'Greta' Director Neil Jordan Discusses His New Film, Blending Genres, and the Extraordinary Isabelle Huppert

Filmmaker Neil Jordan has an incredibly diverse career, with one of the biggest constants that fans have come to expect being that his films will always deliver something unconventional and unexpected. From film like The Crying Game to Interview with the Vampire to Byzantium, Jordan constantly finds ways to blend seemingly unrelated genres into compelling films that refuse to be defined with one label.

The filmmaker's latest, Greta, continues this trend, delivering audiences a thrilling drama about the effects of isolation and loneliness.

Young waitress Frances (Chloë Grace Moretz) has recently moved to New York City, bringing her small-town manners with her. After seeing an older woman, Greta (Isabelle Huppert), leave her purse behind on the subway, Frances returns the bag to its owner, striking up a friendship with the woman. This relationship results in Frances discovering Greta has multiple purses and aliases, seemingly used to lure in other victims, and the waitress confronts her new "friend" about her schemes, making her wish she had never retrieved the bag in the first place.

ComicBook.com recently spoke with Jordan about his latest film, his interest in blurring genre lines, and the experience of collaborating with an immensely talented cast.

greta movie isabelle huppert chloe grace moretz
(Photo: Focus Features)

ComicBook.com: While the intial trailer for the film billed Greta as a straightforward thriller, there are many other effective narrative elements at play. How did you first get involved with the project?

Neil Jordan: It was sent by my agent, I think. And I was intrigued by it really. It's not kind of material I would normally approach, really. But there was something in it that was like...there was a potential for a nightmarish fairytale, I felt. And that's the reason I became involved and got engaged with it, and that's the reason I cast Chloe and Isabelle and drove it in the direction that I did, really.

This is far from the first time you've taken a story that might be dismissed as belonging only to one genre, only to deliver audiences a variety of tonal elements. Is that an active decision on your part or are these just the stories that most speak to you?

It's just my instinct, really. I'm a writer myself, obviously, and I've written most of the movies I've done. But some of them I haven't written have come from elsewhere, like Interview with the Vampire and The Brave One that I did with Jodie Foster, and this. And I suppose the reason I attach myself to them is that I can see something of the genre that is from another world in a way. And I thought that this was really intriguing because it was, in a way, it was like a daughter searching for a mother and a mother searching for a daughter. There was something almost criminally simple behind the setup or behind the story.

I really just got entranced and excited by the way in which that could be pushed into psychological areas of obsession and the grotesque. And I thought it was quite intriguing, the way that Greta was obviously driven insane by isolation really. And that the minute when Frances promised to be her friend, and said, "I tend to stick with people I befriend," and the pathological way that she was kept to that promise, really. I just thought there were delightful possibilities there and they're the issues that interested me, I suppose a little bit more than the generic thriller aspect of the film. And the possibility of creating a urban fairytale in a contemporary urban setting was really just too good for me to turn down.

You mention that the script came to you, though you're credited as one of its writers. What contributions did you make to the story we saw on screen?

It's mainly in two areas. The personality of Greta who's played by Isabelle Huppert, and what people would call the third act, the last third. When I cast it, initially in the script that I read she was an older Hungarian woman. She emigrated to New York in the '50s and Frances' relationship to her was more based on pity rather than fascination. She was the kind of women you'd see walking home with large shopping bags waiting for the traffic light to turn green, and you'd ask her could you help her with her bags. That kind of thing.

But when Isabelle came on board, I rewrote the character entirely for her, where it's about strength. I gave her this French veneer, a French persona that she had adopted. I introduced the piano as a theme. I gave her this elegance and the sophistication, and basically reworked the last third of the movie to push the obsessional nature of the material as far as I could.

Was there a collaborative process with your cast to help realize the story?

That's one of the main things that attracted me to the whole project was basically, it was played out between women. The figure of the invader is normally a man, isn't it? With mother issues, and the fact that it was a woman in this case who was really interesting because it opened up all sorts of psychological dimensions to the relationship. And the fact that it wasn't sexual actually was fascinating as well, I thought. The fact that motherhood could become this mythology just was something that I really wanted to explore.

When Isabelle had taken on the role, I think she did quite a lot of research on these various psychopaths who had kidnapped and kept children in their basements for many years. That guy called Fritzl from Austria, and there was another person from Belgium. But she did a lot of research on her own into the psychology of those kind of people. But they were always men. So, it was really interesting to have a woman in that situation, I thought.

Did that research drastically alter the narrative?

No, that was just her own private research to put herself in the mental space of her character, really. But in the end, she played it with lethal simplicity really. She was incredibly clever in the choices that she made. She's a wonderful actress. And it was actually thrilling to see her allow herself to go fully dark. It was just a delight as a director to develop a character in that way.

Maika Monroe's Erica also managed to display traditional traits of a "best friend" character, yet the role felt entirely fresh. How did she come on board and how did that character take shape?

I'd seen Maika in It Follows which is rather magnificent. She's a wonderful actress, Maika, actually. So it's the dialogue between both her, between Frances and Eric, that kind of millennial speak, is something I really just had to trust both of them on, because I'm an older white male, aren't I? I had to get them to make the conversational aspect of that relationship real for themselves.

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Greta is in theaters now.