Interview : James Bloor on exploring identity in ‘Shoplifters of the World

The ‘Barkskins’ and ‘Dunkirk’ star talks about reliving his journeys of self-discovery in his role as Patrick in ‘Shoplifters of the World’.

James Bloor as Patrick in ‘Shoplifters of the World’. Image courtesy of RLJE Films.

Shoplifters of the World is the latest feature film by director Stephen Kijak, whose previous work includes documentaries on musicians like Scott Walker, The Rolling Stones, The Backstreet Boys and the iconic Japanese rock group X Japan. With Shoplifters, Kijak has crafted a narrative feature film combining his visible adoration for music, the cultures that form around it and the crucial imprint they leave on us all throughout our lives.

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.

We had the pleasure of speaking to James Bloor, a trailblazing young actor from the UK who has appeared in films like 2017’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre prequel Leatherface, Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk and National Geographic’s television adaptation of Annie Proulx’s Barkskins. He appears as Patrick in Shoplifters of the World.

Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me!

Likewise! Are you from Australia or New Zealand?

New Zealand!

Oh, nice. I have a good friend who’s from New Zealand, from Timaru.

Oh, good old Timaru!

I’m sure that’s a random place to know about.

It’s definitely a place I’ve never heard mentioned by anybody who doesn’t already live here, but what a small world we live in!

It sounds like a fictional place, it just sounds so cheerful.

It doesn’t feel all that different from living in a Hobbit hole at times, which is about the most cliche thing I could say about New Zealand, but it’s totally true.

So let’s talk Shoplifters of the World! It’s very much a coming-of-age film, and obviously music plays a big part in that. Music is typically such an important touchstone in our early years, and for the characters in this film, it’s the music of The Smiths. I’m curious as to what your equivalent was growing up.

I think my equivalent is Lady Gaga. I’m a gay man, and I didn’t understand or even know that I was gay when I was around 14, 15. Something that I didn’t understand just really drew me to her. I can remember around 2008 or 2009, I felt she was extremely unapologetic. She came out and was doing chat shows over here in the UK where she was so magnetic and so fierce. Everything from her performance to her voice felt like a real struggle; there was so much effort and a lot of aggression, I think.

It just really resonated with me. I remember sneaking off to see her when I was about seventeen or so, and just being absolutely enthralled by her. And just before I was going off to uni as well, I remember there was a point in her show where she would just stop and say, “do whatever you want to do”. I can remember hearing that and it really landed with me, and thinking “I don’t necessarily have to follow that strict path of my university course, I can go off and explore making things and acting”, and that was a bit of a moment for me.

Music has this ability to convey these really powerful messages, and I feel that’s absolutely what’s going on for these characters in the film as well.

Absolutely. The cast is full of young characters who are all going through this transformative time in their lives, and everybody has their own unique path. What do you feel was the thesis of your character’s journey; the real essence of Patrick’s internal awakening as a young adult?

Being attracted to men; grappling with that and not understanding what that was. Was it wanting to emulate them, be like them? Of course, there was a lot of fear around labels like “gay”, so I think that was the central struggle of my character. And he’s really a contradiction, because he’s trying so hard to fight those feelings off, and the harder it gets, the more he protests. Throughout the summer he starts to grow a little bit into it, but it’s difficult. I can relate.

I tried to just be very, very simple in my approach to playing him. I tried to think about how I felt at that age and how I still approach trying to figure out what feels right to me and what feels comfortable to me, and shrinking back because that doesn’t fit with my idea of what I should be like, whether it’s how I move or how I talk. So I think there are these little moments that Stephen wrote into his arc where he takes these little baby steps, like when he’s dancing.

There are these moments where he steps outside what he thinks he should be like. He has a very rigid sense of things. In his opening lines, he makes it very clear that he is not gay, he just wears eyeliner, and that’s okay. And Robert Smith wears eyeliner, and he’s not gay, and Morrissey wears eyeliner and he’s not gay, and that’s fine.

He’s trying very hard to put everything to order, and I think the more that he tries to impose order on things, the more it reveals that things inside him are really muddled and disordered. He’s trying to figure out what will feel good and right to him, and how do you accept that? How do you embrace that?

I find it so interesting how much we can figure ourselves out through the media that we engage with. It shapes not only who we are now, but who we might become in the future, too. I feel like there’s lot of open discussion in music culture these days about identity, and that definitely kicked off for a lot of people with the popularity of artists like Lady Gaga as you mentioned. 

Yeah, I agree. And I think it’s changed so much with Gen Z. I mean, I think I’m a millennial, but you know, you can even see a big difference between Lady Gaga and the people who are big right now. Popular music has more openness, more authenticity of people being clear about their orientation and identity. I feel old basically [laughs]. There’s been a lot of change in that since I was that age, which I think is wonderful.

So what have you got on the creative horizon at the moment?

I’ve been trying to keep myself going. Part of that has been writing and directing a narrative podcast called Soft Voices. It’s an audio comedy/drama, and the second episode is [out now]. It’s been pretty much a year’s project; I started it when the pandemic really first hit the UK around this time last year. So I’ve been busy working on that, and it’s given me a lot of focus and helped me to not go too mad. That’s been very handy. It’s a very silly premise, but it’s about a real estate agent living in London who hears voices in her head. She goes on some adventures to try and figure out what these voices are all about. 

Alright, you’ve got me hooked!

SHOPLIFTERS OF THE WORLD is in Theaters, On Demand and Digital as of March 26, 2021.

Calista Flockhart approached for Ally McBeal revival

Capsule Reviews : Justice League, Kid 90, Peter Rabbit 2