Like many people I know, I headed into the COVID-19 lockdown with a vast list of things I planned to achieve. I’d shock my friends by exercising every day; practise French until I was fluent; clean out my wardrobe. As you might have guessed, I did none of that. And of course, articles have been written forgiving us; we’re living through a pandemic, after all, and the stresses that come with it—job losses and ill family members and financial anxieties—very much exempt us from exceeding our own expectations. Simply ‘being’ is enough.
But there are a rare few people in the world whose creative achievements in a time of upheaval speak to a certain type of dedication—not to mention an absolute passion for their game. Dacre Montgomery can be listed among them. “I fell in love with the adrenaline of the industry at a really young age,” says the Perth-born actor, whose parents both work in the industry—his mother as a production coordinator and first assistant director, his father as a sound recordist. “It’s like a circus, everyone working a million miles an hour. TV and film are this incredible combination of writing, lighting, costume design, music, cinematography… there are so many facets to explore and to learn, and the more I’ve worked, the more I’ve grown and really honed my craft.”
"Stranger Things really moved the needle for my career, which I don’t take for granted in any way; I feel really fortunate."
Despite his extensive IMDb profile of acting, writing and directing credits, Montgomery is only 25, a detail that makes his achievements all the more significant. Growing up in Western Australia, Montgomery finished school quite young—at 16—taking a gap year before being accepted into the state’s premier acting school, the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, where he graduated with an acting degree. Having filmed some local productions during university he was, as he describes it, “lucky enough to book my first big job a month before finishing”. That lucky break, which filmed in Vancouver, Canada, was Power Rangers, the USD142 million-grossing reboot of the hit nineties TV series, in which he starred opposite Bill Hader and Elizabeth Banks as Jason Scott, the Red of the Rangers. “Honestly, it was like the stars aligned,” he says.
If that was the stars, though, then the breakout success of Netflix series Stranger Things—in which Montgomery starred as Billy Hargrove, the violent, mullet-haired older stepbrother to Sadie Sink’s Max in seasons two and three—was truly celestial. Having set new records for the viewership of Netflix-produced content whilst contemporaneously achieving unanimously positive critical reviews, Stranger Things earned its place in the new canon of binge-worthy cinematic television alongside Game of Thrones. “It really moved the needle for my career, which I don’t take for granted in any way; I feel really fortunate,” says the actor.
It was in Stranger Things that Montgomery decided to take risks, attempting to escape the archetypal acting tropes he’d perfect at university. And the reception on set was essentially: go for it. “The cast and crew were really supportive of me in trying to find a new way of playing the character, and to walk on set and feel confident in those choices was a really big stepping stone, especially in the later season when I found myself really owning those creative decisions.”
“I’m obviously very nervous about it because it’s my first foray into that world and so you feel as though you’re not allowed to take up too much space."
Those that know Montgomery’s character in the series—and are likely to love to hate him, such are his somewhat sadistic characteristics—then are unlikely to have expected the actor to release a poetry podcast. Titled DKMH (his full name is Dacre Kayd Mongomery-Harvey) and with each episode timing in at a few minutes, the genre is perhaps best described as beat poetry: a freewheeling style that he narrates over mesmeric music. What’s a 25-year-old doing writing poetry? “It really resonates with my generation,” says Montgomery quite simply. And certainly, that the likes of Rupi Kaur and Sonny Hall—both in their twenties—are some of the most popular youth identities on social media speaks to this penchant for analogue experiences amongst millennial audiences.
“I’ve been reading a lot of poets over the [COVID-19] break, a lot of young poets that I admire, and I guess I’ve been functioning on that periphery with [my podcast],” he says, though next month, he’s taking yet another step in his creative amplification with the publication of his first book of poems. “I’m obviously very nervous about it because it’s my first foray into that world and so you feel as though you’re not allowed to take up too much space. But I was lucky enough to meet Rupi on a film set at the end of last year and I think that gave me a boost of confidence to go ahead and do this book.” He’s also finalising his second short film (his first, In Vitro, was released earlier this year), which he conceptualised and produced during the lockdown, and which he also plans to release on Instagram TV. He’s reluctant to give much away, although the vague hints he gives suggest it’ll adopt a meta quality, produced, directed and written by, and starring, himself, in which he confronts different versions of himself.
Although he’s found success abroad, it’s at home that Montgomery feels most at ease. Having returned pre-lockdown to Sydney, he and his girlfriend—model Liv Pollock—are currently searching for something more permanent. “I always travelled with my mum as a kid when she was working overseas, and there has always been this romanticism to LA for me, and I’ve still got the travel bug but ultimately I’ve decided that I want to live in Australia when I’m not working [overseas].”
And besides, it seems that the traditional establishment of Hollywood dominating global cinema has largely been dismantled due to international border closures, leading to a rise in smaller-scale local productions. “It’s going to be fascinating to see how that unfolds and fantastic for the industry here in Australia, but also in other countries where they’ll now be less reliance on bringing in people from, say, the United States to lead productions. Being able to discover you can work on world-class productions in your home country, rather than feeling as though you’re on the other side of the world, is really something.”
And while he’s happy to be home, Montgomery is also keenly aware of the challenges that Australia—and, for that matter, every country, big and small, all around the world—faces as a result of our changing climate. For Australia, that culminated in ultraviolet purple and red skies for months through the summer as a result of months-long bushfires (discussed in further depth on page 14), which he describes as “just devastating and claustrophobic, and we weren’t even in the heart of it. It made me wonder how I could use my voice for change.” That came in the form of an ambassadorship for the Red Cross and a fundraising campaign that helped to raise close to AUD400,000 for affected communities, largely through a candid and heartfelt video posted to his social channels and audience of millions of young followers. “I think the reason that the younger generation has such an incentivised interest is because we have access to so much information through social media, and that news is circulated, it’s not just one-sided, so you’ve got this really well-educated young audience that’s passionately engaging in these sorts of things.”
A generation that cares for the environment as much as for poetry isn’t what many have branded the peers of Montgomery, but as a representative, he speaks volumes of their quiet ambition and creative pursuit. “When I find something I like it’s usually because there’s something unexplainable, an aura, almost,” he says. “There’s something in it—whether that’s a part, or a script, or a project—that makes me need to take part in it, and if I don’t get it, then I’m going to run at it with everything I have to show the creative team just how much I need to be part of it.”
DKMH, by Dacre Montgomery, will be released by Andrews McMeel Publishing on 27 October 2020.
Photographs by Levon Baird
Styling by Jolyon Mason
Grooming by Sophie Roberts