When Neil Jordan went looking for actresses to play the title role in his new thriller Greta, he didn’t find many takers.

"In the original script, the title was The Widow, and she was old and kind of dumpy, like a witch in a Grimm brothers fairy tale, and they all found it repellent. The consensus was definitely, ‘No way, I’m not going there,’ ” said Jordan, who stopped in Philadelphia recently to promote the film.

Then the script found its way to Isabelle Huppert, who loved it, probably because she is in no way dumpy, and saw it as a chance to play a different kind of character.

When Huppert signed on, Jordan started rethinking the role and began to tailor it for her like a smart suit.

“When she decided to do it, I decided to change the character significantly and add a veneer of sophistication and put her character in Chanel and made her a pianist, and when Isabelle heard that, she laughed and said, ‘I think I’ve done that before,’ ” referring to her infamous role as a sadomasochist in Michael Haneke’s 2001 film The Piano Teacher.

Jordan wasn’t constructing an in-joke for buffs, though. He was building a character with old-world associations — Greta likes to play Franz Liszt, appropriate for her French/Hungarian roots. He liked the idea that Greta’s refinement would prove disarming to the character played by Chloe Grace Moretz, who falls under Greta’s influence, which goes from apparently benign to possessive and malevolent.

Huppert’s natural beauty and attractiveness adds to the fun, said Jordan, known for The Crying Game, The End of the Affair, and, more recently The Borgias for Showtime.

“They very thing that attracted me to the movie is that Isabelle has the part that is normally played by, say, Anthony Perkins (the film has a shout-out to Psycho) or Terence Stamp. Here, that role is occupied by a woman, which changes the dynamic completely, and it actually becomes more terrifying,” he said.

"If you think of Terrence Stamp in The Collector, he’s this weird dude with a glass eye who wanders around pubs staring at women, and you look at him and you know there’s something wrong with him. I mean, you know you don’t want to get to close to him.

“Here, Isabelle is like the nice lady you might meet at the Museum of Modern Art. The idea of being drawn into her world, and then suddenly getting exposed to the monster underneath, that’s what appealed to me.”