Cory Monteith was about to surprise — and perhaps shock — fans who thought they knew his work, exploring dark and quite adult themes in the world premieres of two dramas at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Now Gia Milani, the New Brunswick writer-director of All The Wrong Reasons, and Josh C. Waller, Los Angeles-based director of McCanick, face the bittersweet exercise of introducing their films at TIFF minus Monteith, who had so impressed both with his dedication, enthusiasm and professionalism on their sets.
Calgary-born Monteith, who died in July in Vancouver at age 31 of the combined effects of heroin and alcohol, was clearly destined for bigger things than TV’s Glee, where he played football playing singer and musician Finn Hudson, say both Milani and Waller.
All The Wrong Reasons premieres Sept. 8. McCanick premieres Sept. 9.
“No, it’s not going to cloud my experience; bittersweet is the perfect term,” Waller said. “The fact of the matter is regardless of the movie, we lost a friend and so the main thing that bothers me is that this a film that we are all, the team, proud of and part of that team was Cory.”
Waller said Monteith, who went into rehab in March 2013, showed no evidence of his struggles on the Philadelphia set in September 2012.
“I’m broken-hearted that this disease got him,” said Milani, adding she never saw evidence of substance abuse during the August 2012 shoot on All The Wrong Reasons.
“He was a very clean-cut guy,” she said. “There were no issues with him at all. I was tremendously shocked when he went into rehab. I had been working with him for two weeks prior and I saw nothing.”
Monteith was on time and prepared to work and very generous, calling ahead to offer to pick things up or see if she needed anything. He brought candy and treats to the set, spending down time hanging out with Milani’s dad or offering cast and crew rides home.
Monteith would fly to L.A. to work on Glee, then turn around and be back on the Fredericton, N.B., set (he did the same back-and-forth on McCanick). Since much of the shoot took place in a Zellers store, that meant working overnight. He never complained.
“He talked a lot to me about how he liked playing Finn and loved that character,” said Milani, adding Monteith said he was grateful for the doors the role had opened.
“But he did want to try something new,” she added. “He felt he had reached a certain point and he had all the fame he could want and all the money he could want. He could stretch and take (artistic) chances and feel safe.”
“I can’t believe this fell into my lap,” was what Monteith said about playing ambitious big-box store manager and conflicted husband James Ascher in All The Wrong Reasons, according to Milani.
He was enthusiastic about the role, laughing about how familiar some of the scenes were thanks to his past as a Walmart greeter. “I am this guy! I know this!” Milani says Monteith told her.
Milani’s ensemble drama about how tragedies affect the lives of four employees sees Monteith as a man who wants to support his troubled wife (Polytechnique’s Karine Vanasse), who is suffering psychological damage from witnessing a tragedy. But he’s ambitious and her frailty holds him back, while their lack of intimacy leaves him open to temptation from a party-girl cashier (Emily Hampshire.) Kevin Zegers (The Mortal Instruments) also stars.
Monteith played a far different character in McCanick, wearing a long brunette wig and a hoodie to portray the teenage Simon Weeks, a kid living on the streets reluctantly surviving by prostitution. He also plays an older version of Simon, now an ex-con on the run from pursuing cop Mack McCanick (Morse).
Simon was the last role cast for McCanick, a film Waller started working on with screenwriter and best friend Daniel Noah in 2005. The Hobbit star Elijah Wood is the third partner in their production company.
Monteith shared an agent with Morse. She “pushed” Monteith for the role, said Waller.
“I had a specific type in mind and Cory didn’t necessarily fit into that type,” said Waller of casting Monteith, adding he was after a “skinny, waifish, androgynous, weird druggie look” for the character, someone who could play Simon both as a 17-year-old and several years older. The handsome Glee star didn’t fit with that.
“When I finally decided to meet with him he had read the script several times and (worked on) the character and had done the work,” said Waller.
“Zero ego and it was all him pitching me on what he could do if he was given the chance to do the character,” he added. “That was endearing and he won me over.”
Both directors were able to screen their films for Monteith in Los Angeles in June, about a month before he died.
“He was excited, and he thought it was really intense and he hadn’t been portrayed like that before,” said Milani, adding she hasn’t been able to watch the film since Monteith’s death.
“It’s confusing,” she said. “You’re happy one second and then, the people you want to share with aren’t there or you feel badly talking about it … he did have a fantastic talent.”
Waller said Monteith was “very proud of the work he did and he was excited to go share his work and the fruit of his labour to the world.”
Added Waller, “the main thing I’m sad about is he’s not going to share that experience and have people slap him on the back and say, ‘You did an amazing job.’ I think he was just getting started and that’s what makes it such a bummer, just getting started in life.”