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How Dacre Montgomery Landed The Role Of Billy On Stranger Things

Dacre Montgomery brought plenty of creepy intensity to the role of Billy in Stranger Things — but how did he manage to land the plum role?

The answer: with an audition tape for the ages, in which the actor threw caution to the wind with some sweet dance moves and nailed a tense scene from a classic Stephen King adaptation.

Montgomery joined the cast of Stranger Things in season 2, making a strong impression as Billy Hargrove, the troubled and often abusive older brother of Max (Sadie Sink), whose arrival in town plays havoc with the group dynamic of our young heroes: Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Will (Noah Schapp), and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), who quickly develops a crush on the new girl. Billy was scary enough as an older, morally ambiguous antagonist for the gang during that season — but in season 3, he became much, much scarier, serving as a vessel for the Mind Flayer in its attempt to take over the very minds and bodies of the residents of Hawkins.

The charismatic Montgomery pulls off "threatening older kid" very well, making it easy to see why he chose the scene he did for the first part of the audition tape (which, it should be noted, is decidedly NSFW). It's taken from the climax of the classic 1986 film Stand By Me (adapted from the Master of Horror's short story "The Body"), in which... well, threatening older kid Ace Merrill corners the quartet of kids who have just completed their morbid mission to find the body of a boy who had been struck by a train far on the outskirts of their tiny Oregon town.

The film starred a perfectly cast Kiefer Sutherland in the role of Ace, and Montgomery channels the jittery, menacing vibe of his performance to a chilling degree. His tone veers from conversational to shouting to whispering, but it never seems disjointed or contrived, and his timing with the offscreen auditioner reading the other characters' lines is flawless — it's easy to picture Stranger Things creators the Duffer Brothers rubbing their hands together and grinning from ear to ear while watching the tape, knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that they'd found their Billy. It's a startlingly assured reading of a harrowing, difficult scene, and Montgomery absolutely nails it.

Then, the craziness: we're treated to a very brief shot of Montgomery, shirtless, just straight-up getting down to the sounds of Dexy's Midnight Runners and their timeless 1982 hit "Come on Eileen." Especially after the intensity of the previous segment, it's a jarring bit of goofiness that illustrates that for all of his skill at portraying barely-contained explosive anger, Montgomery can also pull off "funny and endearing" just fine.

The tape then continues with a scene from Max and Billy's introduction in Stranger Things season 2, in which Billy talks all kinds of smack about their new home in Hawkins and belittles his sister for finding it to be "okay." In the middle of their discussion (which takes place in a car in the show), Montgomery once again starts to juke and jive as the song playing in the background — Duran Duran's "Hungry Like the Wolf," also from 1982 — increases in volume. After a close call in which Billy almost runs over some of Max's new acquaintances, he lets out a psychotic whoop showing that in addition to his previously demonstrated modes, the actor is also quite gifted at portraying "wildly unhinged."

The tape concludes with Montgomery (once again shirtless) removing a pair retro shades and gazing into the camera with a sly smile that somehow manages to be pleasant and unnerving at the same time. "Name's Billy," he says. "Nice to meet you."

The tape is an interesting window into the process of casting, and also serves as a testament to Montgomery's range (and the quality of his American accent; you may not have known it, but the actor is Australian). His performance as Billy wasn't simply all coiled intensity, however; the actor has revealed that a great deal of research went into his portrayal, particularly before stepping up to the role of main antagonist in season 3.

Speaking with The Independent in July 2019, Montgomery gave some insight into his process. "For Flayed Billy,' I did a lot of research on bipolar disorder and split personalities, and how one personality controls the other personalities," the actor revealed. "[In season 3], Billy is like a rubber band that keeps getting tauter, and I tried to convey that in my physicality. But if you look at my eyes, that's non-Flayed Billy trying to come through. The whole season, I felt like my eyes were bleeding because I was trying to push out this emotion to play as a counter to my physicality. I wanted to treat it more like a real-world experience."

Montgomery went on to explain that his experiences on the other side of the bullying equation as a child helped him to find the humanity in a character whose sympathetic side is often hidden under layers of rage. "I do a lot of work in the emotional space of my character, but I want my life experiences to be a part of the character as well," he explained. "For example, I was bullied in school. So with Billy, I wanted to flip the lens and examine the insecurities of the kids who were bullying me. What do we have in common?"

Montgomery's formidable skills and preparation helped to make Billy a memorable character indeed; it's unfortunate that (spoilers, just in case) Billy met his end at the conclusion of Stranger Things' third season. But the actor has plenty of things on tap; he told The Independent that he's been busy with his podcast, his beat poetry (there's an interesting notion), and, of course, more auditions. He revealed that he was up for a part in Broken Heart Gallery (a part which he has since landed), a Black List screenplay that happens to be a romantic comedy.

We sincerely hope that he has an audition tape that's just as creative and unique for this project, and that it'll find its way online post-haste. We could watch this guy alternately crushing it and grooving to poppy '80s tunes all day.