If you spent a good chunk of Stranger Things 2 waiting for Billy to drop a racial slur in Lucas’ direction, you weren’t alone. That’s exactly what Billy actor Dacre Montgomery thought when he first got the script for Stranger Things 2, but his understanding of Billy eventually changed.
“There are certain type of people in this world that you stay away from, and that kid, Max, that kid is one of them,” Billy says to Max of Lucas, hovering over Max and using a low, threatening tone that was likely all-too-familiar to many viewers. “You stay away from him, you hear me? Stay away.”
In short: Billy is an asshole. In Season 2, Episode 8, “The Mind Flayer,” you find out why, exactly, he is the way he is — his father is abusive, homophobic, and an even bigger asshole than him — but that doesn’t necessarily excuse or justify his behavior. Billy is still an asshole and ruled by toxic masculinity; a lot of fans were wondering if he’s also a racist.
As Billy stormed into the Byer house in Episode 9 to beat down “King” Steve Harrington and take Max back home (at the demand of his father), you might have been inclined to cringe, especially when Billy shoved Lucas up against a bookcase and yelled in his face. Maybe you were, like many, expecting Billy to drop a racial slur into his rage-fueled tirade.
That’s exactly Montgomery expected when he first read the script.
“When I first started reading the description between Billy and Lucas, I was like, ‘Oh, you know, he’s a racist dick,’” Montgomery told Huffington Post in an interview published Monday.
But, eventually, Montgomery’s understanding of the character shifted.
I think he feels threatened. Like I said, these male figures in his life, whether it’s Lucas, Steve, his dad, whoever these different characters that embody his world are … if Max is that one constant, he knows he needs to drop off and look after [her].
If any of these characters object with that person and his relationship with that person, it’s a threatened kind of behavior,” Montgomery added. “It’s that animalistic side of like, ‘You’re threatening my sibling, my world. What are you doing? Who is this boy who’s trying to weave his way into my life through my sister?’”
Lucas, unfortunately, is a target. I think … he becomes a target, and I don’t think it’s about race. Just like I don’t think Steve — somebody touched on that the other day. ‘Now is Billy attracted to Steve?’ And I was like, ‘No, I don’t think he is.’ I don’t think it’s like this confused, homoerotic kind of thing. I think it’s literally he’s threatened by all these characters in his life,” he said.
Montgomery called Billy and his father’s language “extremely jarring,” and says some of it was toned down and cut from the show. But, in the instance of Billy’s father’s homophobic slur, “This is one time in the script in the episode that it needed to be left in.
“It does scream so many things about the time and about how freely this particular character [uses] this word,” Montgomery said, “so I think it says a lot more than what a douchebag my dad is. It’s the beginning of a lot of stuff. We sort of chatted a bit with [‘Stranger Things’ creators Matt and Ross Duffer] about humanizing the villain and seeing Billy as a real person.”
But that doesn’t really mean you’re supposed to feel bad for Billy. In fact, Montgomery teased that Billy’s going to get a whole lot worse next season.
“There’s also a far more sinister side to where everything is going through Billy in the future that we’ve only had very small discussions about, aside from his dad and maybe what it has truly turned him into […] There’s something far more sinister going on with Billy,” he said. “We’ll see how that unfolds.”
Stranger Things Season 2 is now available to stream on Netflix.