James Corden talks immaturity,Champ Manager and breaking the US with ShortList’s Tom Ellen
“You don’t get Fassbender doing this, do you?” James Corden deadpans, strapping on a crash helmet and stepping unsteadily on to a gold plastic skateboard for ShortList’s photographer. He’s right, of course, and that’s precisely why a) we like Corden so much, and b) we felt he’d be the perfect man to front our end-of-year special themed around male immaturity.
From Gavin & Stacey’s contagiously boisterous Smithy right through to The Wrong Mans’ thrill-seeking Phil, all Corden’s best-loved incarnations represent a side of the male psyche that point blank refuses to grow up. His characters are fully-formed conduits for us to live vicariously – and childishly – through, if only for half-hour periods. He steps on to the skateboard so we don’t have to.
Not that Corden will have too much time for four-wheeled juvenility in the near future. Aside from ushering in a brand new series of The Wrong Mans, arriving later this month, the 36-year-old will soon be seen in Disney blockbuster Into The Woods alongside Johnny Depp and Meryl Streep and, most excitingly, on US TV five-nights-a-week from next March, as host of CBS’s legendary Late Late Show. Writing, presenting, acting and, now, spearheading an American TV institution? To be fair, you don’t get Fassbender doing that, either…
As you’ll have gathered from the photoshoot, the theme of this issue is male immaturity. Do you think it’s healthy for men to embrace their juvenile side once in a while?
I definitely don’t think it’s particularly healthy to be a ‘grown-up’ all the time. That thing of going, “I’m just going to enjoy myself for the next hour doing whatever makes me happy” is quite good, I think. But, then, the flip side is that playing 23 hours of Grand Theft Auto is not great for you, either. It’s about moderation. My son’s constant wonderment at the world around him is always brilliant. You see him kicking leaves, and think, “Yeah, actually, kicking leaves is genuinely amazing.”
What’s your most immature trait?
Strops. I will go into a strop for any reason. I was in the house the other day – jet lagged, tired, slightly angry – and I ended up pulling my jumper and T-shirt off, shouting, “It’s too hot in here!” Which is what my son does. And my son is three. I also still enjoy playing Football Manager – previously Championship Manager – perhaps more than I ever have. Some of my greatest teenage moments came from leading Wycombe Wanderers to the Champions League, but I’m taking as much enjoyment from what’s happening with my Aston Villa team at the moment. We’ve gone on a run that’s unprecedented for the club.
How seriously do you take it? Do you imagine yourself giving post-match interviews?
Oh, yeah. Look, my only criticism of the game is I want it to be more intense. I want to get stuff in my inbox like, ‘It’s your wife’s birthday, so you have to take her for dinner. However, Christian Benteke’s agent is also saying that if you don’t meet him tonight, he will hand in a transfer request. What do you do?’ I’ve even talked to Premier League players about how their view of football gets skewed by computer games. Joleon Lescott told me a story about playing a Polish team when he was at Everton. Before kick-off, he was telling everyone, “Guys, watch their No11, OK? He’s quick and he’s got a lethal cross.” They played the first half, and the No11 was useless. So, at half-time, Phil Jagielka goes, “Where are you getting this from, Joleon?” and Joleon’s like, “Well, he was amazing on FIFA, so…” [laughs].
How about immature humour? What is it about puerile jokes that we can’t resist?
I think it’s about context. The scene where they’re sat around farting in Blazing Saddles is hysterical, but there are lots of other examples [in films and TV] where it doesn’t work. Swearing can be really funny, too, but you’ve got to use it in the right way. It has to come from character and story. In the new series of The Wrong Mans, we’re in some situations where it could go one way or the other. You have to keep your compass right.
What’s the writing process like on The Wrong Mans? Since you and Mathew Baynton are mates in real life, do you end up mucking about?
We play a lot of corridor cricket, let’s put it that way. It started off with a baking tray and a tennis ball, but it quickly spiralled out of control, and we were going around toy shops to find actual kids’ cricket bats. We do our own commentary, too, in Scottish accents. [Adopts very convincing Scottish accent] “Ooh, this is exciting now. What will happen here?” We take it quite seriously. If the game goes to sudden death, we’re like, [Scots accent again] “If you’ve tuned in for tonight’s film, you’ll have to wait until after this, because we are going nowhere.”
How much can you divulge about the new series of The Wrong Mans?
We pick up exactly where we left off. They’ve been through all this stuff – spies, hostages, MI5, being shot at – so it has to have an effect on them. If you and me saw a guy get shot today, it would change our lives forever. There’s a bit [in the first episode] where Phil [Corden’s character] and Sam [Mathew Baynton] get busted by police while pretending to be musicians and have to improvise a song. I think that’s the best thing we’ve ever shot for the show. A lot of outtakes on that one.
Phil and Sam also end up in prison in the first episode, which makes for some very funny moments…
Yeah, we’d always liked the idea of putting them in prison. We thought at first about setting a whole six episodes in prison. The idea was that you saw Phil, and he’s got cornrows and gold teeth and everything, and then you find out he’s only been in prison for one night [laughs].
Do you ever look back on anything you’ve done on TV or stage and cringe slightly?
I tend not to go back and look at any of it, to be honest [laughs].
Really? You never re-watch old Gavin & Stacey episodes?
No, never. That would be absurd. Although, I did catch 10 minutes of one the other day, on Dave or something. It was the first time I’d ever felt distanced enough from it to watch it, and I actually felt very proud of those characters. How well-rounded they are, how well they still hold up.
Will you ever make any more?
I hope so. I’d love to do another Christmas special. I feel like those characters are still alive somewhere and it’d be interesting to check in with them and see how they are. Me and Ruth [Jones, Gavin & Stacey’s co-creator] still text each other little things, like lines for Pam. That always makes me chuckle.
I’ve got to ask about The Late Late Show. How did the job come about? Did you have to audition?
I didn’t do a try-out, I didn’t do a pilot [laughs]. The president and CEO of CBS saw me in a play, and I went to meet them afterwards. I was talking quite openly about what I thought that 12.30am slot [which The Late Late Show occupies] required – a chance to do something more fun than the 11.30pm slot – and they offered it to me. I was very unsure about doing it. It’s a real curveball in a career sense, and I didn’t know if I’d be any good. I still don’t, to tell you the truth. You can plan for a year, but you just don’t know what will happen until you’re out there.
What are your ambitions for the show?
I want to make a warm, silly, fun show that will hopefully talk to a generation in the US that may not have found what feels like ‘their’ show yet. I’d like people to think, “I don’t know what will happen tonight”, the way you and I used to when TFI Friday was on. I never used to think, “I have to see TFI Friday because Elton John, or whoever, is on tonight.” It wasn’t about the guests; I watched it because I felt like I was part of the gang, you know?
You were interviewed on David Letterman’s show recently. Did he give you any tips on surviving in the jungle of US Late Night?
No, but I had a night out with Jimmy Fallon in New York, which was epic. I’m in awe of him, and I was able to tell him that his show is the very thing that made me want to do [The Late Late Show], but it’s also the very thing that terrifies me about it. I don’t have an acerbic wit, I’m not going to do 12 monologues on Obama’s healthcare reform, so the sense of silliness and fun [on Fallon’s programme] is what gets me excited.
Did Fallon give you any advice?
He just said be yourself. He said you can be someone else once a week or twice a week, but five nights a week? You can’t do it. The audience will know.
As a Brit going out to host a US talk show, were you concerned by Piers Morgan’s CNN sacking earlier this year?
Piers gets a bad rap, man. He did that show for three years, five nights a week, following Larry King. If my show lasts three months, I’ll be throwing a party [laughs]. Piers was an unprecedented success, and he was only fired for standing up for something he really believes in [anti-gun laws]. So I don’t understand why we’re not saying, “You’re amazing for what you did, for how open-minded and liberal you made our country look.” I actually spoke to Piers when the news about me [hosting The Late Late Show] leaked.
What did he say to you?
Well, I was on holiday in Portugal when it all came out, and I really felt my chest tightening. The interest in it was incredible. You can’t help but feel, “Hang on, I’m from High Wycombe. This is silly.” Piers just said, “You need to be aware that this is a piece of TV real estate America has a lot of ownership over, so it’ll be tough. People will come after you, but if you can stay strong and get through it, you’ll have a blast.”
Presumably, your preparation for The Late Late Show will be a bit more intense than for A League Of Their Own? Is it true Jack Whitehall and Andrew Flintoff host a pre-filming ‘wine club’?
Yeah, that wine club is out of control. It started with a glass of wine before taping, and now people bring charcuterie boards. But the series [of ALOTO] we’re shooting now is honestly the one I've enjoyed most. We filmed something last week with Jamie Redknapp and John Barnes, which was so good it was ridiculous.
Did it involve rapping?
It did, yes.
The Wrong Mans returns to BBC Two on 22 December at 9pm. Into The Woods is out on 9 January
[Photography: Jay Brooks]