For Sisters & Brothers – the third film in his improv-based, ultralow-budget, relationship-exploring Family X series – Vancouver director Carl Bessai tapped into “the power of Glee,” as he calls it, by casting the hit musical TV series’ resident heartthrob Cory Monteith.
And while Bessai didn’t exactly kidnap the busy Calgary-born actor, a creative form of hijacking was involved. Monteith described his latest thespian adventure over a bowl of fresh berries during a visit to the Toronto International Film Festival for the film’s world premiere.
So your friend actor Dustin Milligan got you involved in Sisters & Brothers?
Dustin worked with Carl on Repeaters, which I really enjoyed. [Dustin]called me about this new project and said he needed someone to play his brother. We both moved to Vancouver and started acting around the same time. We traipsed into the same acting class and met Andrew McIlroy, a prolific theatre director who is well known as a teacher. Early on we identified each other as someone who wanted to do this work just as badly as the other. I had no other focus, and that was the same for Dustin.
Do you have a real brother?
I do. He’s a few years older than me and lives in Victoria. Of course there is rivalry between me and my real brother and it’s the same with Dustin – we’re a little competitive and cajoling but it’s all part of the friendship.
Your character in Sisters & Brothers is a successful actor who is, let’s say, a little full of himself. I assume you didn’t pull him out of thin air?
Yes [laughing] he is incredibly serious about his craft. I think he thinks he can cure cancer with acting. I’m very fortunate that everyone who works on Glee has both feet on the ground, but the same can’t be said of Hollywood, where I live. There are plenty examples of this guy.
The working environment must have been completely different from Glee?
Yes, apples and oranges. There’s not 30 people on the other side of the camera, no lighting setups, no marks to hit. There’s just a general direction about which way you should be facing. This gives you lots of room to manoeuvre. You have to be careful because you can go too far. But I trusted Carl’s judgment. I felt I could take chances, and if something didn’t work it wouldn’t be in the film.
With no lines to rehearse, what kind of prep did you do?
Dustin and I sat down with Andrew McIlroy and hashed out a very specific backstory. We talked about family history, our relationship and went through some scenarios that may or may not come up.
And Carl was in on this?
No! My first time meeting Carl was him pointing a camera at me at the airport! I arrived in Vancouver at some uncomfortably early hour. We needed an airport sequence, so he said he’d pick me up at YVR and just start shooting. It was awesome. No lights, no makeup – I just picked an outfit that looked a little too sharp for the situation.
Do you have much of a chance to work outside of Glee?
Not really. On my hiatus I shot Monte Carlo. I jump at any opportunity to play different roles – it just so happened Sisters & Brothers was a good one. To have a high degree of creative control over your performances, not having to stick to the script, is kind of an actor’s dream.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
Special to The Globe and Mail