James Corden is following a hit play with a venture into opera for new film, One Chance. Jimi Famurewa tries to get a word in
He may be a famous comedy actor in possession of a Tony and two Baftas, but James Corden is currently experiencing something most men in their thirties can comfortably relate to. Namely, the bafflingly potent midweek hangover. “Honestly,” he says, croaking slightly, “I went out for dinner last night with my wife and some friends, had two glasses of wine and now I feel like ‘whoa’. A hangover lasts a week now. I just can’t do it any more.”
His capacity for booze isn’t the only thing to have changed in recent years. A Broadway-wowing role in One Man, Two Guvnors and recent BBC Two ratings hit The Wrong Mans have cemented his transformation from lesbian-vampire-killing pariah to beloved British hero.
But The Third Age Of Corden is about to move into uncharted territory, as he takes the lead role in One Chance, a film based on the life of Britain’s Got Talent winner Paul Potts. Lowering my voice to a headache-soothing whisper, I set about finding out why he’s taking on an opera-powered passion project.
So what was your first reaction when people said “you’d be perfect to play Paul Potts”?
[Laughs] Well yeah, I’m well aware of my image when I look in the mirror. When I first heard of it I was like everyone else. Kind of thinking, “Really?” I had visions of an actor playing Simon Cowell with me being the sidekick. Thankfully, it’s not like that.
What convinced you, then?
Harvey Weinstein bought it and David Frankel [The Devil Wears Prada]– who’s a director I really love – came on board. He came to see my play in London, we spoke, then I went to see him in New York and basically said, “Why do you want to make this film? Why do you want to come to Port Talbot when you could be making a bigger budget film in Hollywood?” And he went, “It has a great ending and that’s what I’m interested in – how people feel when they leave the cinema. The YouTube clip is moving enough, imagine if you’d seen everything it had taken to get that guy to that point?” That was it, I was in. And I’m immensely proud of this film. It’s not even about Britain’s Got Talent. It’s about a boy from an industrial steel town who dreams of being an opera singer in a place where no one even listens to it, let alone sings it.
There is a lot of opera. Did you come away with a new love of it?
I didn’t really. I have a great appreciation for it, I really do, but the thing I’m most in awe of is how opera singers have to look after themselves and their voices. Many of them spend a lot of the day not talking so they can sing that night. That, to me, sounds like hell on Earth. Although I’m sure there are many people who’d prefer it if I did actually do that.
Speaking of music, you’ve said that if you host The Brits next year, it will be your last one. Will you try to go out with a bang?
I try to stay out of it as much as possible – no one is tuning into that show to watch me be funny. Jools Holland’s show has been the best music programme on TV for so long because he goes, “That was that, this is this.” But we’ll see. If I do it next year and I know I’m not doing it again, then I’ll try to have a little bit of fun with it.
There was lots of criticism about the show being boring and predictable last year. What do you make of that?
I do find it funny when people talk about these ‘great old days’ of the Brits. If you go back and look through the press cuttings, all of these people who are talking about ‘the great old days’ are the same people who were saying it was rubbish back then [laughs]. They talk about the edge, asking, “Where has the edge and danger gone?” And I want to go, “You do know that Hear’Say performed Pure And Simple on the Brits before they even released it, right?” Chumbawamba opened the show a few years ago. A1 have got a Brit Award, S Club 7 have two Brit Awards. Yes, there was the year with Jarvis. But this idea that it used to be this unbelievable rock fest isn’t quite right. I take heart from the fact that in 20 years, people will look on these Brits and say, “Oh, those were the Brits, when Adele used to get cut off” and they’ll talk about it as the great times.
You’re friendly with Brit winners One Direction. Have you had firsthand experience of their rabid fan base?
Well, my best friend Ben Winston produced their movie, and he’s shown me some of the footage of things that didn’t make the film, where you just think, “Well, they’re going to kill them. They’re literally going to kill them.” It’s amazing. They take it in their stride, though. I think that, after a while, you just get used to that noise.
Away from that, you’re still hosting A League Of Their Own. Does inventing Mo Farah’s ‘Mobot’ on that show rank as a proud achievement?
Well, that was me and Clare Balding. Although some people may say that we are essentially the same person. But yeah, we did, and I am immensely proud of how that show has grown. It’s the only time I never feel I’m at work.
Elsewhere, you must have been chuffed with The Wrong Mans becoming BBC Two’s biggest sitcom launch since Extras…
Yes, especially as it’s not an instantly recognisable concept, you know? I’ve had people in the street going, “How did you do that car crash?”, which is great. We just want a group of people to really love the show. I’ve got a day off from the film I’m doing, so we’re actually brainstorming Series 2 now.
And the film you’re doing is Into The Woods with Meryl Streep and Johnny Depp. Was that a daunting first day on set?
I did a workshop for it in New York last September and, honestly, I thought that although I’d love to play the part, they’d probably get someone more famous to do it. Because I was aware of what a big role it was, and for such a big film. But Rob Marshall, the director – who I’ll forever be grateful to – told Disney that he wanted me to play the role. It’s the biggest thing I’ve ever done, without question. I’ve never had such a big part in something of such scale, and with a cast of such prominence, but I’m really enjoying it. And I love musicals, so I’m thrilled to be committing such a popular one to film.
Do you think that, with Les Misérables and now this, musicals are losing their stigma and becoming more gritty and cool?
Hopefully, but then I’ve loved them since I was 11. I actually used to go to the same after- school drama club as Eddie Redmayne in High Wycombe. Me, Eddie and Aaron Johnson all went to the same after-school drama thing – Eddie always had an amazing voice, and it’s so thrilling to see them doing so well.
Finally, is it true you picked up a few grisly injuries during the run of One Man, Two Guvnors?
Oh yeah. I tore the cartilage in my knee, I scratched my eyeball and I lost my voice a couple of times. Physically, it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
Worth it though, I’m guessing?
One hundred per cent.
One Chance is at cinemas nationwide from 25 October. The Wrong Mans continues Tuesday nights on BBC Two at 9pm
(Images: Entertainment Film/Johan Persson)