It's a bit oxymoronic to call Hal Hartley an icon of independent cinema, given his roster of iconoclastic movies -- "The Unbelievable Truth," "Trust," "Simple Men," "Amateur" and "Flirt" among them. But such he is. Perhaps the most revered among the Lindenhurst native's work are "Henry Fool" (1997) and its sequel "Fay Grim" (2006), to which Hartley has now added a third chapter -- "Ned Rifle." The new film reunites Hartley regulars Liam Aiken, Parker Posey, Martin Donovan, Thomas Jay Ryan and James Urbaniak plus former "Parks and Recreation" star Aubrey Plaza in a critique of post-9/11 America, fundamentalism, national security, guns and stand-up comedy. Hartley and "Ned Rifle" will both appear Friday night at Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington, which has also scheduled showings of "Henry Fool" and "Fay Grim." Hartley spoke recently with John Anderson.
Did you always envision "Henry Fool" becoming a three-parter?
No, back then that was just one movie and it was different from anything I made before. Later it occurred to me to revisit the family, not to continue the story so much, but to use those characters as a prism for looking at other subjects. By the time of "Fay Grim," what I really wanted to make was a movie about our situation as Americans in a post-9/11 world -- a culture of extreme surveillance, international espionage as a regular event in everybody's life. Once I was making a second, I knew I'd be making a third.
Was it difficult wrangling the cast back together?
No, they were all on board, all very excited. I think the hardest thing was waiting to see if Liam Aiken would grow up to be an actor. He stumbled into this thing as a child after his dad died, and his mom and him were struggling and someone said, "He's a cute kid, put him in the movies." "Henry Fool" was his first job.
You generally don't seek out conventional actors, do you?
What I need are actors who are very good and interested in dialogue and with physical activity. It's not naturalism I'm after most of the time. That's why I work with the same actors so often.
Aubrey Plaza seems like a genius addition.
She took me by surprise, too. I didn't know who she was but her agent thought there'd be something here. I saw her movie "The To Do List," and I said, "OK, this girl has some chops," but watching her television show, I couldn't really see anything that provided me with evidence of skill; in a setup like that, you can't really see anyone's ability. But then I saw "Safety Not Guaranteed," where she plays opposite Mark Duplass and I could see what the hoopla's all about. The charm, the intelligence, the allure. So I said, "If she wants to be in this little movie, the role is hers."
WHAT "Ned Rifle" screening plus a Q&A with director Hal Hartley.
WHEN | WHERE 7 p.m. Friday, Cinema Arts Centre, 423 Park Ave., Huntington
INFO $15; 631-423-7611, cinemaartscentre.org