TORONTO - Cory Monteith was a joyful, professional and humble star who was just beginning to tap into his talent as a dramatic actor, say Canadian filmmakers who worked with the late Canuck "Glee" performer on big-screen projects, including one that's due out this fall.
Gia Milani — producer, writer and director of the upcoming drama "All the Wrong Reasons" that stars Monteith as a nearly ruthless department store manager — says he shows a unique vulnerability in the film, which she hopes to debut on the festival circuit this fall. The Calgary native connected with the role so well because he also had retail experience, having worked in a Walmart when he was younger.
"There were some risque moments in the film and he's very intense in it and passionate," she said Monday in a telephone interview from just north of Shediac, N.B., her voice still shaky from the shock of his death over the weekend.
"He pulled it off flawlessly."
Carl Bessai, who directed Monteith in the 2011 drama "Sisters & Brothers," said he also brought a striking sense of authenticity to the role of a famous movie star at odds with his troubled brother (Dustin Milligan). The film was "loose in its structure" and Monteith had to improvise lines and make himself vulnerable onscreen just as his career was soaring, which took a lot of guts, said Bessai.
"The thing that really makes me sad is that ... I think he was on his way with the potential to be a really great actor," said Bessai, noting he wanted to work with Monteith again on a couple of projects.
"But it takes time and it takes experiences and what I loved was you could tell he was up for the challenge.
"He wanted to have those experiences and now he won't. It's terrible because he had everything going for him."
The Victoria-raised Monteith, who played gentle jock Finn Hudson on the musical comedy series "Glee," was found dead in his room at Vancouver's Fairmont Pacific Rim hotel on Saturday afternoon. He was 31.
Police said the cause of death still must be determined, but investigators do not believe foul play was involved.
Monteith's death comes several months after he told People magazine he had admitted himself into rehab for substance abuse. He'd also been open about his addiction issues in the past, telling Parade magazine in 2011 he was "lucky to be alive."
Milani said she last saw Monteith four weeks ago when she screened "All the Wrong Reasons" for him in Los Angeles and he "seemed healthy."
"He looked super fit and he was energetic and excited. He was really good."
She said he also showed no signs of a substance abuse problem a year ago during shooting for the Halifax-shot drama, in which his character helps his wife through post-traumatic stress disorder.
Monteith was shooting "Glee" at the same time and would take a red-eye from Los Angeles to Halifax on Sundays, arrive-mid-morning and "still know his lines and still be fresh and focused."
"He had amazing ideas and he brought a lot to the role," said Milani. "He had just an outstanding work ethic."
Bessai also said Monteith was "fantastic" to work with, noting "he never had a problem" and "worked really tirelessly" on the project.
"Totally never saw anything," he said. "I thought, 'Well here's a guy who really is calm and really has it together,' but you know these things go in phases, and who knows what happened. When he was working with me, he was really clear-eyed, he was really together."
Offset, Monteith was the same, always accommodating fans when they approached him as he dined in restaurants, said Milani.
"He was always, always gracious," she said. "Never one time was he rude, never one time did he say no."
Bessai said Monteith was the same way when "Sisters & Brothers" debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival.
"They say some people, they have a kind of fame or connection because they're so good at being easy with people, making everyone feel like, 'Hey, it's no problem, come and talk to me.' That was Cory," he said.
"He was a super accessible guy, which is just all the more painful."
Milani said Monteith told her "he felt like he had achieved so much with 'Glee' that it gave him permission to do other things," including smaller films such as hers.
"He had reached so many of his goals he felt like he could do other work," she said. "And his role in my film is a total departure from what he did."