Montgomery’s opening scene as Billy Hargrove in season 2 of Stranger Things ranks among the more memorable small- screen debuts. Sporting an 80s mullet that straddles the slim line between iconic and ironic and an over-the-top snarl, he emerges from a muscle car, clad head-to-foot in denim, cigarette dangling from his mouth, as heavy metal blares in the background. The archetypal bully, Hargrove is initially cartoonish in his malevolence, giving the show’s geeky gang of kids a flesh-and- blood foil almost as menacing, at least in a high school context, as the hollow-faced Demogorgon they’ve been pitted against thus far. In the upcoming season 3, Billy breaks badder still, going from flirty, cougar- courting lifeguard in the opening episode, to fully-fledged force of evil.
Montgomery landed the role after submitting a now-legendary audition tape in which a shirtless, unhinged Billy burns up the screen as he dances to 80s classics by Duran Duran and Dexys Midnight Runners.
That Montgomery is convincing in the role is perhaps not surprising – it was both informed and inverted from his own experiences and encounters as a teenager. “I had a really tough time in high school and I feel like there’s a lot of people in my life that have possessed those types of qualities that I represent in the show,” he says. “You know, any bully or person that you’ve had in your life that has been antagonistic towards you. It was about finding those qualities and representing them.”
Bullying wasn’t the only thing Montgomery battled in high school. In year 12 he weighed 90kg. “I was a really big kid,” he says. Montgomery discovered exercise after taking a gap year after school, during which time he lost 25kg. “That was purely just going to the gym and getting on the treadmill and running,” he says. From there, he tried to stick some muscle on his frame, lifting “really heavy” before suffering injuries that put him off shifting large loads of iron for good.
He subsequently dabbled with yoga and stretching and took up surfing this year after being introduced to it by his girlfriend, model Liv Pollock. But Montgomery found his true exercise calling while preparing for his first major role in 2017’s Power Rangers.
“I started doing night-time boxing classes at the gym and that gets you really cut,” he says. “I loved that.”
For Stranger Things he needed to muscle up again. This time, instead of weights he used resistance bands, doing a mix of light weight, high reps and static holds. “I think the best type of muscle for me is creating, not big muscle but dense muscle,” he says. “I wanted to do this meatier, chunkier jock thing so I still worked out a ton, but I also did a lot of boxing and ate a heap. My carb intake was higher, my meat intake was higher and I just built this chunkier, more muscly version of myself.”
Along with getting him in shape, exercise has also helped Montgomery manage anxiety and fill the downtime that plagues many actors between roles. The best piece of advice he ever got, he says, was from a screenwriter on Power Rangers. “He said, ‘You need to know how to kill Wednesday’,” he says. “To kill time. It’s a huge part of being, not just an actor, but any freelancer, so that you don’ t go crazy and worry too much about what the future is going to hold. I’ve become very proficient at killing Wednesday.”
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