Elliot Frances Flynn interview: “Shoplifters of the World”, acting methods and coming of age with The Smiths

Elliot Frances Flynn interview

Despite the world being forever turned upside down by a little pandemic, the world of film has carried on. This past year has seen us able to enjoy perhaps a more varied array of films, and a spotlight has been shone on the smaller films that might otherwise have bee overlooked.

One such film, the Smiths-hued comedy-drama Shoplifters of the World will be coming to the UK soon, and we were lucky to sit down with Elliot Frances Flynn, who makes her debut in the film. Through a long meandering conversation, we managed to at some point reach the topic of her film, which was fortunate for us.

No Majesty: Are there specific types of stories that you want to tell either producing or acting.. or both as most actor’s do, are there particular types of stories you’re looking to tell?

Elliot Frances Flynn: I’m very drawn to coming of age stories, young people figuring out their sexuality or even what kind of friendships serve them. All of those stories are stories that I’m drawn to. I remember This Boy’s Life – the memoir by Tobias Wolff that became a movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio – that was the first coming of age story that affected me. I love Catcher in the Rye, people’s opinions about it be damned, I read it probably every other year more or less. Like coming of age stories are the things I’m drawn to as someone who feels like they’re coming of age, and searching. Those are the stories I’m drawn to.

I think Never Rarely Sometimes Always is one of the best films of 2020 for sure, and I had the pleasure of hearing her speak as part of NYU’s Fusion Film Festival, those are the stories that really interest me.  Writing was my first love, and I have published some short essays, and flash memoir pieces. They’re about growing up as a young person, and those are the things that I want to carry on into the world of film. I want to write and produce and then act in films that come from the pains of being a young person.

NM: With the whole pandemic most of the films people saw this past year were mostly debut films, if you think about Saint Maud, Relic, His House and even though Regina King is an Oscar-winning actress, Once Night in Miami. These are not directors with big long careers, so there is a chance to tell these stories that are new, even if they’re genre films. There’s definitely a building sense that people want new voices, and that’s been one of the positives of this year. It’s given a chance to people whose movies probably would have been dwarfed by the bigger releases. A lot of top tens of this year have been made up of debut or second features. 

EFF: Yeah, I completely agree, it’s given a chance for other voices to be heard.

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NM: In terms of choosing a role, is there ever a conscious decision like “I want to be in a film like THAT?” Or is it a case of what comes comes and what doesn’t doesn’t?

EFF: I definitely like to be strategic with the kind of roles that I take. Maybe more than strategic — thoughtful. I don’t want to play “the girlfriend”, nobody does anymore. I think that there are enough diverse filmmakers and screenwriters telling a wide array of stories that there are other opportunities.

I’m really happy with the work that I’ve done thus far because it’s always been a story that has someone’s heart in it. I’ve been lucky enough to play characters that are truthful to me and have value, and don’t feel one dimensional to me. Maybe not every viewer is going to see that but to me who does the work and makes that person a fully fleshed out human being, those characters are real people with something important to say.

NM: And given the times of awards, sometimes that can cloud the intentions of a film, but strip away awards, strip away box office what is a filmmaker or artist trying to say — if they’re trying to say anything at all, they might not have anything to say — it is quite important to have a message or a point to make, that’s what gives it a longer life.

EFF: Yes, and even Shoplifters of the World my film debut, that film was a labour of love for Stephen Kijak, our director. He recently directed Equal on HBOMax, that docu-series, and Lorianne Hall who wrote the screenplay, they are passionate fans of music and passionate fans of The Smiths. So this film took them a very long time to make this movie, I almost can’t believe we’re at the point where we’re talking about the film and we’re seeing press about the film. That film was not about making money, it’s a film that’s really an ode to The Smiths.

NM: I come from a long line of Smiths fans, so when I grew up I was surrounded by The Smiths. I’m certain when I die the last sound I’ll hear is Morrissey’s voice, which makes me terrified to die frankly. In terms of The Smiths, they’re a very melancholic band.

EFF: I think that they brought a voice to these young people that did feel so sad, I think the seventies going into the eighties there was punk and there were bands that were saying something to what you’d end up hearing on MTV, but that voice hadn’t been there yet. I think that The Smiths longevity lasts in that vocal displeasure for the current state of your life, or the system or the place you grew up. The Smiths were an integral part to my growing up, also. They were long broken up by the time I was born. I can attach a Smiths song to every part of my growing up, the first time I felt very sad and didn’t know why, or going to college, or my first romance. Even my most recent romances, now I can even attach it to my first film, which is insane to me. It all feels very serendipitous to me, and I’m very grateful for the film and I couldn’t ask for something more meaningful to me.

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NM: What is your favourite Smiths song?

EFF: A Rush and a Push. I mean, the classics are the classics for a reason like I think There is a Light, you know when you first hear “If a ten ton truck kills the both of us…” you don’t just hear stuff like that, and when you’re a person going through the throws of first love, you can’t find a truer statement. It felt incredibly true to me. But A Rush and a Push is my favourite, although The Queen is Dead is also very important to me because of its place in the film, it coincides with my character, and I’ll never forget that song. 

NM: Mines Panic because I’m basic!

EFF: No that’s not basic at all, a friend of mine said that too.

NM: I like it, it’s upbeat.  I can’t take too much of Morrissey getting too dour.
EFF: That’s fair.

NM: And when making the film, was The Smiths playing on set or was it just a general idea, or a part of the filmmaking process?

EFF: Some of the scenes that was the case, like when my character is first introduced we were playing the song The Queen is Dead as we were reacting in real time. I’m really excited because all the classics are in there, and even in the script when there was a music cue I was very excited, so I’m excited to hear it all in the context of the film.

NM: That’s pretty confident, because clearance rights must have been what the budget went on.

EFF: Yeah, they had to make sure they had permission to even entertain the idea of making this film. But, the film itself was really an event among Smiths fans, all of these T-shirts and posters and things from Smiths fans, some from a Smiths fan museum called The Smiths-onian. They might have had to change the name. But it was a fan affair, fans came together to make the film, and that’s something that’s really exciting. 

NM: In terms of preparation when you’re acting, what sort of method do you have, are you a method actor yourself or are you more, do your homework but not be slavish?

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EFF: I very much believe that an authentic performance needs to come through you as the instrument, that comes from a place of authenticity. Method Acting is a phrase that I don’t use because people think method acting is very tied to actors who behave badly and erratically in the name of the character. I very much play characters that are like me, I prefer to do that kind of work, so you find where you relate to the character. I’m also very much a homework person. Memorising your lines, I memorise the whole scene so I know my scene partners lines as well as my own, because that’s how you get the scene in your body. You do that work, you do story maps, or sometimes you won’t, but you do all the work and you work hard to then when you’re on set you can let go and be in the moment while trusting you’ve done all the work. So, now you can be in the moment, honestly and openly with that work supporting you. 

NM: I believe that acting is reacting, you can get distracted when someone’s not focussing.

EFF: Actor or no, someone in the industry or no, everyone has a bullshit detector and it’s pretty much foolproof, everyone knows a bad performance when they see it. You don’t need to be someone who studied film or someone who knows how to act.

NM: With regards to producing, and performing, what is next for you? Obviously film is a little difficult at the moment, is there anything lined up or is it up in the air?
EFF: After Shoplifters debuts, I do have other films due this year, but I’m not allowed to talk about them at this point. I’ve worked on some other films that I’m really excited about, hopefully they’ll see the light of day, maybe not in 2021. I don’t know where they’ll end up. But, I’m looking forward to the future. I’m very pleased that all the films I’ve been a part of so far, no two genres are the same, I’m excited about that.

NM: That is so cryptic.
EFF: One thing I would love to be in is an action movie, I’ve not done one of those yet. Everytime I watch a new action movie I think “maybe I should lift weights..” I love films about music, a dream of mine is to be in a music biopic, I’d love to be Patti Smith in a biopic. That’s probably the ultimate dream. 

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Paul Klein

Paul is Film & Media Editor @ No Majesty. Paul is a Film Studies Graduate from London, and former writer at The Metropolist.

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