Cory Monteith's Death: Canadian Actor Brought Real-Life Experience to Local Movie Roles

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Cory Monteith

Shocked local directors recall the "Glee" star bringing a past he wanted to explore to memorable big-screen roles before being found dead Saturday in a Vancouver hotel room.

TORONTO -- When Cory Monteith was found dead Saturday in a Vancouver hotel room, he left behind local film directors struggling to find answers after working with the Canadian-born actor on recent projects.

Writer-director Gia Milani just a month ago flew to Los Angeles to show Monteith the final cut of All the Wrong Reasons, an indie film in which the Glee star plays a store manager in a big-box department store.

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“I think he really liked it [the film]. He seemed enthused about it, and we were talking about where it might debut,” Milani told The Hollywood Reporter on Monday.

That was before early Sunday morning, when Milani’s mother, who lives in Victoria, British Columbia, rang Milani on the East Coast with the shocking news that her film’s lead actor had unexpectedly died.

“My husband woke me up. I thought it was an Internet hoax my mother had fallen for. I only spoke to him [Monteith] four weeks ago. He was healthy and happy. I’m still finding it hard to believe,” the Canadian director said.

Milani recalled Monteith deciding in 24 hours to take the store manager role in a film about four lives intersecting in a big-box department store. Monteith had worked as a Walmart people greeter before becoming a Hollywood star. “He kind of stepped into the role easily because of his background. It was nice that he was able to bring that experience to the film," she said.

In an interview with THR last year, Monteith told of seeing in his All the Wrong Reasons character what he might have been had Hollywood not come knocking.

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“I think having worked in a department store setting, if my life had not taken a drastically different turn when I became an actor, there’s a very high probability I would have continued to work at the department store,” Monteith said while on the Halifax, Nova Scotia, set.

The actor also channeled his real-life story in another Canadian movie, Vancouver director Carl Bessai’s 2011 family drama Sisters & Brothers, which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Bessai had seen Monteith play the character of Finn Hudson in Glee. But what brought Monteith to the film was his association with 90210’s Dustin Milligan.

It turns out that, before Monteith and Milligan made it in Hollywood, both had been struggling actors, and friends, in Vancouver. Bessai recalled that it was Milligan who convinced the Glee star to board his film so the young actors could play brotherly rivals in the ensemble drama.

“We modeled the narrative off of their real-life experiences as young men,” the director told THR on Monday, just a day after learning of the Monteith's sudden death.

The low-budget Canadian film was mostly improvisational, which added to Monteith’s risk-taking -- and generosity -- as an actor, Bessai said. “What was amazing about the experience was Cory’s willingness to put his true self into the character. It’s rare to get someone as open and authentic as Cory was. It made the film terrific,” he said. 

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Bessai added, “He had to open that part of himself up to tell his story, and we were dealing in the film about issues of fame, and the vanity of fame, and these were issues close to him, that he wanted to explore.”

Even so, Monteith was more than ready to stop in the streets of Vancouver to sign autographs and talk to fans.

“He was grateful for the opportunity… I think that’s the best side of him. It’s just so sad to have the lights turned out,” Bessai said.

Emily Alden, vp production and development at Pacific Northwest Pictures, which released Sisters & Brothers in 2011 and has yet to finalize release plans for All the Wrong Reasons, expressed disbelief at the passing of Monteith on Monday.

"I am shocked, saddened and heartbroken to hear of the loss of Cory. My thoughts are with his family and loved ones," she said in a statement.

Monteith got close yet again to his real-life experiences as a drug-addicted street hustler in the upcoming theatrical feature McCanick, which was shot in Philadelphia in September 2012.

“In my mind, I was envisioning a teeny little drug guy [for the role], but Cory Monteith is this tall, strapping man,” director Josh C. Waller told the Los Angeles Times on Sunday. “But when I met with him, he wanted to do it so badly. He was very vocal about his past and said he wanted to tap into things from his youth that he hadn’t been able to use as an actor yet.”