Calgary-born actor Cory Monteith says his videotape audition for the hit TV show Glee featured him drumming on wine glasses and Tupperware in his manager's office.
Monteith plays Finn, the football player who becomes an unlikely star of the high school glee club in the series Glee, which has been both a critical and viewer hit since its pilot episode this spring.
He was working in the Vancouver film industry, earning one-line parts and playing drums for a local band, when he applied for the role, he told CBC's Q cultural affairs show in an interview broadcast Wednesday.
"Originally, they wanted someone who could sing and dance — and that wasn't me," Monteith said. "I never sang and danced to anything like that anywhere. I was a drummer so in lieu of the singing, dancing part of the tape, I sent myself playing drums on the Tupperware and some wine glasses and stuff."
He got an invitation to audition in person for the role, but Fox wasn't willing to pay his airfare.
"So I drove from Vancouver to L.A. — just me, the Rent sound track and Billy Joel's Greatest Hits. I was learning all these songs in the car."
Monteith and about 25 other young actors, each with a football player physique, turned up for auditions. Monteith sang Billy Joel's Honesty and played a scene, and two days later he was one of just three actors auditioning in front of a panel of Fox executives. Half an hour later, he got the call.
As the small-town quarterback, Finn is convincing as a guy who's picking up dance moves for the first time.
But the actor Monteith is working like crazy to keep up with the relentless pace of filming a network series.
"It's not so much learning to sing and dance and act along the way," he said. "It's learning to sing and dance and act for television on a television schedule, because it's very demanding.
"You do an episode in eight days — trying to put together a dance number and record between two and seven or eight tracks professionally in a studio inside of that schedule. It is so much work, it doesn't allow you the time to be bad. You've got to hit the ground running and just nail it as often as possible. "
Monteith, 27, admits to dropping out of high school after Grade 9 and his career has included stints as Wal-Mart greeter, telemarketer, cab driver and roofer. He took his first acting class while living in Nanaimo, B.C., and was amazed that he had a knack for it.
Monteith said his chequered career may be helping, now that he's had to learn so much so fast.
"I've always been that transient chameleon, doing whatever I have to do to get myself by," he said. "It kind of makes you a quick study later in life. You learn how to adapt."
Glee is such a unique satire, that it's a learning process for everyone on the set, he said.
Monteith characterizes it as "like High School Musical has been punched in the stomach and had its lunch money stolen.''
While it's parodying every film and TV series about high school and music ever made, it also has a sensitive side, especially when it comes to quandaries of high school life.
"Especially for my character," Monteith said. "He's kind of a lout, a bit of dummy, but there's a kind of childlike innocence to him.
"I have to be very specific about the moments when I'm taking the piss out of characters like myself. And find the moments when there's a truth. There's a kind of innocent truth beneath it all, when there's a kind of responsibility to what the high school experience is and how hard it is for a lot of kids."