Greta Director Neil Jordan on the Twisted Consequences of Loneliness
It’s somewhat of a cinephilic fantasy to be terrorized by Isabelle Huppert, who has made a career out of sadomasochistic affairs (The Piano Teacher), psychopathic matriarchy (Merci Pour le Chocolat), and unconventional rape revenge (Elle). It’s eerily perfect, then, that the French actress’ latest role is that of a stalker—a seemingly genial old lady named Greta who becomes increasingly attached to, and yes, terrorizes, her new friend Frances (played by Chloë Grace Moretz).
Greta is the latest thriller from writer/director Neil Jordan (Interview With the Vampire, The Crying Game), who continues to be fascinated by cinematic depictions of unconventional companionships. The stalker subgenre is a popular one, but Jordan’s twist on the narrative gives Greta a different flavor. Here, it involves two women of vastly different generations and there isn’t the sexual element that usually drives such pursuits or any Single White Female-ing of emulating personas. Instead, Greta, despite all its campiness, speaks to a deeper longing to fill a lonely void. Jordan spoke to The Credits about the characterizations each of his leading actresses bring to the film, New York Easter eggs, and why he’s drawn to tales of isolation.
Isabelle Huppert has always been so good at playing terrifying characters. Did you always have her in mind and how did she get involved with this film?
No, I didn’t have her in mind at all, really. But you know, when I was sent the script, I thought, I have never done a stalker movie. I read it and thought this is a great opportunity to make a really twisted kind of fairy tale in an urban setting. As with any project, you talk with many actors. You throw names around. So eventually when Isabelle read it and we spoke I thought she would be perfect for this role. Originally the role was quite different. It was an older woman. Someone who immigrated to New York in the ’50s and was exhausted and embittered by life—that kind of thing. When Isabelle came on, I thought, let’s give her this sophisticated French veneer. I rewrote the part for her, basically.
I love the callbacks to The Piano Teacher, with her playing the piano in this film. Was that an intentional rewrite for her?
I didn’t intend to refer to The Piano Teacher. I just wanted to take a piece of music and use it as a weapon of seduction, initially. And then a weapon of oppression eventually. I wanted the music to turn sour as the condition of the character turns sour. But I wasn’t really referring to The Piano Teacher.
Similarly, when I was watching Maika Monroe’s performance, I was reminded of her in It Follows, when she’s being chased by Greta.
Well, that’s why I cast Maika. I can’t think of anyone better to be chased through a subway with a cellphone than Maika. She’s really great.
I want to talk about the geography of New York in this film. The house that Greta lives in is unlike anything you see in New York. What was the story behind that location?
I really wanted her to be in a little cottage in the middle of an urban jungle.
It was very fairytale-like.
I went to considerable lengths to find that place. Eventually, we found that street, which is in Toronto. Maybe I shouldn’t tell you that, but it’s the truth. We shot the interiors in Dublin and we shot the exteriors somewhere between Toronto (that specific section was important to me) and the rest of it in New York. But I really just wanted to create this little forgotten carriage house. I found that location and dressed it with ivy and leaves. It was very important for the story, and I suppose it reflects the fairy tale obsession that I wanted to bring to it.
What were you looking for in Chloë Grace Moretz’s character?
I was looking for a certain innocence, you know? I was looking for the ideal daughter, let’s put it that way. If you can imagine, Greta is sketching out what she would think the ideal daughter that she could possibly have. That’s what I found in Chloë. She’s been acting since the age of eight. She’s quite extraordinary. I saw her in Kick-Ass. She had the wit and all that stuff. And I saw her in that American remake of Let the Right One In and I thought she carried that movie. Her face is like a landscape. I also needed an authentically American voice and persona.
Lately, there have been a lot of movies or TV shows about stalkers. I don’t know if you know about the show You, but it’s a recent Netflix hit. It’s about a guy who stalks a girl he likes around New York. But it’s decidedly different from Greta. What about the female dynamic sets this apart from other stalker films or shows?
Oh, I didn’t know about You. Cool. So it’s becoming a current theme as well.
It’s very “in” right now.
I’ll tell you, the reason I was attracted to this story was basically that it was between two women. I had never seen that before, really. I’ve seen men having mommy issues and obsessions with girls and romantic projections onto people. I’ve done it myself. I did a movie called Mona Lisa. It was about Bob Hoskins’ obsession with Cathy Tyson. But the fact that it was women, to me, was much more interesting. I thought, wow, this is cool. The psychology is much more complex when it’s someone like Isabelle Huppert who is driven mad by loneliness and isolation. What I really loved is that there is no sexual component to the obsession. She wanted a friend. She wanted to mother Frances. She wanted a companion in life, to explore what lengths someone would go to define that and keep it once it’s been denied to them. It’s a really interesting little cautionary tale.
A lot of your films have this element—a lonely character in search of companionship. And that companionship is not a traditional one. Where does that fascination come from?
I must be a very lonely person. I really don’t like being on my own. I have a pathology about it. Maybe that’s why I make movies. I pay people to be my companion. We’re all alone, aren’t we? That’s the basic problem in life. We are essentially alone and we can’t stand that fact. So we do everything to fill this void and that leads to all these problems. It’s a common theme, it’s a constant theme, not only for me but for other people as well. I found this story particularly pertinent in that way. Everybody does need a friend, and the contemporary world of connectivity with social media and all of that seems to have just increased that sense of isolation that people have. They run a tech conference in Dublin every year. And all these techies come over. They constantly talk to you about connecting people. But they are the most isolated people in the world. It’s just a strange part of contemporary life.
Are you, yourself, social media savvy?
No. I’m not social media savvy. My kids are, of course. I kind of loathe social media, in a way. A computer screen does something to your eyes, there’s flickering. I think it does something to the recesses of your brain. It puts you in some kind of stupor or daze. I don’t think that’s healthy.
I don’t know if you are aware, but there is a Greta texting bot where you can text with Greta. It sends you a bunch of texts being like, “Why haven’t you replied?” It’s quite genius.
Oh great. So I don’t have to feel lonely anymore.
Featured image: Isabelle Huppert stars as Greta and Chloë Grace Moretz as Frances in GRETA, a Focus Features release. Credit: Jonathan Hession / Focus Features