We talk to the directors of ''All the Wrong Reasons'' and ''McCanick'' about the late young actor

By Kristen Baldwin
July 19, 2013 at 04:00 AM EDT

Cory Monteith was nothing if not grateful for Glee, but like most young actors, he wanted to move into film work. And just weeks before his death, the 31-year-old star had the chance to watch his two upcoming big-screen projects, the independent films All the Wrong Reasons and McCanick. ”He seemed really great,” remembers McCanick director Josh C. Waller. ”He saw the screening [about a month ago]…. Things were good, he was excited for the movie to come out so he could spread the word.” Gia Milani, who directed Monteith in All the Wrong Reasons, had a similar experience when she met with the actor a few weeks ago in L.A. to watch their completed film. ”He looked superfit — had a lot of energy,” she tells EW. ”I think that’s why this is such a tremendous shock. He seemed to be doing so well.”

Both Milani and Waller say they were surprised at how completely Monteith disappeared into roles that were so different from his nice-guy character on Glee. ”Wrong Things has dark subject matter and gets a little risqué,” says Milani. ”[Cory] loved Finn and always talked about how blessed he felt to have been cast in Glee, but I think he wanted to prove to himself he could do more. And he did prove it.” Adds Waller, ”The character he plays [in McCanick] is this drug-addicted street hustler, and he was wanting to tap into things from his youth — which he’s been very open about publicly. I think he saw the role as an opportunity for catharsis.”

While there’s no release date for either film yet, Milani and Waller plan to take their projects on the festival circuit this fall. In the meantime, they’re both trying to make sense of the unexpected loss of their young star. ”Cory told me, just before his last scene of our film was shot, that he had hidden his Ray-Ban sunglasses somewhere in every shot that he was in, and that he would tell me where they all were during our DVD commentary,” recalls Milani. ”I loved the grin he gave me when he told me he’d done it. I am going to miss that grin.”