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Why director Hal Hartley almost passed on Aubrey Plaza for his new film

The trailer for Hal Hartley's new film,
The trailer for Hal Hartley's new film, "Ned Rifle."
TIFF (via YouTube)

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Director Hal Hartley's odd little independent films delighted critics in the 1990s, but he's never achieved the same sort of name recognition as some other directors who came up during that time, like Richard Linklater and Steven Soderbergh.

Perhaps in part because his films depict a dark view of the world, which can be seen in classic films like "Simple Men," "Trust" and "The Unbelievable Truth."

The weird, stilted dialogue that you can hear in the clip above, with characters waxing philosophical, that's classic Hal Hartley.

These elements can also be seen in his newest movie "Ned Rifle," the final film in what fans call the Grimm Trilogy. 

It's premiering this weekend at Cinefamily, which is also putting on a retrospective of Hartley's work.

Recently, host Alex Cohen sat down with Hartley to talk about the film and how he got into filmmaking. Below is an edited excerpt from their conversation. For the whole interview, check out the audio at the top of this post.

This new film, "Ned Rifle," is the third in a trilogy which began with one of your most popular films, "Henry Fool." In short, for those who haven't seen, it's the story of this rogue writer named Henry Fool and the relationships he develops with a pair of siblings played by Parker Posey and James Urbaniak. In this newest and final film, Henry's son, Ned, goes on a quest to kill his father. The first film in this trilogy came out in 1997. A sequel came out nearly a decade later. And now this final one comes out nearly another decade after that. Was this always the plan -to make it a trilogy? 

"No, it wasn't. Although, I did used to joke about that. There was something about that film, "Henry Fool." It was written different. I knew when I was writing that it was different from earlier films that I made. But we fell so in love with these characters... so, it was only years later when I wanted to make another film with Parker [Posey] that we decided to revisit the character Fey, who's written as the supporting character in "Henry Fool." But working with Parker that character became to me the emotional center of the movie."

A new addition to the cast, which has appeared throughout this trilogy, is actress Aubrey Plaza, who many people know from her work on the television show "Parks and Recreation." Why was she your choice for the character of Susan in your film?

"I didn't know Aubrey's work that well. Her agency turned me on to her... and then I poked around some of Aubrey's things. The TV show... you know, she cracked me up, but I couldn't really see what I was looking for in there. But I did see this movie she made called "Safety Not Guaranteed..." and there I could see skill, charm, real charisma, breadth, you know she had scope... you know she became so famous for being that girl on "Parks and Rec." that you really have to work hard to get around that." 

Can you explain what your approach is when you're directing a film?

"...I treat the physical activity in the shots the same way that I treat the text. I mean, I might not know it before we start making the shot, exactly how everyone's going to move, but by the time I'm ready to shoot the shot, we know it and it's an exact thing."

For the release of this newest film, viewers can pay to watch it on Vimeo. Video on demand has become a lot more popular in recent years, but this sort of concept is one you've been working on for years. Can you talk about what your approach is to film distribution and what it's like to see everyone get on board with what you've been doing for a while?

"This art form has always followed technology. It was born in technology and it's changed. But we have a tendency to classicize things like really quickly. Like films existed for a while, like 20 years before sound became a possibility. And people like D.W. Griffith were like 'Who's going to want to listen to a movie? That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard.'"