Cory Monteith: Acting Coach Remembers Glee Star

2013 saw the passing of beloved Canadian actor, Cory Monteith. We talked to Monteith’s longtime friend and acting coach, Andrew McIlroy about the life, legacy and loss of the young actor.

Cory Monteith: Acting Coach Remembers Glee StarPhoto: Courtesy of; Emiley Schweich/PR Photos

How did you meet Cory?

I met Cory eleven years ago in Nanaimo, British Columbia. He had been told about an acting studio where I was teaching and he was looking for something to do – he had just completed a stint in rehab. He came to the studio and sat in on a class, and he recognized some of the things that I was saying in class as some of the same expressions used in recovery. I think it was a teen class and he was just looking for a place to call a home. We hung out afterwards and had a coffee, because I was just sort of curious about this kid. I thought, “What is he looking for? What’s the deal?” At that point when I met him, I had been sober for fifteen years. It was just one of those incredible, coincidental kind of meetings. And our relationship basically began going to meetings. That’s really what the foundation of the relationship was – not only acting but also this recovery language that we had in common.

What was your first impression of him?

Wow, my first impression of Cory. He always had that cheerful smile. Curious, polite, shy, a little goofy… I also have to tell you that he swept the studio to pay for his classes. If we didn’t have enough adults for an adult class, he would sit in on the class and read with the other actors. He was just really helpful. He sort of became the studio mascot. I remember the first time I put him on camera. I gave him a Canadian play that he had to learn a monologue from, because I just wanted to make sure that he was serious. So I gave him this very difficult monologue and he came back the next week and to the best of his ability, he nailed it. It was a very dark monologue, about a guy standing on a roof thinking about killing himself. The thing about real actors is that nothing ever seems to be beyond them. They might not have the technique but they definitely have the compassionate imagination or the willingness to explore all sorts of things about the human condition. So the camera was on him and I just remember looking at the monitor and looking at him and thinking to myself, “Oh, right. This is the real thing.”

Did you observe growth in Cory over the years?

Honey, I saw a great amount of growth in Cory from the day I met him to the next week. Honestly, he was like a sponge. He could not soak up enough.

It sounds like he was a really special person to work with.

He was really special to work with. He worked really hard. I would only teach over in Nanaimo on the weekends and he would show up for as many classes as we were running and he was always prepared. As he grew stronger and stronger, I started to think, “This is the real deal.” So I brought him over to Vancouver, introduced him to my agent and she seemed very interested in him, and that was the agent that he had until the day he died. The thing about Cory is it really is that story. It’s the guy that just shows up and has a natural talent and ability. I met him at a time when he was ready to start a new life, and he just began it and I was so privileged and so honoured to be able to go through it with him.

Do you think working on Glee and garnering so much fame impacted him in a positive way?

Well, he had honed his craft. He’d come to Vancouver, did Kyle XY, another series called Kaya, parts on a bunch of American shows that are shot in Canada, continued to go to class, and started to hang around with other young actors that were all running around at the time. When he got Glee, it wasn’t an overnight thing. I think he was working really hard for four or five years, and he was just ready to start the work. Did it impact him? I don’t know…  He was always grateful and sort of amused that he was this guy that people knew as “Cory Monteith”. He’d say, “Andy, can you believe this?” We went to Radio City Music Hall once for the Glee tour and we were standing on stage looking out at the crowd before the concert started and he just went, “Who’d have thought?”

When was the last time you saw him?

I had worked coaching him in Philadelphia on his last movie called McCanick, so we’d been in close contact over the past couple of months. The last time I saw him was after he came back from the rehab that was in the papers and everything. He had come up to see his mom and we hung out, went for a couple of long walks. He seemed happy to be off the hell train.

Can you take us through the events of the morning of his death?

We were supposed to have breakfast that day, but I didn’t hear from him. He had a busy schedule so it wasn’t unusual for us to miss each other. Later on that evening somebody Cory knew got in touch with me and said there’s going to be some really bad news, and there’s going to be a press conference, and we want you to know before the press conference happens. He said come back to your apartment, and I was with his good friend Alison Liebert. He met us outside of the apartment and let us know. When he told me, I fell down in shock. It was horrible. I couldn’t sleep. Honestly, I can’t remember a lot about the night. I know that it went on and on and on and on. I felt broadsided by his death. This was like my kid for eleven years and then they’re not there. You know, there’s the earthquake and then there are the aftershocks, and the aftershocks keep going on and on and on.

Did you go to any of the memorials that were held?

I went to the memorial in Victoria. It was quite beautiful. We went to a beach afterward, lit flares and sort of had moments with Cory. There were some nice stories. I don’t know much about the Glee one but I heard it was lovely.

When your friend came to you and said there was bad news, did you immediately think the worst?

I did. Addiction is just an equal opportunity destroyer. It’s rapacious. Now that I’ve spent twenty-five years in a program of recovery, I can tell you that we either get better, we die or we go crazy. And this is not because I was suspicious. I never think my friends are using again. When I had seen him a month earlier, a lot of our dialogue was about recovery. What didn’t surprise me was the fact that this is how it happens – all of a sudden, the bad thing seems like a good idea. It’s one of the horrible and ongoing surprises of recovery and addiction. When you do things like twenty-eight day rehabs, it’s barely enough time to get your head on straight. I remember his very first year of sobriety. I was with him for most of it and we were going to meetings every day. Sobriety requires 100 per cent of your focus. The disease of addiction is quiet and it’s lonely. Sometimes addicts feel like they’re born with a hole in their soul and the first time they put whatever inside of it, whether it’s a drink or a drug, they feel complete. I don’t think fame and I don’t think anything makes you an addict. I think it tests the part of you that’s trying to stay sober.

Were you familiar with the people he was with that night in Vancouver?

It’s interesting, there was this strange thing that came up about “Vancouver the bad” and that he was running around town with a bunch of drug lords and that sort of stuff. It’s just not true. I knew the people that he was hanging out with up here, they were either actors or they were other people that he knew in recovery. He would go up to Victoria and see his mom. Vancouver was not a shadow life place for Cory. I don’t really know Los Angeles that well. I’ve worked there from time to time, but people want to make Vancouver the heroin capital of the world. I know that Cory was spending time with people that he liked here the last week, people that were also working, like we all are, just to put in one day at a time. I don’t think anybody was holding him down or offering him the bad stuff.

Do you think that anything more could have been done?

We have to acknowledge that addiction is an illness, it’s not a moral failing. It’s about being ill, it’s not about being weak. What a horrible thing to say, but Cory is such a sweet and loving and talented spokesperson for addiction. When there is an expected face on it, people allow the problems of addiction not to be in their own backyard. This was someone that we could all identify with, somebody that we all loved, and somebody who was very much like Finn. In Glee, he made the fat person feel good and he made the gay person feel special and he made the not popular person feel all right. There are cafeterias full of teenagers hoping that the really handsome quarterback would make them feel like part of the team, and I think that’s the first thing Cory did. So if one of his young fans thinks twice about having that drink or that stupid pill or taking a drug to be cool, if his death has put doubts or caution into the mind of any of his admirers, then I think it meant something.

What’s the one thing people should know about Cory?

The only thing I can say about Cory is he would have noticed you. There’s not an autograph he didn’t sign and there’s not a face that he didn’t look at and there’s nobody that didn’t get a smile, and that was really important to him. He lived in gratitude.

Click here to find our complete round-up of 2013’s most defining events.