Neil Jordan was hooked immediately upon reading the screenplay of The Widow,
written by Ray Wright, who had previously re-worked George A. Romero's classic
The Crazies. The story had the qualities of a stylish Hollywood thriller for
which Jordan is known, and thus inspired, Jordan began work reshaping the
screenplay into what eventually became their collaboration GRETA.
"There was something intriguing about it because it was almost entirely
amongst three women," recalls Jordan. "It's the story of the relationship
between a younger woman who has lost her mother and an older woman she
befriends. It was written in that spare Hollywood style. I began to work with
Ray and the script, adding different elements to it. I began to write my own
drafts and it became more intriguing as it went on."
GRETA tells the story of Frances McCullen (Chloe Grace Moretz), a young woman
struggling to fit into New York life. She has a job as a waitress in an upscale
Manhattan restaurant, misses her deceased mother, and feels estranged from her
newly married father. Her only true friend is Erica Penn (Maika Monroe), a
boisterous 20-something from a wealthy family with whom she shares an apartment.
When Frances discovers a missing handbag on the New York subway, she forms a
friendship with its owner, an older woman by the name of Greta Hideg (Isabelle
Huppert). They make a close connection, which causes Erica some concern since
she feels that her friend has abandoned her.
"The film at its core deals with loss, grief, and loneliness," explains James
Flynn, the producer who optioned the script in September 2016. "It's about a
young contemporary woman, who is modern and forward-looking, and an older woman
who is trapped in time."
Seamus McGarvey, cinematographer, continues: "It has all these things which
make you think, 'what a sweet story it's going to be.' Then, gradually, the
unsettling tributaries of unease arrive. It's done very subtly. These little
harbingers of doom start appearing."
Jordan saw GRETA as a story about obsession. Every friendship begins with a
promise of sorts, he believes: "'I'll be your friend if you'll be mine. We'll
share things. I'll tell you about my life, if you tell me about yours.' If those
little gestures are used in a malevolent way it becomes kind of terrifying.
There was something at the base of the story which was familiar to a lot of
relationships. You could touch on a lot of different aspects. That's what good
thrillers are often about. There's often a very simple spine that you can layer
and turn into an interesting movie."
Traditionally, such narratives are normally between a man and a woman. "It's
a story about possession: an almost romantic obsession that refuses to let go.
The fact that the obsessional and rather perverse elements of the story are
motivated by a woman appealed to me. The fact that no males played a significant
part in the story was intriguing."
Isabelle Huppert, who was nominated for an Academy Award and won a Golden
Globe for her performance in the 2016 movie Elle, interpreted the script as an
ambiguous love story.
"Greta is attracted to Frances for her beauty, her youth, her innocence,"
said Huppert. "You can read it as a mother-daughter relationship, which fits the
situation of Chloe Grace's character. Frances is perfect prey because she seeks
a mother figure at this moment of her life. But it's not only a mother-daughter
relationship - it's something more strange. In this film, it was important to
leave a feeling of ambiguity. Something you can never really nail precisely. Is
it love, attraction, a mother-daughter relationship? Nothing is defined."
Chloe Grace Moretz also read the story as a strange romantic thriller: "It's
not a sexual thriller, but there are provocative moments. I think the
relationship between Greta and Francis is obsessive."
The filmmakers drew inspiration from masters of suspense such as Alfred
Hitchcock. Simultaneously, GRETA is a contemporary thriller in the vein of films
such as Fatal Attraction and Misery, with various twists and turns that the
audience might not see coming.
"One of the reasons I love making movies is to make people feel something,"
says Maika Monroe, who plays Frances's friend and roommate, Erica. "I feel this
movie hits all the different parts of film-making that I love. Thrillers are
such fun. I think we're going to get people on the edge of their seats with this
GRETA dishes up moments of horror, continues Moretz: "I think it's going to
be scary. I hope people find the tangible performances in it. Each woman's
performance is really important. It's not cheesy or heightened. It's realistic,
naturalistic. You get taken on a ride, which you don't expect to happen."
She laughs: "You get sucker punched, when you just went in for a hug."
Development and Casting
Producer James Flynn has had a long working relationship with Neil Jordan;
they previously collaborated on the film Ondine and three seasons of The Borgias.
From the outset Flynn formed a collaboration with producer Lawrence Bender,
known for his many collaborations with Quentin Tarantino, from Pulp Fiction to
Inglorious Basterds to Kill Bill.
Bender was smitten by the story, which he describes as a unique take on a
thriller: "I'm always interested in material with really good characters. I
really liked the characters in this, in addition to the genre itself. One of the
things I liked about this project was that the "bad guy" was a woman. It's not
that original to have a woman in jeopardy. But to have all the main characters
in a thriller as women adds to the style of the movie. It elevates the genre. I
like genre movies when they are more elevated."
Bender's focus was to get the script to the right talent. From the beginning,
Jordan wanted Isabelle Huppert to play the duplicitous Greta Hideg.
"Greta is a difficult character to cast because you want someone who shows a
faded glory, someone who is still a very attractive older woman," says Flynn.
"It's a delicate and challenging part to cast. You also need someone who has a
commercial value who can help get the film made. Isabelle hit both criteria in
that she has more awards than most other actresses in the world, but she has
also crossed into the mainstream at the Golden Globes and Academy Awards. She
was an inspired bit of casting, I believe."
Neil Jordan: "Isabelle Huppert said she was interested in playing the role,
which was very brave and bold of her. It's the kind of role that might
intimidate many actors. She wanted to embrace it wholeheartedly. So I said,
'Great, let's go for this'."
Huppert relished the role. "This character is not one-dimensional," she says.
"Greta has several dimensions, which is very attractive as an actress. I wanted
to create a character who has a mystery to her past. She has many sides. It's
allowed me to navigate between several sides of the character. That attracted me
to the role, alongside the opportunity to work with Neil Jordan. When I choose
to do a film, I can never disassociate the script from the director. I was happy
Neil was going to direct, so that motivated my decision too."
The creative team also faced a challenge in casting Frances McCullen, the
story's protagonist. They wanted a young actor who could convey vulnerability
and bring star appeal. An actor in her late twenties would be too old to play
someone recently graduated from college and landing her first waitressing job in
New York. But there are few actors in their early twenties who have transitioned
from child stardom to adult leads. One name stood out.
Chloe Grace Moretz, an accomplished child actress who successfully crossed
over into more adult roles in recent years, was perfect casting. Moretz, 20, is
not only a highly accomplished actress - she is a movie star in her own right.
"As an actor, you read so many different stories and characters and roles
that you might want to play," says Moretz. "When I read this script, it struck
me with the excitement of a movie I hadn't seen in many years. It feels like the
type of films that were made in the 1980s and 1990s that don't get made any
more: a smart thriller that has real acting and real moments, encompassed in a
thrilling, scary experience. It had the perfect storm of Isabelle Huppert and
Neil Jordan attached to it already, so I was excited to get involved."
Jina Jay (Rogue One, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy),
casting director for GRETA, brought the actress Maika Monroe to the attention of
the team. The lead in 2014's breakout indie horror hit It Follows, Monroe is a
star in the making.
Lawrence Bender met Monroe during the early stages of casting for GRETA. "I
thought she was fantastic. Neil loved her too," says the producer.
James Flynn added: "We were aware of Maika from a number of fine independent
feature films. She plays Erica Penn: a vibrant, outspoken character. Now I can't
read the script without seeing her in the part."
According to Monroe, GRETA "is one of those scripts that you can't put down.
You have to finish it. There are so many twists and turns. Plus, I can't say the
last time I read a script in which there are three female leads, it's so cool. "
Having three female lead characters brings a different dynamic to the
thriller template, agrees Jordan: "I was lucky to get these three great actors
to carry out these roles and it has been thrilling working with them. You don't
have to deal with male issues at all. It's incredible. Even when they are
punishing each other, they are having fun. I just love it."
Moretz: "For Neil to take on a project like this is very cool. Very forward
of him. It's something we need in cinema currently. It's something that drew me
to the project in the beginning. It's just a bunch of women! You don't see it a
lot in these types of movies."
As casting progressed, John Penotti, a veteran producer and president of Sidney
Kimmel Entertainment (Hell or High Water, Brad's Status), committed to come on
board the project in Cannes 2017.
"Being a New Yorker, I was taken by the setting," says Penotti. "New Yorkers
who live in such tight quarters, amidst such dense humanity, might imagine that
strange things happen behind closed doors. That environment was very provocative
to me. I liked the idea that no one is ever what they might seem. I could
completely imagine Greta's character as someone I have walked past many times on
the streets of New York City. The idea that she has such a complicated past and
a twisted way to deal with her loneliness, was compelling to me."
Neil Jordan's working methods around scripting and casting also gave Penotti
encouragement. Penotti describes the creative process between the producers and
writer-director as productive and enjoyable. "Not surprisingly, someone who is
just a great storyteller is also a great listener. I've been a fan of everything
Neil has ever done. The most heartening and satisfying part of the process was
the fact that Neil was open and willing to listen and collaborate. At the end of
the day, though, he was very strong in his singular vision for this film."
SKE's involvement accelerated the project towards production. The producers
also secured the backing of Screen Ireland (formerly the Irish Film Board) and
utilized local tax incentives in both Ireland and Canada. Filming began in
An Irish Affair
The creative team opted to shoot the film in Ireland, as well as Toronto and
New York. James Flynn has co-produced with Canada for many years and Lawrence
Bender, who made the bulk of Boston-set Good Will Hunting in Toronto, knew they
could pull it off.
"Like every production, this film had its challenges," explains Penotti. "In
this instance, it was never about the core direction of the story. If anything,
it was about the logistical challenges of building a modern-day version of New
York City, that was unique in its presentation, in Dublin. That was something we
all worked very hard on."
Neil Jordan and the producers achieved this illusion by all-Irish heads of
department that rank amongst best in the world, including twice Academy
Award-nominated director of photography Seamus McGarvey (The Hours, Godzilla,
McGarvey normally chews over each page of a script, imagining shots as he
goes along. However, he read the screenplay for GRETA like a novel. "It had such
impetus and dynamism. I was on the edge of my seat reading it. It was one of the
few scripts I read in one sitting. I love this genre: a thriller that is so well
Since dressing Daniel Day Lewis in 1989's Academy Award winning My Left Foot,
Joan Bergin has become a highly regarded costume designer. Her work includes big
screen dramas such as The Prestige and global television spectacles such as The
Tudors and Vikings. Bergin, an Emmy Award winner, thought GRETA was one of the
most intelligent screenplays she had read in some time.
"The psychology of the script attracted me to this story. When I read it the
first time, I closed it half way through and said 'wow'. Clothes can tell so
much about people. Every single costume should help the director tell his
Production designer Anna Rackard had collaborated with Neil Jordan on films
such as The Butcher Boy (1997) and Ondine (2009), so she was immediately tuned
in to the director's approach and style.
"Apart from having a particular eye for a location, and a vision for how a
film should look, Anna is economically responsible," said producer James Flynn.
"A lot of directors and designers get uncomfortable if they're not filming where
the story is based. She sees beyond that. She isn't worried by the challenge of
creating New York interiors in Dublin."
The film-makers and the crew amounted to what John Penotti describes as a
Chloe Grace Moretz agrees: "I've worked for 15 years now and this team is by
far one of the best teams I've had on a set, alongside my projects with people
like Martin Scorsese. On a smaller movie like this, you don't expect this amount
of talent to come through."
Two weeks before filming started, Monroe and Moretz met in Dublin to begin
script read-throughs with Neil Jordan. "We did rehearsals every day, breaking
down every scene, first just Maika and me," recalls Moretz.
Monroe continues: "Chloe and I worked a couple of hours every day with Neil.
Then we brought Isabelle in. We all went through the script from beginning to
end, working everything out together. As different actors came in for the
different roles, we made it bigger. A couple of days before production, we did a
table read with everyone. It was really nice to have that time to go through the
script and make sure everyone is on the
same page. I've done my fair share of indies and you definitely don't always get
that preparation time. I don't take it for granted. It's been really helpful."
This pre-production period helped Moretz and Huppert build their ultimate
"There is a real connection between the two of us," says Huppert. "I feel
like we are from the same family. We have the same kind of approach to the work.
There is a mirror effect between us, which is telling for the story. There's a
chemistry between us."
Two months before shooting commenced, Anna Rackard visited Toronto to search
for exterior locations. Joan Bergin researched contemporary New York fashion and
presented Neil Jordan with mood boards, outlining design ideas for each
character. Seamus McGarvey and Jordan discussed the script and planned the
film's visual tapestry.
"We ironed out any technical difficulties," says the cinematographer. "I
talked with Anna and Joan as well to make sure we were all on the same page in
terms of the tone and the colour of the film."
The bulk of the interior design in the film took place at Ardmore Studios,
just outside Dublin in Ireland. Rackard's team set about building two large
apartments on a 25,000 square foot sound stage: a contemporary New York loft,
where Frances and Erica reside, and an older, more traditional building, where
"Even if we were filming in New York, we would have to film a lot of the
scenes inside an apartment," says producer James Flynn. "So it's no difference
to us creatively filming the interiors in Dublin or New York."
Ardmore Studios provided a convenient base for Neil Jordan, who lives nearby.
"I can drive from home to this beautiful studio," says Jordan. "I shot in
this studio years ago, before I did The Crying Game . Nobody had used it
for years. There was a colony of bats living in the screening rooms! Now it's
alive and busy, mainly through television productions and independent movies. It
has a special place in my heart. I'm so glad to be able to do the interiors
The studios gave Isabelle Huppert a similar sense of intimacy: "I love being
in Dublin and working here at Ardmore Studios. There was a nice feeling of
intimacy, which was welcome for this film. You don't want a film like this to be
overwhelmed by too many exterior elements, so we are immersed in the making of
Creating the women's apartments in a studio location suited Jordan. During
the pre-production process, he studied a number of city films with Seamus
McGarvey. "Neil wants to portray New York in an oblique way," says the
cinematographer. "Not shooting in the real place will enhance the psychological
aspect of the story. You're not going to be concerned about the verisimilitude
of the city. We're told it's New York, but what's really important is these
characters and what is in their heads."
Anna Rackard set out to design a modern Tribeca loft for the wealthy Erica
Penn. The production designer explains: "The contents have to be young and
trendy, but not too arty. There's a slightly eclectic mix of furniture in there.
Brick walls. White. I wanted to keep it colourful and light in its tone."
Greta Hideg's carriage house, on the other hand, was built to appear more
mysterious. "I wanted it to be somewhere that Frances initially finds
intriguing. On one hand, it is a very attractive place: there are a lot of
interesting things to look at. But that can become creepy and oppressive. While
Erica's apartment is open and airy, there's a lot of layering in Greta's."
Joan Bergin took a similar approach when designing Greta's costume, bringing
out the duality of the character through her clothing. In the script, she is
described as follows: "Once beautiful, she has retained her elegance and the
pearl earrings that belonged to a grandmother."
Bergin explains: "Greta presents herself in a way emigres often do: people who
almost assume another identity. The psychology of Greta is one of the reasons I
was drawn to the project. I have a duty of care to her, in that I want to share
her duplicity through costume."
Chloe Grace Moretz's costumes also fed into the character of Frances: "Joan
is the best. She's so smart with the costumes. A month before I went to Dublin,
we discussed our ideas for the character over email. We wanted to play with the
colours in the wardrobe. Frances starts off with a lot of greys and dark greens.
As she sparks up her relationship with Greta, her colours become more vibrant."
"What I see when I'm there in the middle of the set is extremely promising,"
says Isabelle Huppert. "It's a wonderful feeling when you know the costumes
carry the story. I like this idea that the film finds its own organic life.
That's thanks to the set, the design, the costumes. Everything is there to make
the story strong."
Alongside their time in Ardmore Studios, a week was spent filming in a plush
fine-dining restaurant which, conveniently for the production, was temporarily
available during a refurbishment, the setting for Frances McCullen's waitressing
job. New York cabs buzzed past the window. Scenes were shot elsewhere around
Dublin, including the city's St. Stephen's Green, which doubled for Brooklyn's
Neil Jordan, as director, was relieved to be back making a feature after five
years in television. "I did The Borgias, which was a wonderful experience. While
directing for television can be a punishing task, as the schedules are
relentless, there's something unique about making a movie that people will see
in the cinema. It's a different animal entirely."
Oscar nominee Stephen Rea, who plays detective Brian Cody in GRETA, is best
placed to talk about Jordan's artistry. This is his eleventh film with the
director. "I was in his first movie, Angel," says Rea. "I did Company of Wolves.
Then there was The Crying Game and Michael Collins. These are all wonderful and
significant movies in a way. I find working with Neil exhilarating and
pleasurable. We have known each other very well over the course of 35 years. The
crew love Neil. He's very demanding. But he's the real thing."
Jordan describes his creative process as adapting to the moment. "Seamus
McGarvey, Anna Rackard, Joan Bergin, the actors, the camera crew, everybody on
the team, has certain hopes in mind at the start of the shoot. You don't know if
you can achieve them or not. Everybody has a different understanding of the
story but slowly it unfolds, like peeling an onion."
At the start of every day during the production, Jordan walked through scenes
with the actors: a private rehearsal process that Chloe Grace Moretz enjoyed
"We run through everything," she says. "If we have an issue we hadn't thought
about until now, we are allowed to bring it up. To some producers, that would be
an arduous experience because it prolongs your day, but for the actors,
director, and cinematographer, it allows everyone to figure out what they are
doing in that moment. Figure out the point of the scene, and make the most of
each moment we have on screen instead of filming miscellaneous things that make
no sense when we get to the editing room."
Isabelle Huppert also enjoyed the freedom that Jordan gives his cast: "Neil
Jordan is a wonderful director. That was no surprise to me. I've seen almost all
of his films. I love the way he works: he lets things happen. He likes the
actors to find their own movements. He likes us to inhabit our roles, occupy the
space, and find our own rhythms. I find that very freeing."
Production designer Anna Rackard describes Jordan as the sharpest director
she has ever worked with. "But he's not critical or picky. He will take it all
in. He's not a procrastinator. That makes it easier because you have to work
quite fast. He's very trusting."
Seamus McGarvey says Jordan inspires a sense of problem solving and
camaraderie. "Neil is such a master at Rubik's Cubing his way out of situations
and making them creatively better," says the cinematographer. "I've loved
witnessing a master filmmaker at work when we have to solve a problem. I really
feel we've all done that together. I have one of the best camera crews I have
ever had. Focus pullers, grips: everyone here has been wonderful. We all feel
part of the film and that we are making something quite special."
McGarvey works much the same way as Jordan: not proceeding with a rigid
rulebook, but adapting to challenges and opportunities. "Early on, because of
the psychological nature of the story, I was leaning towards shooting the film
on anamorphic lenses," he says. "I wanted a shallow depth of field. We wanted to
give it, in the midst of this naturalism, some sense of scope: a sense this was
epic on a psychological scale."
When he initially read the script, McGarvey had not anticipated using
handheld cameras, but during production he opted to use the technique for a
number of particular moments in the film.
"I love it because it allows the actors a lot of freedom. We're working with
such great actors as Isabelle Huppert and Chloe Grace Moretz who understand the
mechanics of cameras. Handheld gives them a certain levity and a sense of the
true observational aspect to the story. We have used it at moments where we are
trying to destabilise the audience."
Jordan describes Seamus McGarvey as one of the world's greatest
cinematographers. "I've never had the opportunity to work with him before," says
the writer-director. "It's been amazing. He's extraordinarily inventive,
passionate. He's coming up with an extraordinary tableau of colours; light and
shade. I'm finding it a thrilling experience. In a strange way, it's a
constructed experience. Because we're not shooting certain elements in New York,
we can almost construct an alternate reality. Seamus came up with a series of
colours, variations of light and shade and composition, that belong to this film
and nothing else."
Chloe Grace Moretz was impressed by McGarvey's sense of composition: "You see
a complete tonal shift when you get into Greta's apartment compared to the way
he lights the moments with Erica and I. Everything you see feels tangible:
thick, warm, cold. It has moments of immense depth, with such sheer light and
brilliance. He is a very smart mind and hands on. He's on set all day with us.
He's in every rehearsal with us, with Neil figuring out the shot-list.
Everything is so well thought through."
As well as being adaptable and solution-oriented, McGarvey was a personable
presence on the set of GRETA. The same might be said of Morton, the dog that
Frances persuades Greta to bring home from the animal shelter for companionship.
Isabelle Huppert describes herself as a cat person. The dog who played Morton,
however, won her heart. "He was so sweet," says Huppert. "My character is really
harsh with him, I'm sorry to say. But he was perfect for the film."
Chloe Grace Moretz and Maika Monroe, meanwhile, had companionship in each
Alongside the story's Hitchcockian thriller aspects, Neil Jordan describes it
as "a portrait of a friendship between two girls having fun and being irreverent
in a contemporary city."
The on-screen rapport between Frances and Erica is full of youthful, friendly
banter. "It's a thriller, but we wanted to make sure the audience isn't
initially aware of that," says Moretz. "We wanted to build up the beginning like
you're going to watch a romantic comedy about a girl who is living with her best
friend in New York City and finds an older woman to be the maternal aspect in
her life. We wanted to make those moments feel light and airy, so the plot
twist, when it comes, will be even more shocking."
Moretz and Monroe are friends off screen too. They worked together on 2016's
The 5th Wave, "so it was nice coming into this having spent a lot of time
together and bringing a lot of natural friendship to the character chemistry,"
according to Monroe. "We're trouble sometimes. We have too much fun or start
laughing and can't stop. Neil will come and tell us to quiet down."
In GRETA, Frances McCullen is thoughtful and reserved, while Erica Penn is
gregarious and outgoing. In real life, the pair are the opposite.
"Maika is usually the quieter one," says Moretz. "I'm silly and ridiculous.
So it was funny for me to be serious and sober and for her to be the crazy one.
Erica is a really good friend to Frances. She's the voice of the audience. When
Frances is running off with Greta, making dinner and creating a relationship
with her, Erica is saying, 'What the hell are you doing, dude? That is really
strange of you'. I think everyone in the audience is going to be thinking that
Inevitably, Moretz and Isabelle Huppert also connected.
"We've gotten really close over the course of this project," admits Moretz.
"She's been so gracious as an actress, so forward-thinking with the character.
She's very smart about the way she unveils the thriller aspect. She delivers
perfectly measured amounts of terror. She has made Greta very refined, which I
didn't expect when I first read the screenplay. Greta is a very smart character,
but you could almost have seen her as a helpless bag lady in the first script I
read. Isabelle made it something so much more interesting... and terrifying."
After wrapping in Ireland, the cast and crew travelled to Toronto. The
production utilized an actual subway train, shooting in an abandoned station, to
film the scenes when Frances discovers Greta's handbag at the start of the
"We converted that train to make it look like the New York subway, then
filled it with extras," explains production designer Anna Rackard. "They ran a
train especially for us."
Filming on GRETA finished in New York with scenes that included Frances,
Chloe Grace Moretz's character, cycling across the Williamsburg Bridge.
"I've shot in New York many times and the city cries out for particular
views," says Seamus McGarvey. "But Neil is more interested in askew angles of
the city that aren't necessarily picture postcard views. Instead, they give a
sense of the city and the undertow of the metropolis."
According to Jordan, the studio work in Ireland dictated the locations in
Toronto and New York: "The fantastic environment we constructed in the Dublin
studio, and the locations we used, set a tone for the film. We set a visual
template for how we approach the city streets in Toronto and New York."
Anatomy of a Scream
The story of GRETA begins innocently, but it gradually takes a darker turn.
This transition provided a visual cue for the filmmakers. While the early
scenes are lit warmly and brightly, with pops of sunlight, the tone becomes more
obscure, darker, with more contrasts, as the narrative progresses. In one
harrowing sequence, Greta stalks Erica through the streets of New York, while
relaying images back to Frances via a smartphone.
This sequence required three different perspectives, explained
cinematographer Seamus McGarvey. "One is this spectral, almost ghostly figure,
appearing as an electronic presence. You have great fun playing with Greta's
eye, which is unadorned and inquisitive, but ham-fisted in some way. It's more
terrifying because of that. The camera is Steadicam, giving it a ghostly
presence. That became Greta's POV.
"We have Erica with a definite sense of the hunted. Then we are with Frances
in Erica's flat, viewing the technology as the images are appearing, and the
frustration of that. We had great fun playing with the carousel style of
photography. Chloe worked with us in camera to create this swirling sense of
confusion, where the background blurs against her movement."
During post-production, editor Nick Emerson made sure the sequence hit the
right beats. "The phone stalking sequence was one of the most brilliant things I
ever read in a script," says Emerson. "It was so tense. I was looking forward to
putting it together, but knew it was going to be complicated to pull off. It
went through several iterations in the edit to get the right balance of the
Hitchcockian thing of when we should reveal certain information to the audience.
It was great fun to construct."
Although the film has many tenets of a traditional thriller, Neil Jordan
describes this sequence as profoundly contemporary. "The use of social media to
terrify people has been in many movies, but this is a unique approach." says the
director. "At a certain stage, you realise this older woman is so adept at
technology that it's terrifying."
Prior to production commencing, McGarvey and Jordan referenced films such as
Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window and Michael Powell's Peeping Tom. Both films
explore voyeurism and the idea of how the camera violates the objectivity and
subjectivity of film, essentially turning moviegoers into voyeurs.
"Hitchcock was the master of the scopophilic eye in camera," says McGarvey.
"I love shooting with longer lenses or shooting through things that create a
sense of either observing or being observed. It's interesting in terms of when
you place a camera either as a point of view, or as a dispassionate eye."
McGarvey's fascination with the psychology of filmmaking is in accord with
Jordan's work. "I've always admired Neil Jordan's films: from Angel, his first
film, onwards," says the cinematographer. "They always had a magic to them. They
were often set in an apparently realistic milieu, but they had a distinctive,
almost otherworldly, feel. They had a psychological undertone to them but are
believable in terms of the dilemmas the characters go through. This is no
different. Neil knows where to put the camera for maximum effect and to tell a
story in an eloquent way."
Neil Jordan adds: "Ever since I did [1984's] Company of Wolves, I've been
bracketed at the more baroque end of things. I've done Interview with a Vampire,
Byzantium: movies that belong at the darker end of the spectrum. This is not a
horror movie; it's a thriller. But I hope it will be a really terrifying film.
That has been a great challenge: to make a spectral, scary film. To introduce
the audience to the darker side of their imaginations."
Dreams of Love
The haunting refrains of Franz Liszt's Liebestraume echo across GRETA. The
solo piano piece, which translates as Dreams of Love, has been used in other
films such as 1950's All About Eve. In this context, however, the melody takes
on a more sinister undercurrent.
"I've always wanted to terrify people with beautiful music," says Neil
Jordan. "Liszt was a genius. Liebestraume has been used in many films and
contexts. I wanted to create a story where an absolutely beautiful piece of
music becomes so loathsome to the character who has to suffer it endlessly
throughout the film, that it actually becomes a source of punishment."
Jordan brought this theme to the story during the development process,
explains Isabelle Huppert, who plays Greta Hideg in GRETA: "It wasn't there in
the initial script. Greta often sits at the piano and plays. It brings a kind of
emotion to the story: a mystery. You don't understand why she's obsessed with
this music and the kind of music: Liszt, [English composer] Henry Purcell, and
some others. It's a marvellous idea."
While constructing Greta's apartment set in Dublin's Ardmore Studios,
production designer Anna Rackard found an old piano to put in the space. The
first shot filmed on the set featured Greta playing the piano when Frances
arrives at the door. Huppert, who starred in the 2001 film The Piano Teacher
(for which she won the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival), played
all her own piano parts.
"It was helpful that she knew how to play the piano," says producer James
Flynn. "She had to learn particular pieces for the film. She was a
highly-accomplished piano player as a child, so she is able to adapt to pretty
Huppert is modest about her abilities: "I had to work a little bit, just to
be at ease playing on this old piano. Liszt is the most impossible composer in
the world. In the beginning, Neil talked to me about doing Liszt's composition
La Campanella. Finally, we ended up with Liebestraume, which is very evocative
and mysterious." These piano pieces helped dictate how Jordan and McGarvey told
the story of GRETA. They played the music before certain scenes in order to get
the actors in the mood.
"It encourages me to move the camera in a certain direction," says the
cinematographer. "The camera and the actor coalesce. Movement becomes
synthesised and blended. It's like a little dance between the choreography of
the actor and the camera."
Javier Navarrete, who worked with Jordan on 2011's Byzantium, composed the
score and reconstructed the classics for GRETA. Navarrete, also known for his
work on Guillermo del Toro's 2006 film Pan's Labyrinth (for which he received an
Academy Award nomination), plays a key role in the storytelling.
"I'm working with an entire orchestra," says Navarrete. "Our woodwind section
has two bass clarinets, one bass flute, and one contrabassoon. There's lots of
power in the low register. Same for the brass section, which consists of two
tubas and bass trombones. The high register is covered by the string section.
I have electronic sounds working at the same time: impacts and sounds that
combine with the orchestra."
The composer approached the score in much the same way as Pan's Labyrinth,
Devil's Backbone, and Byzantium. "Some movies you approach through the
characters. This is a character's movie. The classical music goes through the
character of Greta. The music around Frances sounds more electronic, rhythmic
and light. Other music is oriented to tell the audience what they have to feel
at a particular moment."
Navarrete struck up a close collaborative partnership with Neil Jordan while
crafting the music at Dublin's Windmill Lane Recording Studios. "He is a very
musical director. He plays classical guitar, piano, and sings. At the same time,
he gives me lots of space to be creative."
James Flynn adds: "We're also working with a music consultant who will help
us with the various other pieces for the soundtrack, sourcing Chopin pieces and
some wonderful other classical and contemporary music."
Post-production was undertaken in Dublin's Windmill Lane Pictures, under the
guidance of editor Nick Emerson (Lady Macbeth, The Crow Reborn).
"Nick has an encyclopaedic knowledge of films apart from being a very
experienced editor, so he's a breath of fresh air to this whole process," says
Flynn. "Nick is turning things on their head. He's a new energy for us all."
When Emerson read the screenplay, it reminded him of thrillers he loved when
growing up during the 1990s, such as The Hand That Rocks The Cradle, Single
White Female, and Misery.
"The editor can bring many things to this sort of genre of film. Especially
in thrillers, it's all about the delivery of information, in terms of which
point you decide to let the audience in on certain secrets of the story or the
character, or little bits of information. Hitchcock was the master of that. Is
it better the audience is aware something is about to happen? Is it better they
don't know what's about to happen? It's about choice, presenting those choices,
and having an instinct for how the sequence might be best told."
The result, reckons the editor, will be scary, thrilling and emotional: "I
hope audiences will be surprised by what they see up on the screen."
Isabelle Huppert on Greta Hideg
"In the first part of the story, Greta is a very nice person. Very fragile. I
would not say she is weak, but you see her as a particularly shy person who is
very demanding. Her qualities, we presume, include tenderness and love. She
keeps saying she feels lonely. In fact, she probably is. It's probably out of
loneliness that she does what she does. What was interesting about the role is
she is several people.
What is hidden behind those eyes? She's a very normal person. She's very good
at that. As the story continues, she is more versatile and presents many faces.
Frances McCullen's kindness, naivety, and her beauty, appeals to her. At some
point, it's like a love story. She has a real attraction to Frances, who is
almost like an angel to her. Her innocence appeals to her. As we come to realise,
something from her past makes us understand why she is attracted to Frances.
I don't think you will look at Greta with sympathy. She is obsessed with a
lost world: a universal aspect to this movie. You understand she carries this
melancholy feeling of something missing that will never come back. It's the
sense of time passing."
Chloe Grace Moretz on Frances McCullen
"Frances McCullen is a sober kind of girl. Her mother passed away a year ago.
I wouldn't want to say she's naive, but she is emotionally raw. When your
emotions are beaten down and you are an open book, you can become prey. She's
just really open and wants a mother: a maternal aspect in her life. That opens
the door for Isabelle's character Greta to come in.
If your mother dies, then you are dealing with an automatic sense of sadness,
an overwhelming sense of despair, which is looming over everything in your
She has been through the traumatic experience of losing her mother, which has
created a tumultuous relationship with her father. She has been relying on her
best friend Erica.
I wanted those emotions to be present. It's not every second, all day, it's
moments and flashes. It's when you hear something, or touch something, that you
get that flush of memory. I don't think Frances is aware she is gaining a
maternal experience from Greta. She doesn't understand why she connects so
closely to this woman. Greta, on the other hand, preys on the naive, sensitive
aspects of Frances in a twisted way."
Maika Monroe on Erica Penn
"Erica is a very fun character. She grew up in New York from a very wealthy
family. Her dad bought her this beautiful apartment where she lives with
Frances. One of my favorite things about Erica is she has a real sense of
herself. She isn't afraid to tell people how she really feels. She's a tough,
Erica and Frances are very different, but I think that's why they work well
together. Frances is very internal, whereas Erica is dramatic and wants to be
the centre of attention.
When she first hears about Greta, she thinks Frances is insane for wanting to
hang out with this old lady. I think there's also a tiny bit of jealousy. She
wants her friend to hang out with her. As Greta and Frances' relationship
develops, and they spend a lot of time together, Erica starts to worry that it's
becoming unhealthy. As it transpires, Erica may be right. She senses that
something is wrong from the beginning.
I'll definitely remember Erica for a long time. She's very different to
anyone I've played in the past and very different from me, which is always so
fun to play."
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