BREAKING: In his first public comments since the tragic death of Cory Monteith from an overdose of heroin and alcohol, Glee co-creator Ryan Murphy tells Deadline that a quick return to work was a collective decision made by cast and crew, which decided the best way to deal with the grief of losing the show’s breakout star was to return to work and mourn together. That decision was made after consulting with Monteith’s longtime girlfriend and co-star Lea Michele, as well as Monteith’s heartbroken costars and crew.
“We will begin shooting in late August the two shows we had already written, so that people can physically go back to work,” Murphy said. “We will then do an episode that will deal with the death of Finn’s character and follow that with a long hiatus. I don’t know exactly when we will come back, and we are trying our best with this attempt at damage control. We are planning a memorial for the cast and crew sometime this week on the Paramount lot.” Murphy will write that episode with co-creators Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan, but acknowledges they aren’t sure at this early stage what form it will take. They will have to have it ready when they finish the first two segments, which is a tribute to The Beatles, and the trio will write the episode using Michele as a creative barometer.
It has been a week of extremes for Murphy, who was two days from completing the feature adaptation of Larry Kramer’s play The Normal Heart when he learned of Monteith’s death. Days later, his other show creation, American Horror Story: Asylum received the most Emmy nominations of any show with 17. Since learning that the 31-year old Monteith was found dead in a Vancouver hotel last Saturday, Murphy has huddled with executives at Fox and especially the crew and cast of a show where Monteith was as strong a presence behind the scenes as he was on camera.
There is no easy way to handle a tragedy like this, and when Glee announced its plans to resume production so the crew and cast could prepare, what followed was an online outcry of passionate Glee fans who felt it was too soon and insensitive without a proper mourning period. Murphy understands that sentiment but said it was made because of an overwhelming belief within the show that it was the right thing to do.
“For many of the people we work with who are very young, and also for the fans of the show, this is probably the first time they have experienced death, and that was not lost on any of us here,” Murphy said. “I understand that everyone has their own way of processing grief. Every possible option was explored, and what we did was look to the people who loved Cory, who worked with him most, and specifically Lea. This is what they wanted to do.”
These plans were not made rashly, Murphy said, adding that Fox execs from Peter Rice to Dana Walden and Gary Newman put no pressure on the show’s creators and left all decisions to them. “We were left with the decision, what do you do? Do you cancel, shut down the show? Come back in December and January? We considered every option, and decided to do what the cast and crew felt best, the people who had something unique with Cory, who loved him. They wanted to be back on the set, where there is a sense of security, and where they can grieve together and talk about him. When that happens, we will have grief counselors for the first two weeks to help everyone through it. We had already written the two part Beatles tribute and we’ll shoot those and Cory’s tribute for that third episode and then we will take a long hiatus and figure out what to do. Will we have a truncated season? I just don’t know yet. Lea blessed every decision. I told her even I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to write about the death of someone I love. She wanted people to be together. She and Cory were the young leads of that show, the A story. Lea has been a leader all through this difficult process.”
Before the tragedy, things looked bright for the show. It had gotten a two-season pickup—Murphy said he plans to honor that commitment—and Monteith figured to be a major part of the story line after coming through a rehab and telling Murphy he felt that working on the show would only help his long struggle to stay sober.
“It is so very sad and tragic,” Murphy said. “Cory wasn’t just an actor on one of my shows, he was very important to me, and I was very invested in his sobriety. When I heard what was happening to him, I organized an intervention and got him into rehab last March. We socialized and we also fought, because while he was a lovely sweet guy, he was also a leader on the set, a strong personality and the only analogy I can think of is that he felt like an older son to me.”
So when Monteith’s struggles became evident, Murphy didn’t sit by idly.
“As soon as I heard what was happening, when we had two episodes left to go, I brought him to my office where we had the intervention,” Murphy said. “He said he wanted to finish the rest of the season, and I said absolutely not. We were not going to put a stupid TV show before his sobriety. I assured him he was not fired, that his job was secure, that he would leave today. He went with a whimper and not a bang and it was very emotional. On one hand, he was thrilled that people wanted to take care of him, though he also felt shame and regret. We had experts in the room and tried to let him know this was a disease. It was a tough and very emotional day and the last thing he said before he left was, ‘I want to get better.’ And I believed him.”
Murphy understood that recovery is not a quick fix proposition, and it was clear that Monteith’s situation would need to be monitored. “The last couple of months, all indications were that he’d gone through the steps, he went to one place where it didn’t work and then he went to another, but there was still a lot of concern,” Murphy said. “A couple of weeks ago, he and Lea came to Fire Island where we were shooting The Normal Heart, and I honestly couldn’t tell what was going on with him. He didn’t seem quite himself, but when I confronted him he claimed he was clean. It has been a very difficult roller coaster ride, and all through that, and through the last week, Lea has been the most brave and courageous person I’ve ever met. She has dealt with an impossible situation with more humanity than you could ever hope for.”
Now what is left for Murphy and his cohorts to figure out is how to move on. “What is difficult is that while Cory was going through this struggle, I told him that maybe he would go light on the work. He told me, ‘Work is my salvation.’ I thought that it would help him to be around people who were good influences, so we envisioned a season that was heavy with his Finn character.”
As for fans who bristled about the quick return, Murphy said he and the show’s exec producers will write that third episode to honor their late star, using Lea Michele as a barometer to keep them on course.
“One of the most gratifying things about Glee is that when the show is at its best, it has helped young people and given them information about the human condition that moves and informs them,” Murphy said. “What we’ve been talking about in the writer’s room is that maybe the way we deal with this tragedy might save the life of someone.”