LOS ANGELES—The last time I interviewed Cory Monteith, the “Glee” star had just disclosed his troubled past of being embroiled in drugs and alcohol in a feature story in Parade magazine.
In that article, the shy, quiet actor surprised many by his admission that in his younger days, he often skipped school to get drunk and do drugs.
Described as a once promising student, the Calgary, Alberta, Canada, native, whose parents split when he was 7 years old, jumped from one school to another.
The article reported that Monteith, who was raised by his mother in Victoria, British Columbia, went to 12 different schools and programs for troubled youths.
“There was something valuable about being up front with who you are and your past,” Monteith answered when asked why he decided to open up about his past, which included committing petty crimes to support his drug and alcohol addiction.
The admission came at the height of “Glee’s” popularity. The disclosure of a troubled Monteith was a marked contrast to the clean-cut Finn Hudson he played in “Glee.”
“It could provide an example to people struggling with the same things or kids having the same problems,” Monteith said. “That’s the one thing that I really hoped that it did—shed light. A lot of different people deal with that stuff so it was important for me to be honest about who I am.”
Often paired with his girlfriend Lea Michele, his “Glee” romantic interest and costar, in interviews, Monteith gallantly let the actress lead in answering the questions.
Nice young man
He was a nice young man, who appeared somewhat shy at media encounters. Lanky and young-looking, Monteith was in his late 20s when he was cast to play Finn, the star quarterback of his high school team who surprised his teammates by joining the glee club.
Monteith told me he was stunned when he first heard Filipina singer Charice, who guested in the series, sing “Listen” for the first time.
He admitted that at first, he was not comfortable with the singing and dancing aspects of his role.
“I could never sing and feel comfortable singing or let anybody hear me singing. If people asked me, ‘Did you sing before ‘Glee?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I would sing in the shower, in the car or where no one could hear me or at least where I thought no one could hear me.’ It’s a gift that I received from being part of the show—being comfortable with my voice. It’s amazing.”
He added that he sang Foreigner songs in the shower. “I don’t know why,” he quipped.
Turning to acting
Monteith, who started turning his life around at 19 when his mother and her friends urged him to attend a rehab program, said during the interview that an acting career was not on his mind in his younger years.
“I thought I would be a doctor or something like that when I was really young. But when I was 20, 21, the idea of being an actor came around to me. It’s not something that ever occurred to me as a child. I was in the school plays, but I never put one and one together. I never said this (acting) is what I wanted to do because where I came from, not a lot of people thought like that. Not a lot of people were trying to move to Hollywood. It’s still a shocker to be here.”
Also shocking to him was that he was singing and dancing.
“If you told me five years ago that I would be singing and dancing on a television show in prime time, I wouldn’t have believed you. I don’t know what’s next, but I love being an actor.”
On a “healthy ego” and vulnerability as assets for an actor, Monteith said: “I see both as valuable. I see having a healthy ego as valuable and also being aware of one’s vulnerabilities or insecurities as being valuable. Too much of either is unhealthy. People have these characteristics in their own personas. It’s being aware of all that stuff. I am like Finn in the sense that he is like a younger version of myself. I transport myself back to a lot of years and remember where I was then.”
Knowing the characters
Monteith wanted the other characters, not just the main ones, to have their share of story lines in the series created by Ryan Murphy. He was enthusiastic, for instance, that an Asian character (played by Harry Shum Jr.) and his parents had a story line in one episode.
“That’s great because I was always interested in knowing who those characters were. I was always interested in knowing who the parents were, what their struggles were, what they were dealing with. I feel that it contributes to the show as a whole because you start to know all of these characters so much better and they become nuances. They become interesting when you start to know about their histories.
Asked for an interesting story involving fans, Monteith answered: “Man, a girl in Manchester (England) showed up at our hotel. She caught me outside the hotel and said, ‘Would you sign something for me?’ A bunch of us were signing stuff for her. She said, ‘Sign my arm.’ “I was like, ‘Are you sure?’ She handed me a felt pen and I signed her arm. She had my signature tattooed on her arm. I saw photos on the Internet. She actually came to the show. She was in the third row.” He broke into a smile, which made him even look younger.
Development as actor
He was upbeat and practical about his acting career. “I’m super-interested in developing myself as an actor. We couldn’t be more fortunate to be working on a show like ‘Glee.’ To go forward from that, it would have to be in film. But I’m super-pragmatic about how I look at my future. I’ve been so fortunate already. I have an idea of where I’d like my career to go, but at the same time, I like to remain really open minded.”
For Monteith, his big “Glee” break was already something to be very grateful for. “It’s been a remarkable experience being in the show and being able to look at a character for this length of time. It’s been incredible. I couldn’t imagine what my life would be without it. I’m just trying to stay in the moment.”
But, alas, Monteith died on Saturday in Vancouver. We lost a nice, young man. He was gone too soon.