The actor was so open about his past, in fact, that he recently opted to channel his own experience with drug and alcohol abuse into a feature film role.
Last September, Monteith spent three weeks in Philadelphia shooting "McCanick," a cop drama costarring David Morse. In the film -- which is the last known movie Monteith shot -- the actor plays Simon Weeks, a drug-addicted street hustler who is sent to prison for seven years on murder charges. Once Simon is paroled, the detective who put him behind bars -- played by Morse -- goes on a mission to hunt him down.
Having seen Monteith’s portrayal of the affable jock Finn Hudson on “Glee,” director Josh C. Waller was initially hesitant about casting the young star in his gritty indie. (Monteith was suggested to Waller through his agent at United Talent Agency, who also represents Morse.)
“In my mind, I was envisioning a teeny little drug guy [for the role], but Cory Monteith is this tall, strapping man,” Waller said in an interview on Sunday, hours after the actor was found dead in a Vancouver hotel room. “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.”
On set -- where Monteith would fly in and out for multi-day stints due to his "Glee" filming schedule in Los Angeles -- Waller's fears about the actor's goody-two-shoes demeanor were quickly allayed.
"He didn't say it was a cathartic experience, but you could sense it," Waller recalled.
"McCanick" marked the first major dark film role for Monteith, who had previously only appeared in supporting roles on the big screen. In 2011, he of course appeared in the "Glee" 3-D concert movie, and also played a love interest in the lighthearted tween romantic comedy "Monte Carlo." He also recently completed work on the independent comedy "All the Wrong Reasons," in which he plays the manager of a big box department store whose fidelity to his wife is tested on the job.
Because he was one of the oldest cast members on “Glee,” Monteith was aware that his days on the comedy were numbered and was trying to be proactive about his career, Waller said.
“He was like, ‘I know I can’t be on that show forever, so I’m starting to prep myself for when it’s not on anymore,’” the filmmaker said. “With ‘McCanick,’ he was starting that trajectory -- like, ‘Let me nip this in the bud right now.”
Waller last saw Monteith three weeks ago, when the pair met at UTA to watch a finished cut of their movie. Having recently completed a one-month-long stint in rehab, the actor looked healthy, Waller said. He did not mention that rehab stay, but said the last few months had been “kind of tough,” though things were “looking good now.”
“He sent me an email later that evening after the screening saying he was so thankful and had a lot of pride in the role. He was nervous and scared -- but it was that good fear. He said something along the lines of -- ‘I can’t wait to find out the release date so that I can tell the world about it.’”
How the film will be released, however, remains to be seen; it does not yet have a distributor. Waller recently submitted the movie to the Toronto International Film Festival, which is held in September, but has yet to hear whether it has been accepted.
“It’s tricky, because you know there’s a group of people that want to see the movie because it’s his last film -- but by no means does anybody want to exploit the tragedy,” Waller said. “I want people to see the movie, because Cory deserves that. People would ultimately see that he had a lot more to offer artistically, and it’s a shame that this happened because now he can’t explore that.”
[For the record, July 14, 6:36 p.m.: A previous version of this post said that Josh C. Waller is the writer-director of "McCanick." He is the director. Daniel Noah wrote the screenplay.]