Television, ahem…streaming, doesn’t get any bigger than Stranger Things. In three short years, Stranger Things went from a mild curiosity to Netflix’s signature program. In an era when YouTube celebs, Facebook, and iPhones compete with TV for our attention, Stranger Things is one of the few titles on the planet capable of cutting through all the noise.
The beauty of the series is that each new season feels like an event. A new batch of episodes is one of the rare times when a ravenous global audience descends upon the same new content in any medium. And when Stranger Things 3 drops on July 4th, it’s going to be pop culture’s a Superbowl. So, enjoy it while it lasts.
Netflix invited That Shelf to sit down with a couple of the show’s stars, Dacre Montgomery and Cary Elwes. Montgomery captured our attention in Stranger Things 2, with his smouldering portrayal of Billy, Hawkins’ resident bad boy. Elwes, the series’ newest addition, plays Larry Kline, the town’s mayor. The show’s producers have been tight-lipped about the upcoming season, but it’s safe to say that Mayor Kline will take on an adversarial role.
I met up Elwes and Montgomery in a retro arcade located in downtown Toronto, and I peppered them with questions throughout our breezy interview. Our conversation touched on handsome villains, mirrored ceilings, and what’s on Billy and Mayor Kline’s shelves.
Victor Stiff – I have so many questions about bad boys. What do you think makes a great villain?
DM: I think someone that’s just representing a human being with all its flaws. I don’t think it’s someone playing a bad person. You know what I mean? I don’t think there’s such thing, I think it’s just really organic.
CE: Yeah, I don’t judge the characters I’m playing. I learned that from reading Laurence Olivier when I was a kid. It said you should never judge your character because then you’re making up the audience’s mind for them. So, I always try to find the humanity, even in people who seem flawed. Everybody’s got some kind of ‘something’ going on inside of them that makes them who they are.
This is such a massive show in pop culture right now. What’s it like knowing so many people are going to hate your face? How do you deal with that?
CE – I don’t mind. I played a drug dealer in Days of Thunder. I got some people coming up to me in the streets going [American accent], “Dude, you’re such an asshole.” I go, “Thank you. Appreciate that.” Characters you like to hate are always fun to do. It’s like my wife says, “If the character got issues in his tissues,” then certainly there’s a lot more background going on because chances are they had some kind of history in their life that made them the way they are. Some internal or external thing that makes them who they are.
I’ve read that you and your wife are fans of the show. Not many people have the opportunity to go from being a fan to having that script placed in their hand. Especially a production that’s as secretive as Stranger Things, where they keep every detail under wraps until the very last moment. What’s it like when you get that script in your hand?
CE – It’s like a dream come true, really. It’s very surreal, it never happens. It certainly hasn’t happened to me. Well, that’s not true. I always wanted to work with Coppola. It’s happened a couple times, but this was unusual because I had never binge-watched anything before. And so this was unusual for me and I was so impressed with the Duffers, and their vision as storytellers.
The script, when I first got it, read like the show. It’s a page-turner. It’s so exciting to read that when I finished reading it, I called them right away and went, “Oh my god, you guys write exactly as you shoot,” and they went, “Yeah, that’s how we roll.”
This show has monsters, alternate dimensions, superpowers, you name it, and it’s in the show. But what do you think this show is really about?
DM – I think it’s really a coming-of-age story at heart. Well, at least about 60% of it, with the kids’ storyline. I think it’s a coming-of-age story set in a time filled with nostalgia. But what it’s unpacking is the relationships between those teenagers and even the relationships with the adults (with partners) and raising children.
I wasn’t born in the ‘80s, and that’s what’s interesting for me to watch because I don’t have the nostalgia quality of, I know what this is, or that is. I don’t know all the references.
This show is steeped in retro pop culture, were there any touchstones you went back and researched?
DM – For me, it’s not ‘80s specific, but Jack Nicholson was the reference for me from the Duffers because a lot of the performances he gives are unpredictable. So, it keeps the audience on edge. You can see why it’s so successful. So, I wasn’t given any ‘80s specific research.
Your character Billy is in a different place from last season. Based on the trailer, you don’t spend as much time with the kids. It looks like you’re involved with mature ladies. Can you talk about your character’s arc for this season?
DM – Yeah, a little bit. It gets a lot darker before it gets better. The majority of my storyline is with Millie. It’s Billy and Eleven. I mostly worked with her this season, and it was great. She’s so extremely talented. That’s kind of where my arc went.
Are you allowed to drop any tidbits about what we can expect from the character?
CE – Not from the characters so much, but I can tell you that from my standpoint, I feel now, being the newest guy on the show, and being a fan, that this season, honestly for me was more intense, more powerful, and more terrifying than season 1 and 2 combined.
DM – Definitely. Agreed.
What’s scary to you?
CE – Characters that you care about in mortal danger.
DM – I’ll just extrapolate on that. I think characters that you care about. Period.
CE – Right.
DM – And that you get invested in that and decide to make really scary f*cking decisions.
CE – Yeah.
DM – Do you know what I mean?
CE – Totally. That’s what’s so great about this group of guys, the characters. We keep calling them the kids, they’re not kids anymore. But they’re so resourceful, and their bond is so unique. The world that the Duffers have created for this little group of guys… they all, at the heart of it, they may fight with each other, they may pick on each other sometimes. But at the heart of it, there’s love there. And when push comes to shove, when the chips are down, they band together. And the minute you see Eleven in the trailers, pushing through the doors, it’s great. It’s exciting.
What’s it like being the new guy on set?
CE – They made me feel very welcome, I must say. I wasn’t sure what to expect because I’m a new guy showing up, and I had no idea. The Duffers and all these guys, the crew, everybody made me feel like I was part of the family right away and that’s obviously a wonderful thing.
Fans of the show only get to see the end product. What are some of the things fans don’t realize go into making Stranger Things?
CE – How much work goes into creating everything. The atmosphere, the detail.
DM – When you’re on set it feels real, it feels like you’re there.
CE – It’s so real, you’re right there in that period. There’s no room for error, and the Duffers are so brilliant at creating that atmosphere, that location for you. You don’t have to work that hard to believe you’re in that moment. You could look in any direction, basically. Nothing is going to distract you because they’ve created a world that’s so real. That does a lot of the work for you.
I’m writing for That Shelf today, and my outlet is all about highlighting our nerdy obsessions. It could be a classic video game cartridge, a poster, or sports jersey. What do you guys have on your shelves?
CE – Screenplays. I collect screenplays. I love great screenplays.
Do you have a prized one?
CE – Yes, I have the original Jaws script-supervisor’s copy. It’s about 400-pages long because it was shot over two years. It’s got all the drawings in it from Spielberg, and that’s something that is kind of cool.
DM – I don’t think there’s a way to come back from that. Look, I just used to spend all my money on DVDs. Ten seasons of Supernatural all the seasons of S.H.I.E.L.D., all those shows. Similarly, everything I ever worked on, two things, three things, I get them leather-bound and store them as different chapters in my career. So, I have all the episodes of Stranger Things leather-bound in our library, and Power Rangers.
What do you think would be on Billy and Mayor Kline’s shelves?
DM – These are really good questions.
CE: Yeah, I really like this.
DM – I think a pack of Marlboro Reds, honestly, for Billy.
CE:– For this guy, a mirror, cigars, whiskey.
CE – Women. Not on his shelf… He’s definitely a guy who doesn’t collect things so much. Well actually, he’s got a lot of art. A lot of art from the period and mirrors on the ceiling in his home. I mean he’s really kitschy. He’s got no taste at all. Zero. Which is hilarious.
By the way, they found a house for this guy… I feel bad saying this now. But they found it. When I went in and saw the mirrors and the kitschy artwork and the crazy colours and the pink wallpaper and the green carpet, I’m like, “You guys did this?” And they’re like, [whispering] “Noooo, we found it.”
DM – Somebody is living like that…
CE – It was a home that was on the market that had been literally untouched since 1980, and so they didn’t have to dress much of it. It’s great.
Being on a show this big, it’s a very intense moment. But then it comes to an end, and you move on to other projects in the years to come. When you look back at your time on this show what’s going to be your takeaway?
DM – Just the fact I was given an opportunity to play such an amazing character. And in reflection, I want to be able to look at it and go, “Look, I gave it everything I had.” And look upon it in fondness, which is what I do now. I’m so lucky. I’m 24 and got to play an amazing character, and hopefully, you’re right, it does lead to new avenues.
CE – Yea, I can’t improve on that answer. That’s pretty much how I feel.
As performers, you always want to reach larger audiences. What’s it like in the digital age, knowing as soon as Stranger Things 3 goes out on July 4th it’s going to pop up at the top of a hundred million Netflix feeds.
DM – It’s great to know all those months of hard work, for everyone, not just us, has paid off in such a fully realized way of sitting, exactly like you said, at the top of people’s dashboards on their accounts and sitting right there for viewing consumption around the world. It’s an amazing feeling.
I want to circle back to nostalgia a bit. In the ‘80s and ‘90s a show like Stranger Things, the heroes would be heartthrobs. You guys would be the main characters. And now something has flipped where you guys are the bad boys and the nerds are the main characters. What do you think has changed in that time?
DM – I think it’s shitty to say, but I think it’s the result of society reflecting on itself and going, “Hey, there’s more than one story to be told.” It is exactly that. And it’s a shame that it has to be, recognized in hindsight. “Oh, we should have ….”
It is a good point to be able to say, “Look, there is more than one story to be told,” and I think that’s what we’re seeing across all the platforms, not just in film and TV. Social media, short-form content, streaming platforms, we’re seeing all kinds of stories being made, and it’s not just one facet [of] leading man, good guy, a single dimension.
And that’s what’s so interesting when it’s well done. That’s what’s so fun at the moment. To sit down and go, “Oh, that’s really cool. That’s really cool.” It’s diversified the market completely.
Is working on Stranger Things as fun as it looks?
DM – Yeah, 100%.
CE – And more so.
What’s the best part of stepping on set every day?
DM – The adrenaline.
CE – And the excitement of it. Putting on the skin of the character and getting into it and finding yourself in the moment and catching lightning in a bottle, that’s what we do for a living. It’s an exciting, beautiful thing. It’s almost intangible, but everybody knows when you’ve got it.
Stranger Things 3 arrives on Netflix on July 4th 2019.
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