‘Shoplifters of the World’: Ellar Coltrane unleashes his inner shoplifter

Photo courtesy of RLJE Films

Ellar Coltrane (Boyhood, Showtime’s The Good Lord Bird) really embraces his inner shoplifter as the passionate Dean in Shoplifters of the World.

Shoplifters of the World Synopsis: In the Summer of 1987, four friends, reeling from the sudden break-up of the iconic British band The Smiths, embark on a night out of partying to mourn their musical loss. At the same time, an impassioned Smiths fan takes a local radio DJ hostage at gunpoint and forces him to play nothing but Smiths tracks. With the radio station playing as the soundtrack to their night, the friends go on a wild journey of self-discovery that will transform them forever. Featuring an incredible soundtrack – including 20 songs from The Smiths – Shoplifters of the World is a glorious ode to the craziness of the ‘80s and the power of music to change people’s lives.

Written and directed by Stephen Kijak, this film also stars Helena Howard, James Bloor, Elena Kampouris, Nick Krause with Thomas Lennon and Joe Manganiello.

What drew you to Shoplifters of the World?
Photo courtesy of RLJE Films

Ellar: I think, right off the bat, there was just so much for me to relate to with the character of Dean. There’s just a kind of an unused-ness, and recklessness and a danger, but at the same time, there’s a deep kind of sensitivity and longing and compassion. He’s a very compassionate person and it kind of manifests in a kind of dangerous way. But, we see both in his relationship with Cleo and then also in the relationship with Mickey, that even though he’s flipping out and has this gun and he’s being all crazy, he really is seeking connection, and he really seems to empathize with people really easily. And so, that immediately just drew me into that character and also just the opportunity to be crazy and wave a gun around is hard to pass up. It’s not something I’ve gotten to do in any of my other work, so he’s a different kind of character. 

But then after kind of discovering that character and auditioning and getting the part, the next step was discovering The Smiths and submerging myself in their music and learning about that culture. It came very naturally, to be able to relate to the music and the culture and the feelings behind all of it, even though I wasn’t a Smith’s fan growing up. I wasn’t alive when that was happening. There’s so much similarity between that culture and the music and the subcultures that I grew up listening to- just the feelings of isolation and depression and alienation that I grew up with and also this really flamboyant, nontraditional expression of masculinity that Morrissey created and expressed throughout his performing. It’s not something that I was aware of really until I started researching him and the culture more. And just recognizing how transgressive it was at that time for him to express his sexuality and his masculinity in the way that he did is really powerful. And I find it really validating. So, there was a lot for me to grab on to.

Do you think that people today connect with music the same way that they did back then or in the same way that the movie portrays?

Ellar: Yes and no. It’s so different now because of the way that music works with streaming. It’s all about singles, music videos and it’s very different than like going into a store and buying an album and having that one album and then buying all the albums by that band and that’s what you own. It’s a very different relationship. I don’t think it’s nearly as common nowadays, for people to have that same type of like allegiance around a certain band, but I think it does still exist, just in a different way. You know, I definitely had it, growing up with bands, like Radiohead, that were just so important to me. And I felt so seen and validated by that music and I modeled my personal aesthetic after the music and the band and all of that. But it wasn’t really a community that I was a part of, you know, I wasn’t going to Radiohead parties, or like hanging out with a bunch of my friends where we’d all listen to Radiohead together, it wasn’t like that. It was much more of a personal kind of culture that I latched on to. It feels kind of sad, learning about The Smiths and about that culture. It seems really cool to be a part of something like that and have such a commonality with so many people. This music speaks to all of us in this really specific way and that’s something that people can relate over, wouldn’t necessarily talk to each other otherwise. I do think that has kind of been lost because there’s just so much music and there’s so much culture, it’s just, it’s hard to kind of pick one.

Thomas Lennon and Ellar Coltrane in ‘Shoplifters’ Photo courtesy of RLJE Films
You got to work with two really big names- Thomas Lennon and Joe Manganiello. What was it like working with them? 

Ellar: Me working with Tom was fairly brief but he’s a blast. He’s hilarious and he brought so much so much comedy to those scenes and really helped inform my character a lot- being probably one of the main people in Dean’s life is this guy who’s just absurd and mean and kind of the manifestation of everything that these Smiths’ kids hate. That was really cool and really helpful. And with Joe, that’s a great question because I think one of the most interesting things to me about this story and just about the culture of the Smiths, is the really flamboyant and nontraditional masculinity that Morrissey created and kind of embodied through the music and through his performance. There’s something really kind of surreal and almost absurd about me threatening Joe, who is this like a big, tough, metal dude. And I’m this like, very flamboyant kind of effeminate, pretty boy. I think that’s just a really beautiful, kind of dynamic, and really interesting juxtaposition of these two extremely different versions of what a man is. And that was definitely the most interesting kind of part of that relationship to me was like embodying that power, and that’s such a big moment for Dean, grasping that power that I think he’s been denied throughout his life because he’s not strong. But then through that, coming to an understanding, because he is the kind of quote unquote weaker man in the situation. He has the power. And then because of that, Mickey is forced to be more vulnerable and they’re able to kind of come to understand each other and understand these different types of music and these different subcultures, but also just these different versions of masculinity.

Joe Manganiello and Ellar Coltrane in ‘Shoplifters’ Photo courtesy of RLJE Films
What is something that you hope that the audience can take away from watching this movie?

Ellar: It’s kind of twofold because I think it really depends on the audience, you know? I think for people who were Smiths fans in the ‘80s and were a part of that culture, I think it’s a love letter, and a tribute and a nostalgia piece. Something that could be revalidating and bring back memories. But on the other hand, for people my age who maybe grew up similarly to the way that I did, you know, having those feelings of sadness and isolation and queerness or whatever it is, I think it could be validating in a different way- of seeing that like, ‘oh, these people 30 years ago were feeling very similar things, and struggling just as hard to find a way to express it.’ I think there’s a certain feeling of timelessness that I felt interacting with the music and that world. Yeah, just being able to really strongly see myself in those characters, I think, is validating.


Shoplifters of the World will be in Theaters, On Demand and Digital on March 26, 2021.