The Stranger Things actor talks shop with a familiar friend.
Stranger Things was never the same after Billy Hargrove blazed into the Hawkins High School parking lot in his blue Camaro. The bad boy had all the hallmarks of a 1984 hard-rock god: denim jacket, single earring, killer bod, wicked grin, and obviously, one glorious mullet. But wrapped up in that seductive package was a deeply damaged soul consumed by violence and rage. And that was before he was possessed by a malevolent supernatural force from another dimension.You can thank Dacre Montgomery for imbuing Billy with his sinister charisma, his gleeful menace, and his anguished heart. The Australian actor famously won the role thanks to a rollicking audition tape that saw him gyrating in a G-string to Duran Duran. Montgomery made an impression, and when it came time for Stranger Things creators Matt and Ross Duffer to formulate the hit series’ third season, they put Billy at the center of it all. The Duffer brothers crafted a storyline in which Billy becomes an instrument of the monster who rules the parallel dimension known as the Upside Down. The possessed teen lures townspeople to an abandoned steel mill where they’re served up to create an army under the creature’s control. In the end, it’s series protagonist Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) who helps Billy find a way back to his own humanity. He chooses to sacrifice himself as a final redemptive act, telling his stepsister with his last breath, “I’m sorry.” It’s rare to find a character arc quite so meaty, and Montgomery relished the challenge of taking Billy from aggressive bully to contrite martyr. He arrived on set hours ahead of schedule to prepare for filming, and he pushed himself to his physical limits for some of the season’s most demanding scenes, including a thrilling sauna-set confrontation with Eleven. With Hawkins now in the rearview mirror, Montgomery is squarely focused on life after Stranger Things. He recently wrote and directed his first short film, and he’ll star in the upcoming romantic comedy The Broken Hearts Gallery. Here, Montgomery chats with his close friend actor Austin Butler (who will play Elvis Presley in an upcoming biopic by Baz Luhrmann) about the Stranger Things phenomenon and what’s next.
Austin Butler: I was reading about where you started. You went to Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts [WAAPA]. What was that experience like?
Dacre Montgomery: In the 90s, my mom did broadcasting at WAAPA, and my dad had done a bit of lecturing in the sound department there. I was just fascinated by it. My high school was on the same campus, so every day I had to walk through this renowned drama school. I’m not going to lie to you: I think there are a lot of ups and downs about drama school. The first year, I got asked to leave the course three times.
. . . I’ll come to set eight hours before call, and I’ll just pace the soundstage for hours, get in the world.”
Do you see yourself doing theater in the future?
DM: Yeah. In film and television, you rarely have the time to rock up on set and extrapolate on the character, the world, the ideas presented, or the meaning behind the story with the director and the other actors. That’s what I like about theater. I just struggle with nerves; I always have. That’s why I find it hard to audition in person. Theater, for me . . . Even if we’re two weeks into a production and we’ve been performing to live audiences for two weeks, I’ll drill the whole play’s worth of lines about five times before I start every single night. It’s quite a draining experience, but amazing. I love the live component.
Do you bring your work home with you?
DM: No. Once I’ve left set, I’m gone. There are some pretty intense moments with Billy in Stranger Things, and I can’t leave with the character, so I’ll come to set eight hours before call, and I’ll just pace the soundstage for hours, get in the world. No one else is around me. Then when I walk on set, there’s no prep.
Are there actors that you look to for inspiration?
DM: I’ve spoken a little bit about Jack Nicholson over the years in relation to Billy, purely because I don’t think his choices are predictable. He has a way of playing this maniacal kind of antagonist, but humanizing him as well. That was very much my mission in Season 2. There are some amazing actors out there . . . I just watched Warrior for the first time, and Tom Hardy, he’s one of those actors that is quite unpredictable. Benicio del Toro in Escape at Dannemora . . . Adam Sandler killed it in Uncut Gems. I love Brad Pitt, and for some reason I had a real cathartic experience with him trying to find his father in Ad Astra. That really moved me. I admire him deeply.
I felt like the luckiest guy on earth, I felt like I got to explore.”
What was it like to be a part of a series that has had such a huge cultural impact? Was it difficult to say goodbye?
DM: I think to be part of something culturally so massive was great, because the antithesis to that was there was no pressure ever. You were unburdened by this cultural expectation, and you just got to rock up on set and play. The second part of that is that you feel it in your personal life. It’s like having a movie hit the cinema: It’s a rumble that becomes a roar very quickly afterward, and remains very intense for three months of time. Then you get spat out the other side. I actually found I didn’t have any apprehension about what the future held. I remember the last night we shot, having this moment of “Let’s shed the skin.” I felt like the luckiest guy on earth, I felt like I got to explore. I had the best time ever, and I’m going to miss all the people — but the experience, I put to bed that night. Part of life is learning to continue to grow and evolve. When I was a kid, I was so scared of doing that. This was a nice moment because I felt like it did come to an end. I was excited for the future, as clichéd as that sounds.
Watch Stranger Things
on Netflix now.