Archive for the ‘Feature’ Category
  August 23, 2022
  Posted by Mouza
  Feature, Gallery Update, Photoshoot

When Gugu Mbatha-Raw first received the script for Surface, she was in Atlanta, filming the first season of Loki—about to become an enormous hit for the still-building Disney+ platform. It was the late summer of 2020, and she was content, if not exactly challenged, in the iron-pressed shirt collar and necktie of Ravonna Renslayer. She ached for an opportunity to stretch stiff muscles, especially as the pandemic continued the squeeze the television industry.

“I had a great experience on Loki,” she tells me when we meet for lunch in Midtown Manhattan this July. “But I think the Marvel world is a particular genre. So it was very refreshing to me to read Surface at the time, because it was so different to what I was working on.”

She already had a connection to the production company behind Surface: Hello Sunshine, co-founded by Mbatha-Raw’s The Morning Show cast-mate Reese Witherspoon. From Atlanta, she Zoomed with Surface showrunner Veronica West, with Witherspoon herself, and with Hello Sunshine President of Film & TV Lauren Neustadter. Together, they took the pitch to Apple, “and they pretty much bought it right away,” Mbatha-Raw says.

By Thanksgiving of 2020, a writers’ room was at work, and by June 2021, Mbatha-Raw was on set in Vancouver, in the lead role of Sophie, an amnesiac struggling to make sense of her life and relationships after a presumed suicide attempt leaves her without memories. As an executive producer as well as actress for Surface, she’d had a heavy hand in everything from Sophie’s musical tastes to who would play her co-stars, including Oliver Jackson-Cohen as Sophie’s husband, James, and Ari Graynor as her friend Caroline. As such, Mbatha-Raw’s tastes are felt throughout the series; her, as she puts it, “British sensibility” adds gloss and dimension to what might otherwise feel—if you’ll forgive me—a mere surface-level investigation of monied myth-making.

As the series speeds toward its finale, critics have widely deemed Mbatha-Raw as the standout in an otherwise mixed reception. Her face—Sophie’s face—contorts as she learns new details about her past lives, but even more so as she learns how to harness those details. Surface’s protagonist is not innocent, neither before nor after her accident, and the thrill of connecting those two threads is most evident in Mbatha-Raw’s performance, as she spins the wheels of reinvention behind Sophie’s tony exterior.

In a wide-ranging conversation ahead of the Surface premiere, I learned how Mbatha-Raw poured both her practical and artistic skills into Surface, what she hopes for the future of the series, and how her time on Loki has informed her future creative endeavors. [More at Source]

  August 14, 2022
  Posted by Mouza
  Feature, Gallery Update, Photoshoot

The narrative conceit of a character that awakens from a supposed suicide attempt with no memory or sense of their former identity is a fairly delectable proposition for any actor and one that is evidently particularly well suited to Gugu Mbatha-Raw. The actor’s propensity for subtly nerve-shredded existential angst is amply showcased in Surface—the current Apple TV+ show predicated upon precisely the aforementioned proposition. 

The increasingly celebrated thespian in Mbatha-Raw is properly in her element in the slow-burning psychological thriller. Surface spins upon the central axis of a woman named Sophie (played by Mbatha-Raw) whose seemingly high-end affluent life in San Francisco turns out to be a scattered jigsaw puzzle of deceit, debt, love triangles, and, perhaps even, murder most foul. It’s hardly surprising, then, that the Oxfordshire-born actor, who first came to the attention of the world for her sterling performance in the game-changing costume drama Belle, and was most recently on our screens as a sinister time-policing bureaucrat in the surreal Disney+ Marvel spin-off, Loki, jumped at the chance to play such an enticing role. “Surface came to me through the Hello Sunshine company, who I worked with on The Morning Show, and I knew if they were doing it, that it would be quality because an ethos of centering strong female roles in the narrative is in their DNA,” says Mbatha-Raw, with infectious enthusiasm down a crackling phone line from Belfast, Ireland, where she is currently holed-up on-set of new project, Lift. 

“When I read Veronica West’s pilot script [for Surface], it just really drew me in as a mystery. I thought it was so compelling because it placed you right inside my character’s head—a woman who it seems has a perfect life, before the cracks begin to show,” continues the actor of British and South African parentage, whose eye for a good character is inarguably keen, given she has been awarded an MBE for services to drama. “There is this kind of noir element to the story, and I got drawn into the mystery of this love triangle, but also by the fact that I hadn’t really ever seen a woman in a memory story, you know? We have all seen things like The Bourne Identity, and thrillers that have a man at the center of finding out who they are, or what they have done—but I just thought that this being about a woman was intriguing.”

It’s a salient point that memory loss is a pretty well-trodden trope in the history of cinema, having deep roots in the likes of the classic Hitchcock thriller Spellbound and the truly excellent Memento from Christopher Nolan, but it’s fair to say that it is sadly more than a little unusual for the key protagonist to be female (the incomparable Mulholland Drive being the most obvious exception), and, perhaps just as pertinently, it is not a narrative we have seen packaged into the zeitgeist mold of the mini-series before. “There is something about being able to go into an intimate character-driven story like this that you can’t necessarily get on the big screen, because you get to spend eight hours with all these characters and go to deep psychological depths,” says Mbatha-Raw, when I ask her if she has any concerns about the ubiquitous streaming format in general, given that, well, at least in the opinion of this writer, a good deal of shows can sometimes seem just a little too long, and oftentimes unwieldy. “I think there is a comfort in returning episode after episode to a character, and in getting to really explore the nuances of the story,” she continues. “Also, this is just six episodes, so it feels like a tight package. Hopefully, as a viewer, you are on the edge of your seat, and trying to work out the mystery, but there are also some very interesting questions of trust being raised on the way—you can’t always rely on your senses to give you an accurate picture of the outside world, and thereby your inner world.” [More at Source]

  August 09, 2022
  Posted by Mouza
  Feature, Gallery Update, Photoshoot


‘I wish I could take the credit for the emotion-provoking performances, but to be honest, that’s what draws me to them in the writing and the storytelling. If a project or a script can enthrall me in any way – if it makes me laugh, gives me goosebumps or moves me to tears – then I’m gripped, and I know that it’s going to be worth doing it,’ humbly smiles Gugu Mbatha-Raw, when we meet again, this time virtually on a Zoom call. It’s the beginning of June with hot weather unabashedly filling the streets of North London, with the wi-fi connection having a literal meltdown and cutting off, which from time to time interrupts our light-hearted conversation.

She joins the line from a hotel room in Belfast, having returned from Italy, where she was shooting the anticipated Netflix heist action movie Lift, sharing the screen with comedian Kevin Hart. ‘We just got three weeks left to finish the movie. I’m not going to lie that it’s a bit of back to planet earth here, in Belfast. It was wonderful to be in Italy with the weather, food, and culture and bring that with us to the final three weeks in our imaginations,’ wholeheartedly says the actress.

Gugu’s breakthrough came with the British period drama Belle back in 2013, for which she won the BIFA Award for Best Actress. As a versatile performer, carrying so much gravitas in all her projects, no surprise that numerous roles have followed throughout her successful career on both TV (Black Mirror, The Morning Show, Loki, The Girl Before) and the silver screens (Beyond the Lights, Miss Sloane, Beauty and the Beast, Irreplaceable You, Motherless Brooklyn, Misbehavior, Summerland). Now she’s leading the charge on the highly anticipated eight-episode Apple TV+ thriller Surface, which marks her second time working with the streamer, and Reese Witherspoon’s production company Hello Sunshine. Set in San Francisco, Surface follows Gugu’s character Sophie, a woman who has suffered a traumatic head injury which resulted in a memory loss, believed to be a result of a suicide attempt.

Contrary to her character, Gugu is as open-hearted and joyous as the first time I met her back in May. A travel-worthy Watford Heath, where the cover shoot took place, was also graced by a visit from the likes of Erdem, CHANEL, Bottega Veneta, Louis Vuitton and Roksanda in a wardrobe of dreams. Cups of tea were flowing on set, and classics such as I Wanna Dance with Somebody were blasting through the speakers, with our cover story star embracing different alter egos in front of the camera as the force of nature that she is.

Its not usually the way I start any conversation, but its great to meet a person whose powerful performances made me cry more than once.

Ooh!

Im saying this as a compliment. Irreplaceable You – I was sobbing, Black Mirror’s San Junipero – youre right, weeping again. And The Morning Show – where do I even start here? I think you have a superpower if you can make a lasting impact on the audiences emotions, whether thatd be tears, laughter or even a tingling sense of anxiety.

Those projects that youve mentioned thats just not me. I chose them because they’ve moved me. I remember reading Irreplaceable You and crying on my iPad. I thought I was going to break it. I literally had to stop as I was tearing up. The same happened with San Junipero, and I remember that I got chills when I was first pitched The Morning Show. I wish I could take the credit for the emotion-provoking performances, but to be honest, thats what draws me to them in the writing and the storytelling. If a project or a script can enthrall me in any way – if it makes me laugh, gives me goosebumps or moves me to tears – then Im gripped, and I know that its going to be worth doing it.

Do you often become easily attached to characters and the script whilst reading it, or does the sense of attachment come in time?

I mean if it’s good… (laughing) If it’s good, the feeling is pretty instant. Theres something there. And its usually pretty obvious. Its like the soul of the piece. And if the soul isnt there, you can do rewrites and use costumes, accents, and fancy camera angles, but its not going to give it its essential heartbeat. Ninety percent of the things aren’t that good. The reality is that the good stuff stands out. [More at Source]

  July 31, 2022
  Posted by Mouza
  Feature, Gallery Update, Interview, Photoshoot

You probably recognise Gugu Mbatha-Raw from one of her many high-profile stage and screen roles – she’s played everyone from Juliet to Andrew Garfield’s Romeo to Ophelia with Jude Law in Hamlet, not to mention The Morning Show and Loki (merely Disney+’s most-watched Marvel series ever). But away from her impressive acting career, Mbatha-Raw has been toiling away in a new, somewhat more personal role – as an aspiring artist.

Art – specifically, painting – is a long-standing passion of hers and she’s really very good at it. During lockdown, the star became something of a viral sensation for her portraits of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, which she auctioned off, donating proceeds to social justice charities. She’s since shared further works of Chadwick Boseman, Desmond Tutu and Kevin Hart – her co-star in her newest movie, Lift – to her Instagram page. The paintings are genuinely brilliant (Hart’s is especially impressive when you learn that she had Covid while painting it).

‘That was one of the first paintings I’ve given as a gift,’ she admits, of the portrait she presented to Hart on their last day of filming. ‘The film [Lift] is all about an art heist, so we visited The National Gallery with the director. I studied art at school and Kevin developed his interest over the course of the movie – and he’s in a place where he can buy some serious paintings, you know? So, I said, “Well this could be one to add to the collection – hopefully it will increase in value over the years”,’ she laughs.

We’re meeting Mbatha-Raw for a shoot at our new Soho.Home.Studio in Westbourne Grove, London. Just a stone’s throw from Electric House, the new interior design space showcases Soho Home collections inspired by the cities Soho House is located in (think handcrafted furniture alongside textiles, lighting and tableware). Situated over two floors, it features a dedicated interior design service, as well as limited-edition artwork from Soho Home’s ongoing collaborations. The timing of her visit is somewhat fortuitous, since Mbatha-Raw has recently swapped her Stateside abode for one back in good old Blighty and is currently on the hunt for interiors inspiration.

‘The mirrors are really fun and I love the small, swivelling armchairs – they have a very 1950s yet modern vibe,’ she enthuses, zeroing in on the Garrett chair, while taking snaps on her phone of every item that takes her fancy. She’s particularly drawn to the rotating artwork in store, which is created in collaboration with M.A.H Gallery. ‘I’m really attracted to the idea of having a relatively neutral canvas and depending on your mood or the season, changing the tone of the space through art. Home is somewhere I want to relax and I find colour very energising – which is good sometimes, but not when you’re resting.’

How would she describe her own interior style? ‘I’ve been so nomadic over the years, it’s probably a hybrid of the West Coast and old-school London. I’ve never had a “style” because I’ve spent the last 10 to 15 years living out of suitcases, so it ends up being quite eclectic. If you’re always on the move, you’re unable to have clutter. I like quite a clean, calming space.’ It figures then that her favourite room is her bathroom. ‘I love the sanctuary of a big bathtub and a bit of downtime, especially when you’re jet-lagged after travelling or decompressing from a busy day on set.’ [More at Source]

  July 27, 2022
  Posted by Mouza
  Feature, Gallery Update, Interview, Photoshoot

In her new Apple TV+ series Surface, which premieres on Friday, Gugu Mbatha-Raw portrays Sophie, a woman with amnesia who’s trying to piece her life back together. “She doesn’t know who she is, and that was quite a unique challenge as an actor,” Mbatha-Raw tells Vogue. “When you’re creating a character, you often start with a backstory and build their childhood and experiences. For me, it was really liberating, as I had to start from a much more intuitive and sensory place.”

For the new psychological thriller, Mbatha-Raw also serves as an executive producer for the very first time. She says she was drawn to being a part of the project after learning it was being produced by Reese Witherspoon’s media company, Hello Sunshine. “Knowing their ethos and the type of projects that they put together—which are very female focused stories, and empowering women both in front and behind the camera—it was really a no brainer,” says Mbatha-Raw. “[Creator] Veronica West’s script was also just so brilliantly written and mysterious.”

To celebrate the new series last night, Mbatha-Raw, Witherspoon, and more attended the official premiere at New York City’s Morgan Library. “It was pretty special to see Surface on the big screen and with an audience,” says Mbatha-Raw. “Because of COVID, I had only ever seen the show on my own, so to be able to watch it with other people and the rest of the cast and crew was amazing.” The stylish star, who brings easy elegance to the red carpet, brought out a stellar fashion look for the occasion.

Working with stylist Leith Clark, hairstylist Nai’Vasha Grace, and makeup artist Vincent Oquendo, the star wore a draped Alexander McQueen gown in green poly faille, with a built-in cape detail. “The structure of the dress was so striking, and had real architecture to it,” says Mbatha-Raw. “There’s something about this dress that’s very feminine, but it also has an edge to it, which is something you always find with McQueen.” A Brit herself, she said the late designer is still one of her favorites, and this is her first time wearing the label on a red carpet. “I love that there’s a lot of fabric and pleating,” she says. “It’s very interesting—it’s not uniform.”

The star adds that she’s been going through a real green fashion phase lately (last week, for instance, she wore a fringed emerald green Dior dress). “Green is the color of the Heart Chakra,” says Mbatha-Raw. “I love what green represents: life and freshness.” Even her Cartier jewels last night—a High Jewelry bracelet and earrings made of platinum, diamonds, and peridots—were green. When it comes to red carpet dressing in general, Mbatha-Raw says she always looks for a sense of ease. “I like to feel confident and powerful,” she says. “I want to feel like I’m wearing something that I can have a great time in.” [More at Source]

  July 27, 2022
  Posted by Mouza
  Feature, Gallery Update, Photoshoot

 

Sophie, a wealthy Silicon Valley wife whose hobbies include looking at drawers full of her jewellery and attending champagne galas, proved surprisingly low-maintenance as a role for Gugu Mbatha-Raw. The British actor did not undertake her normal levels of research for the part in new psychological thriller Surface, but that’s not because Sophie is straightforward. Far from it — she is enigmatic, complex and suffering amnesia after plunging from a ferry into the sea.

“The character was starting off very much a blank slate,” Mbatha-Raw says over Zoom from a hotel room in New York. “I’m building Sophie as she’s building herself, as we’re experiencing her on screen. It was liberating . . . the acting [had] to stay open and . . . open-eyed, absorbing the world.” 

Sophie is also trying to figure out what would make her attempt suicide. “At the beginning she is quite vulnerable, looking to the men in her life to tell her who she is and to define her,” Mbatha-Raw says. There’s a particular tension with her husband, James (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) — “Is he very loving or is it verging into control?” As the mystery deepens, Sophie reasons she didn’t jump but was pushed.

While the amnesiac role required less research, the show, directed by Sam Miller (I May Destroy You), demanded more of Mbatha-Raw because she was involved behind the scenes as an executive producer. The 39-year-old was lured by the “big draw” of Reese Witherspoon’s production company, Hello Sunshine, which made the big-budget Apple TV series The Morning Show (in which Mbatha-Raw also had a prominent role). She was attracted by its mission to create “female-centred stories and empowering women”. [More at Source]

  July 26, 2022
  Posted by Mouza
  Feature, Gallery Update, Photoshoot

A few minutes into “Surface,” a new eight-part series from Apple TV+, the central character, Sophie, played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, asks her therapist a question:

“If my life was so perfect, why did I try to end it?”

Sophie, who has amnesia after a suicide attempt, has a handsome, wealthy and devoted husband, a World of Interiors-worthy townhouse with a panoramic view of San Francisco, a fun best-girlfriend and a killer wardrobe. She is also beautiful — obviously, since she is played by Mbatha-Raw, the British actress who rose to prominence playing the title role in Amma Asante’s 2014 feature “Belle.”

Mbatha-Raw, 39, has worked prolifically in film and television over the past decade, with starring roles in Gina Prince-Bythewood’s “Beyond the Lights,” the Marvel series “Loki” and, most recently, the Apple TV+ series “The Morning Show.”

But with “Surface,” which will premiere on Friday, Mbatha-Raw is leading a major series for the first time, and also stepping into new terrain as an executive producer of the show, created and written by Veronica West (“High Fidelity,” 2020).

Sophie’s question is the driving force of the show, which West said was inspired by the 1962 Alain Resnais film “Last Year at Marienbad.” Why did Sophie try to kill herself? Did she try to kill herself?

In a recent interview at a London hotel, Mbatha-Raw said she was drawn to “the fact that Sophie herself is the mystery,” adding, “There are amnesia dramas, but I hadn’t seen this with a woman who looks like me at the center.”

The role, she said, had forced her to abandon her usual scrupulous preparation for playing a character. “She is a blank slate, she is looking for clues, and her information comes from those around her,” Mbatha-Raw said. “It was the opposite of creating a back story; here I was building the character as Sophie is building herself throughout the show.”

It was strange to work on playing a married couple when only one character knows the history of the relationship, said Oliver Jackson-Cohen, who plays James, Sophie’s husband. “There are so many different versions of Sophie, and so many versions of Sophie and James,” he said in a telephone interview. “But that’s true of our lives.”

Sophie exists in “two realities,” said Ari Graynor, who plays her best friend, Caroline. “The external reality she is interacting with, and her internal reality of trying to put everything together. Gugu has a gift of allowing both these realities to be simultaneously felt with layers of sensitivity and subtlety and precision.” [More at Source]

  February 17, 2022
  Posted by Mouza
  Feature, Gallery Update, Interview, Photoshoot

There’s no shortage of weird landlord stories out there, but The Girl Before brings the concept to a whole new level. In it, Gugu Mbatha-Raw (of The Morning Show and Loki) plays Jane, a woman recovering from a recent trauma. She seizes a chance to shed the past—and a lot of her stuff—by moving into a sleek, inexplicably affordable jaw-dropper of a house. The only conditions are that the house will collect data on her (it’s rigged up like a giant “smart” device), and that she must follow a lengthy and exacting list of rules (no gardening, no pictures on the wall, etc.) set by Edward, the home’s mysterious owner and architect [played by David Oyelowo]. In time, Jane learns that Edward has some demons of his own involving the home’s previous tenant Emma [played by Jessica Plummer] who, unsettlingly, turns out to look a lot like Jane.

The four-episode miniseries, based on the best-selling novel by J.P. Delaney (who wrote and executive produced the adaptation) and directed by Lisa Brühlmann (Emmy-nominated for her work on Killing Eve) takes viewers through a harrowing psychological labyrinth filled with twists and turns. But the show was also a head trip for its costars Mbatha-Raw and Plummer, as the cast and crew often struggled to tell the two women apart. Recently, the pair caught up via Zoom, and discussed the eerie feeling of playing doppelgängers, their landlord horror stories, and the show’s recent HBO Max release. — EVELINE CHAO

GUGU MBATHA-RAW: You read a lot of psychological thrillers?

JESSICA PLUMMER: Yeah, it’s my go-to genre. Normally it takes me a few days to get through a script, but this one, I literally sat down and read in one sitting.

MBATHA-RAW: It’s such a page-turner, isn’t it? I love that the show has two female leads, which is so refreshing. And it’s stylish, but has substance. It looks really glossy and cool, with the clothes and the house and the architecture, but the characters have all of these deep, emotional things going on.

PLUMMER: Absolutely.

MBATHA-RAW: Tell me about the process of getting into Emma. It’s funny, because we never really acted together. So David [Oyelowo] and Ben [Hardy] know your process much more than I do.

PLUMMER: You know what’s so funny? I actually watched an interview you had done, I think ages ago. You spoke about giving your characters a scent, and I was like, oh my god, I’m doing that.

MBATHA-RAW: Wait, you chose a scent for Emma? What was it?

PLUMMER: Jo Malone Lime Basil and Mandarin.

MBATHA-RAW: This is amazing. Jane’s was Le Labo Rose.

PLUMMER: That’s so funny, I almost gave Emma a rose scent.

MBATHA-RAW: Girls connected.

PLUMMER: I know. I thought a rose perfume would be good for Emma, but when I sprayed it on myself, I felt like it needed to have a bit more zing.

MBATHA-RAW: That totally makes sense, because anything citrus has that zing. I feel like Emma, and you naturally, have that vivacious and bright energy. With Le Labo Rose, I wanted something that feels a bit more heavy and sophisticated. Also because of the rose quartz, which both our characters share. [More at Source]

  December 21, 2021
  Posted by Mouza
  Feature, Gallery Update, Interview, Photoshoot

Gugu Mbatha-Raw is on a quest. For a cup of tea. It doesn’t seem like too much to ask: after all, it is mid-afternoon and we have met at the grandest hotel in San Francisco, the Fairmont, which sits atop Nob Hill. She has a word with the concierge who says that unfortunately tea is unavailable at this hour and advises us to try another hotel nearby. So off we go into the sunshine, Mbatha-Raw joking about how hopeless the Americans are at tea anyway: ‘You get hot water and a teabag on the side and they haven’t even taken it out of the wrapping.’

The next hotel, almost equally luxurious, seems to confirm this. ‘Tea?’ asks the host in the lobby café. ‘Of course.’ He directs us towards a hot-water dispenser and some paper cups. Mbatha-Raw and I look at each other, slightly aghast. ‘We’re so British,’ Mbatha-Raw explains politely. ‘Where can we just sit down and get tea?’

‘Ah yes,’ says the host, with just a flicker of a smile. ‘Have a seat and John will be over to serve you your tea.’

At last we are settled comfortably in a corner with a pot of Earl Grey and some milk on the side. The café is quite crowded but, although she is now one of the most high-profile British actresses in the US, Mbatha-Raw goes unnoticed. Dressed in faded grey jeans, a white shirt and a big yellow scarf, she does not draw attention to herself: ‘I’m living out of a suitcase at the moment, so [I just wear] what’s not too crumpled. Normally I’m top to toe in black, so you’ve got me on quite a bright day.’ She is especially pleased with her beige suede Isabel Marant boots. ‘I stole them from The Girl Before [her current BBC series]; they were for [somebody else’s character] and they didn’t fit. So I thought, “As no one’s wearing them…” Hilarious. I don’t often steal things from shows.’

People often can’t quite place her. ‘Sometimes they say, “You’re an actress, aren’t you? What have I seen you in?’ And it’s always cringey because it could be so many things and I don’t really want to stand there and list my whole CV and they’re going, “No, no, no…”’

It’s certainly an impressive CV. There was her breakout role in the award-winning period drama Belle, the riotous Misbehaviour with Keira Knightley, and the neo-noir crime drama Motherless Brooklyn with Alec Baldwin. (Mbatha-Raw and I meet a couple of weeks after he accidentally shot dead a cinematographer, which she describes as ‘a shocking tragedy’.) More recently, she has played celebrity wrangler Hannah in the Apple TV+ drama series The Morning Show, executive-produced by Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon. And she stars in the 2021 Marvel TV series Loki with Tom Hiddleston, who was at Rada at the same time as Mbatha-Raw. [More at Source]

  December 21, 2021
  Posted by Mouza
  Feature, Gallery Update, Interview, Photoshoot

As those of us who have spent more time than usual at home over the last couple of years will know, those four walls can be a sanctuary, prison or, at times, both. Beautiful, monolithic and eerily empty, the house in the new BBC/HBO drama The Girl Before is definitely both. “The house,” says Gugu Mbatha-Raw with a laugh, “is the real star.” At one point in the first episode, Mbatha-Raw’s character Jane appears to have developed an intense relationship with it, caressing its smooth stone and glass.

In The Girl Before, adapted from the bestselling psychological thriller by JP Delaney, Jane passes a rigorous vetting process before being allowed to rent this minimalist dream home. In return for cheap rent, she has to agree to around 200 strange and stringent rules set by the architect and owner. “No books?” she says, incredulous, when the estate agent reels off some of the stipulations (no pictures, no ornaments, “no children, obviously”). Jane will be watched, her every move and metric monitored, even her moods influenced, by the technologically advanced house and its creepy creator. She soon finds out that she is the second tenant – and she makes a chilling discovery about the first, Emma (played by Jessica Plummer).

Mbatha-Raw does not seem so attached to houses. She bought one in Oxfordshire last year, but has barely had a chance to live there. She is, she says, “a nomad for work”. When we meet in a central London restaurant, Mbatha-Raw has not long returned from Vancouver where she was filming the lead role in Surface, a drama for Apple TV+. Before that, she was in Atlanta, filming the Marvel fantasy series Loki, in which she plays the judge Ravonna Renslayer. The fact that The Girl Before was so different to Loki appealed to her; from period drama to fantasy to Shakespeare to futuristic love stories (she starred in San Junipero, still regarded as the most uplifting episode of Black Mirror), Mbatha-Raw seems resistant to typecasting. “I’d never done a psychological thriller before,” she says, remembering when she read the script for The Girl Before. “I also loved the fact that it was female-driven; there wasn’t just one great female part, but two.”

Both Emma and Jane have a relationship with the architect-owner, Edward, played by David Oyelowo, who is extremely controlling (and quite possibly murderous). Control seems to be the main theme, not just in Edward’s abusive coercive control-type behaviour, but something all the characters are trying to wrestle with, often as a result of grief or loss. “I looked at it as a journey for Jane, getting her power back,” says Mbatha-Raw.

I can’t say I loved the book, with its nasty undercurrents and excruciatingly unsexy dialogue; Edward is not only extremely controlling, he is also a finickity bore, obsessed with limescale deposits and where his olive oil comes from. But if anyone can infuse him with grace and charisma, it’s Oyelowo, and the calibre of the team – not just the cast, but the director Lisa Brühlmann, who has directed episodes of Killing Eve – is reassuringly high.

Mbatha-Raw, in her first producing role, brought Oyelowo, who is a friend, on board. She was also a producer on Surface, which is being made by Reese Witherspoon’s production company, Hello Sunshine. The experience of being a producer, she says, has been interesting, “because, in some ways it validates the opinions or ideas that you may have, but perhaps it’s not your place to say, or you’re encouraged to stay in your lane as an actor.” Has she felt unable to speak up before? “Not personally,” she says. “I know other actors who have felt that way.” [More at Source]