Plus, David Oyelowo reveals the surprising reason his friend Oprah Winfrey won't be watching.

When The Girl Before hits HBO Max on Thursday, there is a surprising famous face who won't be tuning in: Oprah Winfrey.

"I tell you who is terrified of psychological thrillers is Oprah," The Girl Before star and Winfrey pal David Oyelowo tells EW ahead of the miniseries' debut. "I spoke to her this weekend. I was like, 'Okay, so you've got to watch this thing, The Girl Before,' " he recounts, giving his best impression of the television legend as he says, "She's like, 'What is it?' I said, 'Psychological thriller.' [She goes,] 'Nope. No. Don't like those, don't like those, don't like those. I need to know what happens next.' "

And she won't at least check it out for her Oyelowo? "Listen, I've told her it is a test of our love for each other, whether she watches this show or not," he says with a laugh. "Like, if she doesn't watch it, it's really, it's going to be a problem. So I am waiting for my phone call."

Winfrey's aversion for thrillers aside, the cast of the four-episode adaptation of J.P. Delaney's best-selling novel of the same name say they were all game for the twisty material, precisely because of the unpredictability of the genre. "This is definitely a psychological thriller, and I love psychology. I love the twists and turns. I love to keep guessing. There's a whodunit element to it," star Gugu Mbatha-Raw says. "I love to feel like I'm leaning in as an audience member and just desperately wanting to find out what happens next, and I think this story really has that." Adds costar Jessica Plummer, "I also love the other aspects of The Girl Before, the fact that there's heartbreak in it and pain and suffering, and there's just so many different layers to it."

Those layers involve the traumas and emotions and lives of four different people, set in two timelines. In the present day there's Jane (Mbatha-Raw), a woman who moves into a beautiful, extremely high-tech, ultra-minimalist house designed by enigmatic architect Edward (Oyelowo), who has an exacting set of rules his tenants must agree to (the house also creepily gathers data on its occupants to supposedly improve the user experience). Jane is recovering from the grief of a stillbirth, and moves into the house seeking a fresh start, only to get sucked into the mystery of what happened to Emma (Plummer), the girl who lived in the house three years prior who died under mysterious circumstances and bares a striking resemblance to Jane.

Mbatha-Raw, who describes her character as "very successful in her life and very self-contained, but [with] a lot of turmoil going on under the surface," says she was fascinated by her character's "journey that she goes on from this quite fragile state to taking on a more empowered role in terms of finding out what happened to Emma."

Then there's Edward, who begins a relationship with his new tenant and is still dealing with his own loss. "He lost his wife through very unfortunate circumstances, and he has something called repetition compulsion, which means he's basically trying to go back to the moment of that trauma and fix it," Oyelowo explains. "So he does this very odd thing of using this house he's built to try and attract women who remind him of his wife. And through the course of the show, we see his relationship with these two women, [Jane and Emma], in two separate timelines."

In the past we meet Emma, who like Jane is also seeking a fresh start after a traumatic experience (the likes of which get explored more as the series goes on), and moves into the house with her boyfriend, Simon (Ben Hardy). "She is wanting change, wanting to fix things, but, at the same time kind of run away, because admitting the things that she's had to go through would make her feel incredibly guilty, because she feels at fault for those things," Plummer teases. "We find her desperately wanting to be ahead and control the situations of the stuff that she's going through, but doesn't manage to, and in fact does the complete opposite and just ends up in a great big mess."

Hardy, who admits it's rare that a script crosses his desk that truly surprises him ("I was just completely baffled by this one, and that really got me excited to be a part of it," he says), describes his character as "very much in love with his girlfriend" to the point of being "willing to do anything to make her happy." "He's obsessed with just trying to make her happy and trying to have this life with her, and for her to be his perfect girlfriend and kind of fill some void within himself," Hardy explains. "And he's also kind of struggling with this idea of what it is to be a man and what it is to be masculine. He feels that's how he has to be, to be able to have a woman like Emma."

the girl before
David Oyelowo and Gugu Mbatha-Raw star in 'The Girl Before.'
| Credit: Amanda Searle/ HBO Max

The two timelines, which become increasingly interwoven as Jane attempts to piece together what happened to Emma and why and what it could mean for her own life, both take place in this jaw-dropping house, which was built from scratch for the production by production designer Jon Henson and his team.

The four stars all agree that they might like to stay in the house on occasion if they could — minus its rules, and spying, and questionnaires, of course. But it begs the question: Why do Emma and Jane decide to live there willingly?

The architect himself has an idea about that. "We can have a certain judgmental outlook on those things, but it's tied to their experience. It's tied to their needs in that given moment. And often, especially when it comes to relationships, it's to do with your own insecurities, your own traumas, your own hurts, your own hopes for yourself that are tied to choices made that may be seemingly ill-advised [to others], but they are the right choices for you in that given moment," Oyelowo offers. "And so that to me is what the show explores. Yes, optically you go 'hell no,' but these two women, they're very intelligent. They're upwardly mobile. They make that choice for very specific reasons that I think this show does a pretty good job of exploring."

The Girl Before
Jessica Plummer and Ben Hardy star in 'The Girl Before.'
| Credit: Amanda Searle/ HBO Max

The Girl Before, which is directed by Emmy-nominated Killing Eve and Servant helmer Lisa Brühlmann and co-written by Delaney and Marissa Lestrade, also stars Rakhee Thakrar, Amanda Drew, and Ian Conningham. All four episodes hit HBO Max on Thursday.

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