Cory Monteith Calls Own Tune With FilmSaturday, September 10, 2011
For Cory Monteith, going from the tightly scripted world of TV's hit show Glee to the role of a troubled sibling in Carl Bessai's largely improvised movie Sisters & Brothers, premiering at TIFF Sunday, was the actor's equivalent of working the high wire without a net.
“It was exhilarating and it was exciting and it was scary at times and it was such a fantastic experience,” says Calgary-born, Victoria-raised Monteith over a crackling cellphone from Los Angeles in an exclusive interview with the Star. He's a bit late making the call, having been busy in the recording studio after laying down vocal tracks for Glee, the show that made him a star.
Monteith says being at TIFF for the world premiere of the movie is a “milestone.”
“It's such an honour to be showcasing this at a world-scale film festival like TIFF,” he says. “It's a dream come true.”
He demurs when asked if he'll have more time to do other projects soon if rumours are true he's leaving the hugely popular series, set in the world of competitive choral groups in a U.S. high school, after this season. He plays football hero-turned-singer Finn Hudson on the show, which has spun off a world of albums, concerts and even a film.
“You never know,” he says of the show. “There's been speculation that people were graduating ...” His voice trails off. He hopes his role in Canadian director Bessai's film will expose him to a new audience.
At 29, Monteith is hardly high-school vintage, but playing Finn has made him a huge star and he's grateful for what Glee has brought him — although, he adds, “it's such an all-pervading show.”
He plays Justin, a Hollywood actor who tries to repair a damaged relationship with his less-successful brother, Rory (played by Canadian actor Dustin Milligan of TV's 90210, who is one of Monteith's closest friends).
“That's one of the best experiences I've had, doing this film,” Monteith says enthusiastically. “It's such a departure from scripted television, which is slightly predictable, not to take anything away from my show. It's just different.”
In fact, Monteith is very cautious not to bite the hand that feeds him. His fame, he acknowledges, is because of Glee.
“Speaking personally, the level of fame as a result of Glee, it's a blessing and a curse. I've been afforded so many opportunities and so many avenues and things that I could do,” he says. “This is important for me, to support the arts in Canada and to do as many things as an artist that I can and to introduce myself to people in as many different characters as possible.”
He's not Finn, he's quick to add, and he's anxious for people to understand that. That desire propelled him to give a candid interview to Parade magazine in June, revealing he had an escalating drug habit that began when he was 13 that led to him dropping out of school three years later.
“I had a serious problem. Anything and everything as much as possible,” Monteith told Parade. When he was 19, his mother and a group of friends staged an intervention, afraid “he could die.” Monteith spent time in rehab, relapsed once he got out, and finally got sober.
“I think the more people know about me personally, being that I'm not Finn Hudson, the easier it would be to accept me in a different role that's not all happy, Glee, all-American football hero.P ersonally, I always want to live a straightforward life,” he explains when asked why he was so open in the Parade interview, something few actors would be willing to do. “I want to live an honest existence. A lot of people thought and think that I am Finn Hudson. On a personal level, it strikes me as not telling everyone the whole story.”
But he says while it was important to show people “my true nature,” he didn't want to reveal all. He politely refuses to speak about his dating life, for example.
Monteith's friendship with co-star Milligan began after they met “eight or nine years ago,” not long after they both moved to Vancouver — Milligan from Yellowknife and Monteith from Victoria. Both studied with the same acting teacher and they shared an apartment for a while.
“(Dustin) worked on Repeaters with Carl (Bessai) and the (Sisters & Brothers) project came to Dustin and he said, ‘Cory is like a real-life brother of sorts to me and who better to play the part?'”
Bessai says he was delighted to get Monteith for Sisters & Brothers, a movie that follows four sets of siblings who are forced to confront truths about themselves and their fractured relationships.
“That show (Glee) is really, really big, so for him to step out of that and roll the dice on an unplanned, guerrilla, slightly crazy project with a director he's never worked with, without a script in his hands and without the usual trappings and beautifications, next to no crew, it takes a certain kind of actor to take that risk and deliver,” Bessai told the Star from B.C. before coming to Toronto for the premiere.
Monteith and Milligan worked with their original acting coach, Vancouver's Andrew McIlroy, to prepare for the one-day shoot.
“Dustin and I, knowing that we were going to embark on this project where there weren't going to be any (scripted) lines ... we started with his help coming up with ideas and back story, building on this relationship for the film and putting all the particulars in place,” Monteith said.
Bessai gave the actors points of the relationship to focus on and then started filming.
The movie opens with a scene that must be familiar to Monteith: He's ambushed by screaming fans as his brother waits to meet him at Vancouver International Airport.
“The airport setup was pretty real to life,” says Monteith.
“They picked me up from the airport as I got in from L.A. and they started to shoot.”
The action then moves to a chic condo where the brothers end up facing some long-simmering issues. The entire segment took just one day to shoot.
“We were busting our asses,” Monteith says with a laugh.
The experience of making Sisters & Brothers has left Monteith ready to continue “seeing what's out there” for his career.
He plans to continue to record singles with his band Bonnie Dune (he's the drummer) and remains proudly Canadian: he has a manager in Vancouver, he had a “stunning” four-week vacation in B.C. in July and he was a proud host of the Gemini Awards last November, his mom at his side.
As for acting work, “I think the sky's the limit,” says Monteith. “What's next for me is bringing along a Glee audience, but pushing myself and my own boundaries as an actor as much as possible.”