Lea Michele just gave some rare insight into how Glee navigated the death of one of its lead stars — and her boyfriend at the time — Cory Monteith.
Cory and Lea met when shooting began on the first season of Glee in 2009, starring as the show’s two central characters and love interests, Rachel Berry and Finn Hudson.
After Glee premiered, it wasn’t long before rumors began swirling that Lea and Cory were also an item offscreen. However, Lea was dating actor Theo Stockman at the time and was quick to brush off reports that she and her costar were romantically involved.
But, when Lea and Theo eventually split in late 2011, it was only a matter of months before things between her and Cory began getting a little more serious.
By April 2012, Lea and Cory’s romance was in full swing, appearing on red carpets as an item and featuring on each other’s social media platforms over the course of the following year.
But while the two were going strong in their relationship, Cory was privately struggling with his health.
In late March 2013, Cory entered a rehab facility to seek treatment for substance addiction. He had previously spoken openly about his complicated past with drug abuse, revealing just two years prior that he went to rehab for the first time when he was 19.
At this time, both Lea and Cory had been shooting the fourth season of Glee. According to the show’s creator, Ryan Murphy, filming for the final two episodes went ahead as scheduled, with Finn’s absence later accounted for in the script.
Less than a month later on April 26, Cory completed his treatment and he subsequently tweeted fans thanking them for their love and support. In the following weeks, he made a number of public appearances, sounding healthy and upbeat.
However, the world was left in complete disbelief just a few months later when a representative for the actor confirmed the news of his death on July 13 at the age of 31.
“We are so saddened to confirm that the reports on the death of Cory Monteith are accurate,” a spokesperson said at the time. “We are in shock and mourning this tragic loss.”
Cory was found dead in a hotel room in Vancouver, and an autopsy later determined that an accidental alcohol and heroin overdose was the cause of his death.
In January 2014, Lea opened up about how she was coping with the loss, telling Teen Vogue: “I somehow feel the insane love Cory and I had for each other morphed into this strength that I have right now.”
“There's just something about knowing he's watching everything I'm doing and feeling like I have to do everything now not just for me but for him. I also have a safety net below me—if I fall or if it's too much, my friends and family will be there to catch me,” she went on.
Speculation about how Glee’s producers would tackle the loss began swirling online in the immediate aftermath of Cory’s death, prompting creator Ryan Murphy to speak out.
“We were supposed to be on in the fall with [the first four episodes of Season 5], and that’s just not going to happen,” Ryan explained to TVLine in July 2013. “We’re going to go on the air with [the first two episodes] and right now we’re writing the third episode, which deals with Finn’s death.”
“[It] has to be done very carefully and with a lot of taste and really making sure that it’s a tribute to Cory,” he said, going on to add that filming had been put on pause.
Much to fans’ surprise, production on Season 5 picked back up less than a month after Cory’s death — a decision believed to have been led by Lea, who had been “adamant” to reunite the cast and crew.
And with filming underway so quickly, Cory’s tribute episode — Season 5, Episode 3, titled “The Quarterback” — aired on Oct. 10.
The episode saw the show’s central characters navigate their grief, singing songs including “No Surrender” by Bruce Springsteen and “If I Die Young” by the Band Perry. Interestingly, Finn’s cause of death on the show was not specified.
Lea made her first appearance as Rachel in the latter half of the episode, performing an emotional rendition of “Make You Feel My Love” by Bob Dylan.
Reflecting on this song choice today, Lea gave some rare insight into the filming of “The Quarterback” and revealed that Ryan had let her decide what to sing in Cory’s honor.
“How can I pick a song that says everything, you know?” Lea said while introducing the Bob Dylan track during a live performance in Washington, DC, this week.
“I don't even remember what I was listening to at the time,” she said, recalling the decision. “Like, nothing. I was just in such a hole.”
Lea shared that she had been grateful to have been given the opportunity to choose what to sing, adding that it was important for the tribute to feel true to her, not only as a character on the show, but in real life, too.
“It needed to be something that felt real for me, but it was also so hard to just think of what song it could be. And then I just immediately was like, oh, that's it,” she said.
Reflecting on the episode itself, Lea said that she felt her words as Rachel mirrored her real-life discussions with Ryan in the aftermath of Cory’s death.
“I think we maybe listened to the song one time, because I know when Rachel says in the show that we would listen to it, and that’s real,” she said. “A lot of what I say in that episode, a lot of what I say to [Matthew Morrison]’s character in that classroom, were exact words that I said to Ryan after everything.”
Lea went on to say that filming the tribute scene was “wild and hard,” but that singing “Make You Feel My Love” in Cory’s honor helped her heal alongside her castmates.
“I would film it and then run off and then I would come back,” she said.
Concluding the heartfelt moment, Lea told the audience that “The Quarterback” is the only episode of Glee she has never watched back.
“It’s the only one I've not seen,” she said, going on to explain her reasoning.
“I think if I don't watch it, it just kind of feels like Finn is still there,” she said. “So this [song] is very special.”
On the ninth anniversary of Cory’s death earlier this month, Lea paid tribute to him on Instagram with a sweet photograph of the two of them. She captioned the image with a red heart.