TORONTO - The final two feature film performances from Cory Monteith will unspool at the Toronto International Film Festival — along with an onscreen treasure hunt the late "Glee" star cooked up for eagle-eyed audience members.
Gia Milani, writer-director-producer of the Canadian drama "All the Wrong Reasons," says Monteith told her at the end of shooting that he'd hidden something in every scene he was in and would only reveal where the object was during their DVD commentary.
"It was the sunglasses," she said in a recent interview. "He had black Ray-Bans. I didn't believe him and then he reached over and pulled them out of his hiding spot. He had hidden them in every scene he was in.
"He was going to point those out to me, so that's unfortunate. I haven't looked to see where they are, so I'll have to go back sometime and look for them."
Milani said she couldn't bring herself to watch the film again after the Calgary-born, Victoria-raised actor died in July at age 31 of an overdose of heroin and alcohol in Vancouver.
And she figured she wouldn't be able to view it until its world premiere at the festival on Sunday. That's the day before his final film, "McCanick," debuts at the fest.
Both films showcase a more mature, dramatic side of Monteith than fans saw on "Glee," in which the heart-throb played gentle jock Finn Hudson.
In "McCanick," he delves into dark territory, playing a street kid who tries to clean up his act after his seven-year jail sentence is up. When the unstable cop (David Morse) who put him behind bars learns of his release, he pursues him relentlessly.
Jane Schoettle, TIFF's international programmer, said the late actor "gives a remarkable performance" in "McCanick," noting the film is "a tremendous testament to the talent that Cory had."
Monteith also flexes his dramatic acting muscles in "All the Wrong Reasons," in which his character James is an ambitious big-box department store manager whose wife, Kate (Karine Vanasse), supervises the business's surveillance feeds.
Kate suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, which has manifested into a phobia of people touching her, and she relies on prescription drugs to cope.
When James grows frustrated over his inability to have physical contact with Kate, she finds comfort with an injured firefighter (Kevin Zegers) who works as a security guard at the store. Meanwhile, James turns to the welcoming arms of an unhinged store cashier, played by Emily Hampshire.
Steve Gravestock, the festival's senior programmer, said Monteith "obviously invested himself" in "All the Wrong Reasons," noting "there's a dedication there."
Fredericton-born Milani said the story, which is her feature debut, is inspired by a soldier friend who returned from tours in Afghanistan and Iraq with post-traumatic stress disorder.
She started writing it six years ago and did a lot of research on the disorder.
Milani cast Monteith after seeing him in an interview in which he seemed vulnerable, open and honest.
He turned out to be a perfect fit for the role, not only because of those qualities, but also because he'd already had experience working in a Walmart for three years. Monteith was also the same age as the character and let his grey hairs grow in to add some realism.
Milani said Monteith brought "an outstanding work ethic" to the set in Bedford, N.S., last summer, noting he would shoot the film during the week and fly to Los Angeles on the weekends to do promotional material for "Glee." Despite the hectic schedule, he knew all his lines and was "fresh and focused."
Off-set "he was really gracious," she said, noting he didn't mind being constantly interrupted by fans while dining in public places.
"He was a wonderful professional, a great guy to work with."
On-set, he took on the role "completely," offering a lot of "amazing ideas" and injecting the perfect blend of passion and intensity into the role.
"It was really out of the box for him. He was so far away from 'Glee,'" said Milani. "He's not a lovable character in this, but he's realistic and relatable."
"I think you're really going to see his range," she added. "I think he had a really big range that people weren't aware of."
The Toronto International Film Festival runs until Sept. 15.
- With files from Canadian Press reporter Cassandra Szklarski.