One week after Cory Monteith's tragic death, Glee boss Ryan Murphy is breaking his silence, telling E! News how the show will move forward—and how there were discussions that the entire Fox series might be shut down for good.
Glee will return for its fifth season Sept. 26, one week later than originally planned. The show will air three episodes, and then take an "extended hiatus" to regroup, per Murphy.
Murphy also reveals how everyone—from the head of Fox to the cast and crew—is looking to and trusting Lea Michele to make the decisions, and how Murphy himself fought to save Monteith's life, staging an intervention and refusing to let the 31-year-old actor work until he got sober.
Read on for the full transcript of the emotional conversation...
I know Cory was a friend. How are you holding up?
Ryan Murphy: It's hard to even explain how personally upsetting it is. You know, we were a group of people who went through something that happens once in a lifetime, and I was close to Cory and Lea and I was also someone who was very involved in wanting to get Cory sober. We had an incident in March, which has been reported on, where we found out he was using again and staged an intervention in my office with a lot of appropriate people. He wanted to continue working and we said, 'That's not an option. No. The TV show doesn't matter, your life matters.' So we booked a rehab and a facility and Cory has always been, always was, a strong-willed and very sweet child and I always said, he felt like an older son to me. He and I had a very interesting, once-in-a-lifetime relationship, so I was very surprised that he went so readily.
His last words to me were, "I want to get better," and I always felt and continue to feel even in his death that he did, that he really wanted to fight it and he was humiliated and shamed. We reassured him that the only thing that mattered was him getting better and his job was 100 percent protected because he thought he was going to get fired. That has been feeding into all of this, why it's so shocking and so debilitating and tragically sad because we were all rooting for him and trying to help him in every way that we could, so it feels even more devastating. It also feels in some weird way like I failed, even though I know that that's the plight of addicts, so what can you do? But it's just really hard and really upsetting. I feel like we did everything that we could and I know that Lea feels she did everything that she could.
How did you decide what to do with the show?
Once you're faced with this situation, which is devastating…There's really no way to win in this situation. So our position was, do we go off the air permanently? Do we go off the air until November? Do we start shooting again in January? But the thing that we ultimately found was that our cast and crew wanted to be together, they wanted to go back to work, they wanted to sort of be in a place where they could all remember and discuss Cory sooner than later. As for me, I really had no set opinion. I was willing to do what people wanted.
So who made the call?
Ultimately the person who made the decision was Lea, who felt that the best thing for the cast and crew was to be together and to get back to work and be together every day and talk about our memories of him. So we decided to do that with Lea's blessing and we're going to go back to work and have grief counselors on the set for two weeks because people are really hurting.
What is the plan for the first few episodes back?
We had two episodes that we finished writing in May that were our Beatles tributes that we we've been working on for four years, so those were already done. With some slight modifications, we decided, 'OK, let's shoot these. Let's get people back and then let's take the time to write and deal with a tribute to Cory,' which I guess we're going to do for episode three and then after that episode airs, we're going to go off the air for a while and take a little hiatus and figure out what is the future of the show. But for now, what we just decided to do is continue on working for the next month so people could really deal with this and not feel isolated and alone. That's something Lea felt strongly about and she really is the one making those decisions. We followed her lead.
Did you really consider ending the show for good?
Yes. If Lea had said to me, 'I could never do this again and I don't want to do this again,' you know, she is sort of the show, so what do you do? And I would've, out of respect to her as a person, said 'OK,' but that's not how Lea operates; that's not how she feels. She's handled this with so much humanity and grace and she's also handled this in a way where she's trying to look out for 500 other people affected by him and who have mortgages to pay and families to feed. That was never on the table for her and I said, 'OK.' Nothing has been done and will be done in terms of any of the material without Lea blessing it and making sure it's OK with her—and she has been.
So Lea has made the big decisions.
Yes. And I've never met any 26-year-old person stronger than Lea. She's really been the leader in this situation, which is very unfair in a weird way because this show has always been so complicated about characters merging into personal lives, merging into public identity, so it's just all [bleeping] rough. It's just rough and it sucks and there's no right way to do it, but I just wanted people to know that there was nothing done without a lot of thought from a corporate level to a personal level, but ultimately, everyone involved made the decision, 'OK, what does Lea want to do, what would Lea feel comfortable doing?' This is what she wants to do.
Do you know what a tribute to Cory will look like and did you have to rewrite anything in those first two episodes back?
We didn't have to rewrite anything yet, but we haven't even started doing that because the first thing we're trying to do is a memorial for Cory this week. We've really been putting our energies towards that and reaching out to people, seeing what they want to do. We're not making any creative decisions or touching any scripts until after that happens. The physical thing about all of it is that Cory and I spoke, we took him to rehab and he left rehab and he wanted to do his own thing and as much as you protest when somebody is in that situation, he's a grown man and you can't control him. But we had had a conversation when he was craving to be sober, or at least on the mend, and that was in April and I said, 'Obviously your job is intact, but I don't know how you want to handle work. Maybe you have assisted sober living and not do anything? I really want to know what you think.' He said, 'I really want to work a lot. I love the crew, I feel safe with them. I want to be with people who are good influences.' Our entire season was sort of at Cory's bequest, keeping him busy and active and around people who were good influences. Now that is gone and that's why after we shoot this third episode we're going to go down for an extended hiatus, where we figure out the future of the show because we were really trying to deal with him and take care of him.
How did you decide on the right amount of time to delay the season?
It was really about the cast and crew. People want to be together and I think it's important that people have an outlet for counseling, which we're providing on set for two weeks. Because those episodes were already written, we felt and Lea felt it was best if people come back and be together sooner than later, so that's what we did.
You shoot mostly on a closed set with a gate and security. But given the extraordinary circumstances, will there be any other changes to how you go about production?
I don't know. We already have a tremendous amount of security on our sets. The difficult thing about this show is that for many people in the cast and many people on the crew, because they are of a younger group, you know Cory's death is the first death that they've had to experience in their lives. I think that a lot of fans are going through that same thing. I'm at a certain age where I've had many friends and family members die, the first one was particularly rough and it gives you a whole twisted sense of your future and your life and what you're going to do. I mean that's why we're providing counseling and that's why we want people to feel that we have, not only a memorial for Cory, but a memorial for Finn. I have no doubt it's going to be an incredibly rough time, but what else do you do? You either you deal with it head-on or you just disappear until January or February and I think that's not what people need right now from a position of leadership. We decided that, but to reiterate it, I don't want anything to feel rushed and I feel like that's why after the third episode we're going to take a long hiatus so that people can continue to feel taken care of and just pause and get the help that they need and not feel like we have to be rushing back.
Was there any group decision to not talk to the press? The cast has all been silent, aside from written statements.
I don't think that that is the case. I don't think that we've not had any group meetings or group talks. I know that people have really, I mean at the end of the day, all we're all doing is following Lea's lead. It really is about what is best for Lea, how does Lea want to move forward? What does she want to do, how does she want to memorialize him? I think she's handled this with a great amount of decency and grace and privacy. I think that people have just followed her lead.
There was a rumor that production on The Normal Heart was shut down so Jonathan Groff could be with Lea.
The weird thing about all that is Cory had…I was shooting all summer and Cory and Lea had visited me on the set and Jonathan is in that movie. We finished shooting that, so the production was not impacted. It's a weird movie because we shoot and it shuts down and then we go back to work in November. But it was not affected.
How would you like for Cory to be remembered?
It's very difficult and emotional for me to talk about that. I just feel like the thing about Cory is that...Cory really was in many ways like that character. Cory was in the first scene of Glee that we shot that I directed in the pilot, he was the first person on camera and it was a very nerve-wracking time, and no one knew what would happen with the show because a musical had never worked. I was particularly unsure about it and I remember after the first take, he finished his thing and came up to me and leaned down to me and said, 'This is going to be fun.' And I think that's the way he was on the show, on the set; he was a real leader. He was very beloved by the crew. I think Cory was very much like Finn [in] that Cory really was a champion of young artists and the underdog. I hope that that's how he's remembered and I think he will be because that's how he was in real life with his causes and his outreach programs. Also I think a lot of people, a lot of young kids, have watched the evolution of that character and have been touched by it and hopefully that's his legacy.
Postscript: An autopsy report performed earlier this week revealed that Monteith died of an overdose from a mixture of heroin and alcohol. He was found dead Saturday, July 13, in his hotel room at the Fairmont Pacific Rim hotel in downtown Vancouver after missing his checkout time.
Monteith spent a month in rehab this past March and spoke candidly about his struggle with substance abuse just last month, saying, "I had a serious problem...I don't want kids to think it's OK to drop out of school and get high, and they'll be famous actors too."
Our hearts continue to go out to everyone in the Glee family, and everyone who knew Cory, on screen or off. We feel it too.