It's morphin' time.
Well, there are actually two more days until the Dean Israelite-directed Power Rangers hits theaters Friday. So, it's almost morphin' time.
For fanatics of the '90s classic, counting down the days to see the reimagining of the teenage superhero saga has been a full-time job. The film's lead, Dacre Montgomery, however, wasn't one to dress up like the character for Halloween while growing up in Perth, Australia.
The 22-year-old actor, who plays Jason (aka the Red Ranger), tells Heat Vision, "I'd love to blame that I was on the west coast, in the most isolated city on the planet, but I think Power Rangers really had reached every corner of the earth, so I don't know. I just missed it!"
Montgomery may have missed the phenomenon at the time, but being the son of two parents in the film industry, one thing he couldn't avoid was getting the acting bug. "I was probably about 10 years old when I said to Mom, 'I'd really like to pursue a career in front of the camera.'" And 12 years later, Montgomery credits his portrayal as the lead ranger in the film as his "first role."
Ahead of the premiere for the film, which also stars Elizabeth Banks, R.J. Cyler, Becky G., Ludi Lin, Naomi Scott, Bryan Cranston and Bill Hader, Heat Vision spoke with Montgomery on the phone about Jason and Kimberly's love story, "potential" for another film, working with Banks, and how he sent in a tape of himself wearing a "G-string" for his next role in season two of Stranger Things.
Is it true you didn't watch Power Rangers growing up?
It's 100 percent true. I kind of missed it. I'd love to blame that I was on the west coast [of Australia], in the most isolated city on the planet, but I think Power Rangers really had reached every corner of the earth, so I don't know, I just missed it! I had to find something to latch on to, which very easily became, "What does it mean to be a superhero? What does it mean to people in society to have a superhero that kids look up to?" I thought, who do I look up to in my life? And for me it was people like my mom.
Were you a fan of any other fictional superheroes?
I watched that sort of stuff growing up. But for me it was about people in my life. At the end of the day, Jason is still a person, so how can I instill this character with a certain level of believability and organic nature or quality that makes him believable both out of the suit and inside of the suit. So much of this film is an origin story. It's about how did we become the Power Rangers? It's about real humans, real teenagers, going through real problems.
Did you end up watching the original Power Rangers or any other variations of the story after you landed the role?
There was definitely incentive from the creators of the project not to focus so much on that, because it is an origin story, and it's a complete reimagining. We were definitely encouraged to put our own twist on the characters and make them their own thing. I went and I watched bits and pieces and got a bit of an idea of that world, but there was definitely an encouragement not to do so, so I didn't focus so heavily on it.
Were your co-stars fans of Power Rangers?
Definitely Ludi the most, and Becky and R.J. were big fans as well. Me and Naomi, not so much.
Did they teach you anything?
Every day there's a new anecdote or something they have about their childhood related to either the action figures or the show or Halloween or playing games or whatever. So that has been really nice to have a little bit of exposure to their experience as kids with Power Rangers, and I think it's probably given me and Naomi some insight, or it has given us insight into what it was like for them to have that connection, which I think has added a bit of like, oh wow, we're really part of something that means a lot to a lot of people.
What surprised you the most about who Jason is?
When you meet Jason in the film, you think he's just this high school jock, but he's not. It's so much more than just, "Here's the white guy. Here's the white leading man." I want to show people that it's not just the popular kid. He's fundamentally flawed, he's endearing, and he's charming. He is multidimensional. He's struggling with his own stuff, and that was so nice for me to layer a character like that with my own experience, because I was really overweight in high school. I didn't play sports, I didn't have many friends. I was trying to bring my experience into a character. There is [also] this big struggle in the film with his dad and the relationship with his father, and that was really an interesting dynamic to explore because it's really real. I was sitting there and [saying], "Shit, this is a real problem." I'm a high school football star when you meet me, and that's all my dad wants me to be, and then I have an accident and my life is altered because of that physical damage I do to myself. And my dad disowns me. And then I basically go, "F— you. I'm going to go off and do my own thing and be my own person. It's the same when I meet Zordon [Cranston], he's like, "I want you to be this person for your team." And I say, "No. F— you." Because I'm not just going to be what everybody wants me to be. A lot of teenagers have that growing up. They're like, "F— the man." There's a lot of learning from that, and I'm a big fan of learning through failure. I think that's a lot of what growing up was and being in university and giving you that space to learn through failure. And in the film that's definitely what happens.
What is the relationship between Kimberly and Jason this time around in the film? Is it more of a modern-day love story?
In the final cut, there is definitely less of a focus on the romance between them than what we did in production. It's more about a five-person story, an ensemble piece, rather than our love story. But there is definitely a lot of room for exploration in potential future films.
The Red Ranger is known as the leader. Is that the case in the film?
Everybody's telling me it's the case. I consider it an ensemble piece. I came from drama school, and it's a group of 18 people working together in every single production and splitting up the roles for three years, so I am very much about the team. But there is a very, very heavy focus on Jason's side of the story from the very beginning of the film to the very end with his family, my journey and then eventually rallying the troops, toward the latter part of the film. Yeah, so I think, yes there is definitely that element.
How much did you have to practice the famous line, "It's morphin' time!"?
We shot the film almost chronologically, and "It's morphin' time!" happened three and a half months into the five-month shoot. So we had had all this time to bond, but also to think about, "Oh shit! I have to say that line three months from now." We were all like, "Oh God!" Even Dean. So the day comes, [and] we're in a spaceship, like, the spaceship is real. It was eight city blocks. It was one piece, one thing. It was like we were there. The camera is set up on this crane, it's this crane shot and we had a couple of lines in this scene in front of the morphers, and the crane comes down from the ceiling, right to me, and I say the line. On the day, me and the other guys were all like whispering in the corner, "What the hell? What are we going to have to do? How is Dean going direct this?" Dean comes up to me and the rest of the group, and he whispered in my ear. He's like, "Dacre, I want you to say it like a prayer." I was like, "This is different." We all walk to the morphers, the crane booms down, comes to my face and then I said, "It's morphin' time." I said it like a prayer. What it was was a very special moment of the integrity we all had for that one line. It's the main homage to the original show. Other than the names of the characters and stuff, this is very much a new production.
How intense was the training like for the role?
I trained for about two and a half months, six days a week, three hours a day. I'd get up in the morning, work with a couple of phenomenal trainers, doing a lot of MMA, kickboxing, CrossFit, boxing, a whole variety of stuff, just learning about my physique and flexibility. And in the middle of the day, I'd work in the gym, doing a lot of muscle work. And then in the evenings I'd do yoga and learn about my diet. It was this great exploration of like learning about your physique rather than just creating a physique. It was like a job. And then I flew to Vancouver and then that scene from the trailer where I'm shirtless was in the first week. (Laughs.) So thank God because I came, and it was like we just snapped straight into six days a week, 17 hours a day, and I did not have as much time to train.
What were some of the hardest scenes to shoot in the film?
We did a lot of exterior shooting, especially in Vancouver and around British Columbia through winter. It was very cold and we were dressed as if it were any town in America and California [during the] summer. There were a lot of really, really freezing cold shoots. But for me, I'm the kind of person that likes exploring when you hit that wall, how much further can you go past it. So the hardest thing for me I think was more actually negotiating my sleep, my line learning, my diet. Because suddenly, when you’re working 17 hours a day, I had no experience [doing that]. It being my first job, I was like, "I need to navigate my schedule far better." In your spare time I would spend time hanging out with the crew, getting to know everybody, which is all good and well, but then you're over-fatiguing yourself in the first month, the first week because you get home and then you'll watch a couple episodes of Empire or whatever.
Is Empire your show of choice?
I am the biggest geek and fan of film and TV, and I just go through phases. And I think for the first month of Power Rangers I watched all of Empire.
The villain, Rita Repulsa is played by Elizabeth Banks. What was the dynamic like when filming with her?
There's those veterans of that industry, and you walk into the room and you naturally sort of stand up straighter. It was interesting for me being my first film, seeing somebody like that and seeing the choices they make and ... how solid they are when they walk on to the set and the sort of presence that they exude. She was such a lovely person to work with as well. When we were doing fight scenes with her, it's very choreographed. It's like a dance.
Bryan Cranston (Zordon) and Bill Hader (Alpha 5) were added to the film after you guys shot everything.
Bryan and Bill came in later. We had stand-in voices, two fantastic guys that were our voice actors throughout the production. But now that I've seen the film, Bryan and Bill absolutely kill it without a doubt. Bill is hilarious.
When filming those scenes without them, did you have people in mind for who you would want to voice those characters?
Hugh Jackman is alumni at WAAPA (Western Academy of Performing Arts) where I'm from. I did go through a phase where I was like, "Dude, wouldn't it be awesome if Hugh Jackman was Zordon." But I watched Malcolm in the Middle growing up, I watched Breaking Bad, and then learning about Bryan's correlation with the original Power Rangers, I was just like sitting with [producers] Marty Bowen and Wyck [Godfrey], and I was like, "Dudes, he killed it."
Have you met Bryan yet?
I'm going to be totally honest with you, I haven't met him. He's so busy and it came later in the process, and I don’t live in the States unless I'm working here. So I was back in Australia. Naomi met him and a couple of other castmembers, but I just wasn't in America to meet up with him.
Do you think there will be more films?
I would love to think there will be more films. I guess we're going to see how we do at the box office and play it from there. But I think everybody else is definitely treating this as an origin film, the first of a few.
What would you want Jason's story to be going forward, something maybe fans didn't get to see from him in the first film?
Mate, I'm gonna have to let you find that one out yourself. I can't tell you because otherwise I'm going give away the cliffhangers where you leave him at the end of the film. There is definitely a story arc that I think Jason is on, and it's definitely not complete yet.
So there is a cliffhanger at the end?
I may potentially be alluding to the fact that there may potentially or may not potentially be or might have been a cliffhanger at the end of our film, yes. (Laughs.)
What was your favorite scene in the film?
I loved working in the tank. We had this big tank with divers and all kinds of stuff, which I loved. We jump across a cliff. We did that. There is a mountain range in the [Northern] Interior of British Columbia. We spent about three days up on the top of this mountain. And apparently it's the widest cliff jump of actors on wires ever attempted on a production in history. It was like a 50-meter chasm, and we went from one end to the other in one shot. Every morning we shot out there, the sun is coming up, it's majestic, the mountains in the background are covered in snow, you get to eat your dinner right on the edge of the cliff. The only scary thing was at the bottom of the cliff, the chasm, it was just cardboard boxes. If we did fall, we're done. No more Power Rangers. No more of what I was potentially just alluding to. (Laughs.)
The Rangers first connect after getting in trouble. Growing up, did you get in trouble at all?
I wasn't a good kid in school. I wasn't a bad kid. I just didn't focus. My grades weren't good. I mucked around, you know, a phase everyone went through. We'd be doing parkour on my high school roof, we'd get in trouble. But I was never a reckless kid. I was never out there [doing] graffiti and doing drugs and all that kind of stuff. For me there is always a certain level of recklessness that I think gives you a certain foundation, that makes you more interesting as a person. You can't always be by the book, every single day of your life.
You weren't too familiar with Power Rangers before filming, but have you watched Stranger Things? You're going to be in season two. Did you watch before getting cast?
I am a huge fan. No doubt. Just before we came to L.A. for Comic-Con last year I think Stranger Things dropped at the start of July and I was in L.A., I watched it in Sydney just before I went to L.A., whenever it was, around that time. I went to L.A. and I met a few people over a few days in L.A. and I was like, "Guys, this show just came out, Stranger Things. These Duffer brother boys are going to be the next Coen brothers." I was talking so much about this show. I literally loved it, left it, moved on. My parents got into it, and my parents never take my advice on what shows to watch. They're always off watching Danish crime shows, which are also fantastic, but they kind of stick to that realm. And they watched it, and my grandparents watched it. Four months passed and then I got an email from my manager who [said], "There's two season regulars joining Stranger Things, one of them is this 18-year-old bad boy." I lost my shit, I was like, "I have to nail this."
I spent a day working on it and got two of my friends who were still at the acting university I went to help me that night put down a tape. I was so nervous [about] it and wanted it so badly I made like a short film. I had an opening score, opening titles and credits. And I got in a G-string and danced naked to '80s music with this leather jacket and crazy glasses. That night, Thursday night, I sent it off. I said to my team at 3 Arts and WME, I was like, "Dudes, this is crazy, literally the industry is going be like who the hell is this guy, or they're going to love it. Hopefully the Duffers can handle this." I didn't sleep Thursday night, and I got the call Friday morning saying the Duffers want to Skype you on Sunday morning and they want to fly you to L.A. next week for the test deal. I was like, "Holy shit!" I Skyped the Duffers Sunday morning and we got a call Monday morning the test deal is off the plate, it's an offer. And I was standing with my mom and I was like, "Are you kidding me?!" I had been auditioning for like four and a half months since I was shooting Power Rangers and this was the first role that I really wanted, and I hadn't gotten any of the other roles I'd auditioned for or call backs or tests or anything, and I got an offer for this role. Then three and a half weeks later I moved to Atlanta and started shooting. And that was in October and we finish shooting at the end of April.
Who is the character?
I played Billy. And he and Sadie, who plays my stepsister, had come to Hawkins, Indiana. We come to town and basically ruffle feathers, I guess, is my character's place. The Duffers were like, "We want somebody like Jack Nicholson in The Shining." He's wild, he's unpredictable. Every day I go to set, I have some sort of new input, like I'll sit down with the Duffers and be like, "What do you think about this line?" I've got prosthetics, I've got a crazy car, I've got earrings and tats, and it's so wild. My character is unpredictable. I'm playing the antagonist as opposed to the protagonist, which I play in Power Rangers. I went into the postproduction house actually in L.A. about two and a half weeks ago, and the Duffers showed me and Joe Keery [Steve] most rough cuts of [episodes] one, two, three and four. We sat in these edit rooms, giggling like little girls. I'm still fan-girling.
Which Ranger are you? Are you looking forward to seeing Dacre in season two of Stranger Things? Chat about it in the comments section below and stay tuned to Heat Vision for more Power Rangers coverage.
Power Rangers opens Friday.