10.
David Oyelowo isn’t eager to inhabit a minimalist home like his character from “The Girl Before.” “It would probably be fun for a weekend as a novelty, but this is not the place for me,” he says. “If Edward Monkford were my landlord, I think he would murder me.”
And murder was certainly on viewers’ minds during the four-episode HBO Max series, as Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s Jane doggedly pursues answers about the death of her building’s former tenant, Emma (Jessica Plummer).
Before joining the cast, Oyelowo didn’t read the book “The Girl Before” is based on, written by creator and executive producer J.P. Delaney: “I didn’t want to know, because that’s part of the joy of it, trying to figure it out. Having all these twists and turns, some of them unexpected. Some of them may be what you expect, but not in quite the way you expected it.”
The show’s final episode reveals that, despite Jane’s mounting suspicion of Edward, he was not actually responsible for Emma’s death. Rather, Emma’s ex-boyfriend Simon (Ben Hardy) had pushed her down the stairs during a heated argument fueled by jealousy. During a tense showdown where it seems history may repeat itself, Jane manages to fend Simon off, and he tumbles to his death.
“I was genuinely surprised with where it went,” Oyelowo says of his reaction to reading the script’s final pages. “And I’m pretty good at discerning these things early. And even my wife, who is an absolute genius — she read it and didn’t get it. So that to me really exemplified how well-constructed it was as a psychological thriller.”
The actor says he’s proud of the way the series tackled the trauma at the heart of Emma, Edward and Jane’s sometimes puzzling actions. “As a society, we are getting better at acknowledging the reality of both trauma and the need for mental health, and the need for it to be treated as important,” he says.
“I think in the past, a show like this one, the reasons why these people are behaving in the questionable ways they’re behaving would sort of be swept under the rug, and maybe would just be a given: ‘OK, he’s the slightly creepy one, he’s the jealous one.’ But all of these behaviors come from places where we’re all nursing wounds and pain points that manifest in our relationships in ways that can sometimes be unhealthy.”
As the dust settles, Saul (Mark Stanley) finally gets arrested for sexually assaulting Emma, while Edward accompanies Jane to terminate her pregnancy. However, she decides to keep their child, and raise him without Edward. Jane sends a nurse to deliver him a message: “I think right now, you’re trapped in the past. And I can’t let myself get trapped in there with you.”
The last viewers see of Edward, he’s sitting somewhere familiar: the therapist’s office where both Jane and Emma learned to open up. “I think she’ll help you too, if you let her,” Jane’s letter reads.
Oyelowo believes the relationship could be a catalyst for personal growth in Edward. “Lisa Brühlmann and I talked a lot about what lessons we thought Edward might have learned from his relationship with Emma, that informed his relationship with Jane. And so there were slight tweaks that we were keen to add in terms of his disposition with Jane, that was different to Emma. And I have to believe that his relationship with Jane probably had an even more significant effect on him.”
So what’s next for the stoic architect? “I don’t think Edward is the is the guy who suddenly becomes a warm, fuzzy dad with a white picket fence and two and a half kids,” Oyelowo says. “I think that there’s a lot more he needs to work through and work out. And I think, for Edward, there probably going to be a lot more mistakes made before he gets to a place of wholeness.”