Taking time out at a pivotal career point takes courage. But for the Stranger Things actor, the benefits are undeniable: renewed confidence, a superstar mentor and the realisation of his own creative power.
Dacre Montgomery is riding a wave of success. His standout role in Stranger Things put him on the Hollywood radar and brought fresh attention to his strengths as an actor. Outside of the Netflix hit series, the 28-year-old continues to build on his existing big-screen appeal, with previous starring roles in Power Rangers, the Selena Gomez-produced rom-com The Broken Hearts Gallery, as well as an appearance in Baz Luhrmann’s blockbuster Elvis earlier this year.
But by far his most recognisable role is that of Stranger Things’s deceptively layered bad boy, Billy Hargrove, the fiercely protective older stepbrother of Max, played by Sadie Sink. Montgomery’s character begins as one of the series’ least liked, but his sacrifice for its star, Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), flipped the opinion on Hargrove, in what has been dubbed one of the most poignant scenes in the show’s four seasons. It also helped catapult Stranger Things to record-breaking success.
This year, the show smashed previous debut-weekend numbers for an English language program on Netflix, amassing more than 286 million hours of streaming, worldwide. It also helped turn Montgomery into one of the world’s most popular young Australian actors; he has nine million followers on Instagram alone.
“Stranger Things gave me the room to play in, [it was] an amazing show, where I had an amazing, unforgettable time,” he reflects. But since then, the actor has undergone what he dubs “a crisis of creativity”, prompting him to take some time away from the screen: a tough call for someone pinned as one of the industry’s most in-demand figures. And while it may not have won him many friends professionally, Montgomery is staunchly protective of that time for personal growth.
“I’m not chasing any fame or any money or anything like that. It’s not why I got into the industry,” he says, adamantly. “I think I am most attracted to those types of characters [such as Billy Hargrove] because they show their flaws. They’re not trying to mask something.” Growth for him has never been about the search for stardom, but instead, the refinement of his craft.
“I think what was missing before was the clarity in the direction of choosing the role or choosing the film or choosing the collaboration,” he says of his decision to step back and truly consider his next career move.
Not that he hasn’t kept himself busy in the meantime. To him, being an actor is just one creative outlet. “I just fell in love with the process of creating,” Montgomery says. Lately he has found fulfilment in writing, be it poetry, which he has turned into a spoken-word podcast series, or screenwriting, an area he says is still a work in progress. “I’m not gifted in crafting narratives. That’s where my writing partner comes in. I’m interested in tapping into the emotional side of things… That’s where my love of movies comes from: emotion.”
This conscious stepping back also saw Montgomery re-evaluate and reinvent his artistic process. He now believes he’s more confident in his preparation for upcoming roles and has signed on to star in Went Up The Hill, alongside Corsage and Phantom Thread actor Vicky Krieps. “I have four main scenes in the film and I reckon I did a hundred hours of prep on the four scenes… taking all my energy and thinking that I’ve been doing over the pandemic and channelled it into that space.”
This rehashing of the old Dacre has ushered in a newer person, but it’s not a complete reinvention per se. “I’ve changed a lot,” Montgomery says. “My values are the same, but my priorities have changed in my work and in my personal life.”
It was during the throes of lockdown that fellow Australian Hugh Jackman contacted Montgomery out of the blue, an outreach that has since blossomed into a mentorship that is now helping him shape the type of actor he wants to be. “If I need advice, I call him, and the great thing about Hugh is that everything I had heard about him before—that he’s amazing, lovely and generous with his time—is completely true.
Despite the success Montgomery has carved out for himself in the US, Australia is always in the back of his mind (“I miss it so much, everyday”) and he’s quick to acknowledge the other Aussies whose presence he cherishes, such as his partner, Liv Pollock, brothers Nash and Joel Edgerton, and of course, Jackman.
The accolades garnered for his performances, his current sense of clarity, and the success he’s achieved so far ultimately haven’t left him satisfied, with Montgomery convinced he still has a lot more to do. At high school, he was awarded “Most Likely Student to Become a Hollywood Star”, a status he says he is yet to reach. “I just see myself as someone who’s been really lucky to have been given a couple of amazing opportunities, and hopefully, I haven’t taken them for granted,” he says, heaping further praise on the friends who have stuck by him and kept him grounded.
Montgomery freely admits that he’s “in an industry where, fundamentally, you cannot plan anything. You can’t plan your next step because it’s so uncertain what’s going to happen next”. And although accepting this state of flux is just another aspect of Hollywood, he’s adamant that he’s going into his next acting chapter with a refreshed outlook and clearer head. “I’ve got a new team of people representing me, I feel good now,” he says. “I feel like I have my head above water.”