SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for the film Greta**. If you have not yet seen the film, read on at your own risk!**
Over the course of Neil Jordan’s Greta, Isabelle Huppert’s titular character evolves quite a bit. When we first meet her, through the eyes of Chloe Moretz’s Francis she appears to be a lonely old woman with a lot of love to give and nobody to give it to, but developments in the plot reveal that to only be a fraction of the real story. It makes for a fun performance from a veteran star, and it should surprise few to learn that it was tailor made for Huppert – as I recently learned from the film’s writer director:
When Isabelle [Huppert] read it, and Chloe [Moretz] read it, they liked it, and we began to have a serious prospect of making it as a movie. I got out my pen and I rewrote the part for Isabelle. In the initial script she was an older Hungarian woman. And I said to Miss Huppert that we would develop all sorts of dimensions to this character.
Earlier this month I sat down with Neil Jordan during the domestic press day for Greta in Los Angeles, and one of the earliest subjects discussed during the interview was the film’s evolution. Jordan told me that he had a lot of appreciation for Ray Wright’s script when he first read it, particularly the story about a female stalker and its approach to what he called “familiar” material, but when Isabelle Huppert started to express interest he started to produce new drafts of the movie that had her very much in mind for the antagonist.
One of the key ways that Greta changed is that she became a Hungarian woman who pretends that she is French – playing specifically to Isabelle Huppert’s natural accent – but that was only the start. Based on Neil Jordan’s description, the character was originally going to be considerably older, and appear to be a lot more helpless. Having Huppert interested brought Greta’s age down, but Jordan’s version also gave her a bit more flair and charisma. He explained,
We gave her a French persona that she presents to the world. We gave her sophistication, we gave her a piano. We'd give her all sorts of stories about our life, which turn out not to be true - made her considerably younger, and gave her an elegance.
From the outside Greta appears to be an innocent woman in need of good company, but as we witness as the story unfolds that’s not really the case. Francis first meets her when she discovers Greta’s “lost” bag on the subway, and the two quickly begin a mother-daughter-esque relationship as Francis tries to help her (and it doesn’t hurt that Francis just recently lost her mom and has only just moved to New York City). Before too long, however, she realizes that the bag was planted to try and lure her in, and Greta’s obsessive personality starts to become excessively disturbing.
The key to everything in Greta is the relationship between Francis and Greta, and Neil Jordan stressed how changing the latter in new drafts of the script significantly altered their dynamic. While Ray Wright’s script had Francis primarily motivated by sympathy and a level of benevolence, the alterations that Jordan made had it so that Francis was almost entranced by the woman, and wanted to spend more time with her:
In the first script, Francis' relationship to Greta was one of the pity really. She pitied this apparently helpless woman. But in this iteration of it, Francis was kind of seduced by Greta. She's seduced by her piano playing, by her elegance, by her offer of friendship.
It’s pretty easy to imagine anyone falling into that same trap, but after watching the nightmarish results that play out in Greta, audiences may be a bit more wary.