Jessica Plumber plays Emma in BBC drama The Girl Before

The Girl Before: exclusive interview with Jessica Plummer, star of the BBC’s dark new thriller

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The BBC One adaptation of The Girl Before, JP Delaney’s bestselling thriller, is essential festive viewing. Here, Stylist gets the inside scoop from breakout star Jessica Plummer who plays Emma in the series.

Christmas is a time to get lost in brilliant TV, and this year’s big BBC drama The Girl Before is set to keep us on the edge of our sofas. Starring The Morning Show’s Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Oyelowo and Jessica Plummer in her meatiest role yet, it follows the parallel lives of two women who live in an ultra-minimalist ‘smart house’ and the obsessive architect who built it.

Plummer plays Emma, a young woman who moves into One Folgate Street to try and escape the trauma of her past. As her timeline interweaves with the story of Jane, the woman who moves into the house after her, sinister similarities begin to emerge – including the same strict rules the house’s architect forces them to live under. 

The drama is tense and seriously dark in places, but Plummer is no stranger to tackling heavier topics; most notably in her role as Chantelle Atkins in EastEnders’ much-talked-about domestic abuse storyline. Making the leap from soap to primetime BBC drama was seamless for Plummer, but she’s still taking in the success that 2021 has brought.

“When I read the script for The Girl Before, I thought ‘This is my dream role, I can’t not get this’,” she says. “But when I got the call, the imposter syndrome immediately set in: ‘Am I worthy?’ Through working with Gugu and David and all the amazing people on this show, though, I feel like my confidence has grown so much. I know I’m worthy now.” 

The Girl Before: Jessica Plummer and David Oyelowo
The Girl Before: Jessica Plummer stars opposite David Oyelowo, who plays an enigmatic architect.

With a meaty psychological thriller under her belt and her sights set on Hollywood, it’s only the beginning for Plummer. As The Girl Before begins on BBC One, Stylist sits down with its breakout star.

Let’s talk about your character, Emma, in The Girl Before – we learn early on that she’s been through something dark. How did you tap into that?

Emma is a person who carries around a lot of shame and guilt about what happened to her, and she doesn’t want to face it. I worked with a therapist before we started filming, and we talked about how she might behave after being so badly hurt, what coping mechanisms she might reach for. I wanted to dig deep to bring reality to her trauma. 

What was the vibe like on set?

It was great. We had a lot of freedom to inject personality into our characters, which I loved. To be honest, in the beginning I just kept having these ‘pinch me’ moments. Working with Gugu and David, even just having conversations with them over lunch and hearing about their experiences in the industry, I learnt so much. It was such an honour, and I feel like I’ve grown massively in terms of my acting capabilities. 

The house, One Folgate Street, is so huge and impressive – it’s like a character in itself. What did you make of it?

I remember reading the script and imagining what it might look like, but the real thing was beyond my imaginings. It was an unreal set. Often you just get individual rooms built next to each other, stairs that lead nowhere and taps that don’t work, but this was a fully functioning house. Could I live there for real? Probably not, it’s a bit too big and empty for me. And man, it was freezing cold – in most scenes I’ve got heatpads under my clothes and every time they said “cut” I was running over to the heater. 

The Girl Before: Jessica Plummer and Ben Hardy
The Girl Before: Jessica Plummer plays Emma opposite Ben Hardy, her on-screen partner.

What’s next for you career-wise?

I feel like I’ve made a real transition in my career and I’m so excited to see what 2022 brings – I’m open, I don’t want to be pigeonholed. Saying that, I’ve done a lot of heavy stuff in the past few years so maybe something fun, like an action film – something where I can run around and jump off buildings. I’m just going to put it out there: I want to be the next James Bond.

Speaking of stunts, we weren’t allowed to do our own in The Girl Before. I say ‘stunts’ – apparently climbing stairs with no banister counts as a stunt! So every time you see anyone going up and down the stairs at One Folgate Street, it’s either us walking up with a full harness on under our clothes, or a body double with a wig on. 

What’s Christmas like in your house?

We’re all in front of the TV, pyjamas on 24/7, comfort food on tap. I love the festive season because it’s the perfect excuse to curl up with a cup of tea and just watch some really good telly. That’s why I’m so excited that The Girl Before is out in December – it is prime sofa time.

The Girl Before is on BBC One and BBC iPlayer at 9pm on Sunday 19 December  

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Images: DWGH Photography shot at The Photography Foundation, BBC
Hair and make-up: Nadia Altinbas
Fashion: Georgia Medley 

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Meena Alexander

Meena Alexander is Stylist magazine’s features editor.