Those of us who grew up in the ’80s may recall there were pretty much three camps for teens to join musically: pop, metal or new wave.  The later two tended to possess the most passionate fans, especially when it came to the darker end of the sonic spectrum. Woe-filled melodies can convey angst just as well as aggressive sounds– often better. Which is why The Smiths resonated so deeply with so many of us. When the band announced their break-up in 1987, fans were crushed.

Shoplifters of the World, the new film from writer/director Stephen Kijak, seeks to convey the sorrow of losing a favorite band -that band- within a music video-like flashback film.  It chronicles a wild night in Denver as a group of teens mourn the end of an era while contemplating the beginning of their lives. And it’s all back-dropped by Smiths music thanks to one of their peers taking over the local radio station and holding the DJ at gunpoint, ala Airheads. 

The DJ, named Full Metal Mickey, is played by Joe Manganiello, best known for early roles in HBO’s True Blood and Steven Soderberg’s male stripper drama Magic Mike. The actor -who is married to Modern Family’s Sofia Vergara- has been very busy as of late, and roles such as this one show a dramatic range fans might not have expected from his earlier work. As he shared with LA Weekly prior to the opening of his latest projects, he likes to keep his characters and endeavors varied, but he also knows how to connect with all of them on a personal level.

LA WEEKLY:  Really enjoyed the new movie and I think it will resonate with music lovers no matter what genre they were into growing up. I’m curious what kind of music you listened to as a teen and if your tastes and past experiences informed this role as a heavy metal DJ? 

JOE MANGANIELLO: I don’t think I was easily put into a category. In high school I was kind of friends with everybody. But I will say that from a young age, I had all Van Halen records. And then as I got a little bit older, I think my first cassette tape was Bon Jovi Slippery When Wet. Then I found Appetite for Destruction, and that was- that just blew my mind wide open. Then I discovered Ride the Lightning, and I listened to nothing but that, start to finish and then on repeat, for about 18 months straight. I had a yellow Sony Walkman, and I would flip the tape. Once one side ended, I would flip it to the other side and that went on for about a year and a half… Then I realized, oh wait, there’s like Kill Them All and Master of Puppets.

So I got into all of those but then I was also, like into the Lords of Acid and what was going on electronically at the time. And then as we moved into the early to mid 90s I had a bunch of drum & bass and San Francisco house tapes and some stuff from East Coast house DJs. I could probably sing you any Public Enemy song, Cypress Hill, old school hip hop from back in the day. So you know, I was a bit all over the place.

But there was lot of a heavy metal influence in me. My first concert was Pantera, Sepultura and Biohazard, so it started there. But I wound up in the theater club. So I was a jock and captain of the sports team, but I also had friends I would make movies with. Then, from making those movies, I wound up getting cast in a bunch of plays my senior year. So when my senior year started and theater replaced sports, I thought, ‘I am going to be an actor or be in entertainment… I’m going full force over in this direction.’ So once I started hanging out with the theater kids, I started getting mix tapes with all of those bands around that time, whether it was The Smiths and New Order or Violent Femmes. The great bands of that era.

Sounds like you are and always have been a big music lover. 

A lot of my friends are musicians. You know I go to see music shows. I was always into music, reading music magazines, very much up on all of that type of, you know, culture, especially in the ’90s. My formative years was like, the old Details magazine and Spin magazine and Rolling Stone. And if I had a day off or had nothing to do or no plans, I would go to the record store.

I miss those days.  It’s a bygone era and I felt the movie really captured that time. I was about the age of the protagonists when The Smiths were big, maybe a little bit younger. But I could really relate to them on that level and that was cool. It sounds like because of your love of music this project had a lot of appeal for you. Can you talk a little bit about how you approached playing the DJ? Did you model him after anyone?

I think when I looked at the character, I thought, okay, there’s a bit of Eric Bogosian in there. He’s like a shock jock but I think that that mixed with -I don’t want to say Henry Rollins ‘cause Rollins was very punk- and Mickey is very metal. But I was certainly obsessed with Rollins. You know kind of like the spoken word, and there is a bit of poetry that comes with my character. He kind of gets poetic about what’s going on with these kids and so there’s a bit of that. I think that my relationship to Ellar’s character is very Sam Shepard True West. That’s where you have these two characters whose identities were very much locked into a certain music type and a certain way of dressing, that then lent itself to a certain ideology and created a form of tribalism amongst themselves to repel others who are not as cool. I think that they ultimately intersect in the middle and kind of wind up influencing each other and  becoming more well rounded by the end.

I think a lot of people will relate to one or the other mindsets that Mickey and Ellar Coltrane’s characters represent, and what I loved was your character showed how we can all find common ground. And it’ll be interesting to see if older viewers relate more to your character’s perspective and if younger audiences connect with the kids… even though they represent music-lovers who are our ages now. This film being set in the ‘80s means the nostalgia hits on multiple levels. 

You know, I’m like one of the few adults in the movie. So, the idea that my character has wisdom, that can be useful to a young man who is trying to impress a girl…he just, he doesn’t know what to do and I sense that and help him figure out how to do a better job. So there’s that. One of the scenes talks about rock stars that you idolize and how bands break up all the time, and they’re gonna get older and they’re gonna say things that are gonna turn you off and go against everything they ever stood for. When you’re young you’re putting all of these eggs into this basket of worship, and they’re just going to disappoint you, which is a very cynical way of thinking. But I think what my character needs is the ability to open up because he’s also had his heart broken and he’s never really been able to reconcile it. Through the music of The Smiths and through Ellar’s character opening up, my character becomes a little more sensitive, and I think his character a little tougher, a little cooler.

Speaking of worship, fandom, and being disappointed sometimes, are you aware that a lot of fans feel that way about The Smiths singer? Morrissey’s fanbase has always been hardcore, but in recent years there’s been a bit of a backlash due to some of his political beliefs. I’m a Smiths fan but I’ve lost respect for Moz due to these issues. 

Well, I’m a huge Smiths fan too. So yeah, I’m aware. We started making the film 10 years ago, Well, I read the script and met with Stephen [tl] about 10 years ago so that was a different climate. The things that you’re referring to, hadn’t been said… Our film isn’t about that–  it’s not even really about Morrissey. It’s about the teenagers who were affected by the breakup of the greatest band of all time. And if you talk about the band’s influence on kids in 1987, oh my god, they were huge. Morrissey was worshiped like Elvis. If you went to a Morrissey concert there’d be boys and girls crying.

Oh yeah for sure. I think that especially in this day and age, we have to ask ourselves the age-old question: can we appreciate the art and even separate it if we don’t like everything that the artist did in their lives. I mean, clearly a lot of people can and do, but then there are some that can’t and I guess that’s a personal decision.

Yeah and that topic didn’t necessarily have to be broached for our film because like I said, we were shooting scenes set in a certain time.

Ellar Coltrane as Dean in Shoplifters of the World (Courtesy RJLE Films)

The film feels like a snapshot of a certain time, and for a lot of us, The Smiths and Morrissey’s voice will take us back to that time and that innocence we felt, no matter what. 

Yeah and that’s why I think as filmmakers, our job was to ensure that the film felt like an authentic experience rather than a caricature of the 1980s.

I think you guys pulled it off and I really enjoyed it.

So shifting gears, I’m not a big superhero movie watcher, but like everyone else who has HBO, I did watch the Zack Snyder Justice League cut and was happy to see you in the end.  What can you tell us about your role in the theatrical release versus the new cut? 

Okay so I was cast by Ben Affleck to play the main villain in his Batman. The plan was to tease our Batman movie and give the first glimpse of me as the villain Deathstroke in the end credit scene in Justice League. 

Four and a half years ago I shot the scene on the yacht with Lex Luther. When Batman was canceled, the studio went in and ADR-ed Jesse Eisenberg’s dialogue and re-shot with him in a bald cap to tease a Justice League part two, which never happened, without me even knowing they did that. I’d signed on for the Batman movie but when it was canceled, I thought, okay, they’re just gonna throw that scene out. But that wasn’t the case. They altered it to tease a part two, which I was not signed on for. So that’s what appeared at the end of the original theatrical cut of Justice League.

Now, what you see at the end of the Zack cut is the restoration of the scene that teases me going after Batman. You know Lex Luther tells me his name and his secret identity and now I’m gonna go find him and kill him. So that was the restored scene. Then Zack called me back in to officially basically invite me into his Snyderverse, where I then came in to film the nightmare sequence.

Deathstroke in Justice League (Courtesy Warner Bros.)

Is there anything you can share with us about your future in the DC Universe?

I mean it’s been an up and down. There’s been about six different projects starring my character that have all been in development, in the middle of being negotiated, or that have been canceled so that’s kind of– that’ll be a chapter in my book, the roller coaster of the past five years.

Would you like to pursue more with the Deathstroke character?

Well I wrote the story for an origin film prior to the mass exodus of executives that happened after Justice League came out in theaters. The entire studio was reshuffled. The people who were champions of my origin film left the studio. And the next regime that came in did not see that film as a priority. The old regime was in negotiations with Gareth Evans, the director of The Raid movies, to direct this origin story so, like, do I have a story? Would I love to be able to take all of that, take all those old notes and turn it into like a serious character? Yes.

Maybe this new version of Justice League will get people excited again for the character. So do you have anything else you’ve been working on? 

There’s Archenemy and another film, Spine of Night, an animated Rotoscope film that I recorded seven years ago; it just played South by Southwest last week and it’s got worldwide distribution. That’s going to be coming out in the next year at some point,  so that’s very exciting. My character just debuted on the Disney cartoon Big City Greens. I’m the voice of  Viper Fang who is the arch nemesis of Danny Trejo’s Tiger Fang. I have an animated film called Koati which is about the Latin American animals of the jungle that Sophia [Vergara, his wife] produced and does a voice in. I play the fatherly panther in that movie, and that’s coming out, so that’s fun. And I voiced a 3D animated series that is being directed by Zack Snyder, it’s part of his zombie universe for Netflix.

Shoplifters of the World is currently in select theaters, available to rent now on VOD and digital including Amazon Prime.


Advertising disclosure: We may receive compensation for some of the links in our stories. Thank you for supporting LA Weekly and our advertisers.