Ryan Murphy on Glee: It was best time and worst time in my life
The co-creator of the Fox hit remembers the success, the drama, and the tragic death of star Cory Monteith
Ryan Murphy has had a lot of success in his career, from Nip/Tuck to American Horror Story to The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. But his musical comedy Glee is in a class of its own. The series, which he co-created with Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan, about a ragtag show choir in Ohio, became an almost instant phenomenon when it premiered in 2009. There were tours, soundtracks, even a concert film. It was all the more surprising because the series itself was an underdog. “No one thought that was going to be anything, I think, other than a solid double, maybe at best,” he admits. “And we did it, and it was a magical experience because we shot the first 13 episodes in a bubble because nothing had aired.”
Murphy was shooting Eat Pray Love with Julia Roberts over the summer of 2009 and came home to find his underdog had become a bonafide hit. “I returned from India and Bali with Julia, and I was like The Beatles,” says Murphy. “It was so crazy, like you could not go out with those kids.”
But with success came behind-the-scenes tension too. “It was the best time in my life and the worst time in my life,” says Murphy. “There was a lot of infighting. There was a lot of people sleeping together and breaking up. It was good training for being a parent, I’ll tell you that much. But I also made a mistake: We all got too personal. We loved it so much that we would all go out to dinner and we’d hang out and we were always together, so there was no delineation between who was the boss and who was the employee. And we were all so close that finally when something would happen, it would be so personal to me that I would literally hit the roof.”
During production, Murphy also became aware that star Cory Monteith was struggling with addiction issues and helped Monteith get into rehab. Tragically, Monteith died of an overdose in the summer of 2013. The last time Murphy saw the actor was when Monteith and Lea Michele came to visit Murphy on the set of The Normal Heart. “We hugged, and the last thing he said was ‘I love you, man, and thank you for helping me get better.’ And then the next thing I knew he was dead. It was like losing a child,” Murphy says. Adds Michele, who was Monteith’s girlfriend in addition to being his costar, “When I found out [Cory had died], Ryan was one of the first people I called. When Cory was alive, Ryan was very helpful in trying to get him well and healthy but, when that day did come, Ryan did take charge, and he helped me more than I can ever explain.” She adds, “He completely cared for me. He made sure I was okay every single day, whether it was coming over to his house and having dinner prepared for me, or making sure I was okay at work. He sat me down and said, ‘What do you want to do? Do you want to continue the show? Do you want it to end?’ I just said, ‘I just want to go back to work.’ His heart is bigger than I think he knows what to do with sometimes.”
Still, Monteith’s death changed the show forever. “What started off as being such a great celebration of love and acceptance ultimately became about darkness and death,” admits Murphy. But the showrunner says that Glee was a learning experience. “It was a great lesson in what not to do moving forward. And many of them are my good friends to this day.”
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