Interview with James Corden
The Fabulous Baker Boy: Exposed interviews James Corden.
Taking the leading role in magical new Disney movie Into The Woods, we caught up with James Corden to find out if all his wishes had come true.
To most people, James Corden will always be remembered for his portrayal of Smithy – the goofy yet endearing sidekick in Gavin & Stacy. In reality, however, Corden couldn’t be further away from Smithy if he tried…
A likeable, shy individual, he’s a very articulate young actor – and in this month’s Into The Woods he takes his first shot at a leading Hollywood role. And in a musical no less.
For the uninitiated, Into The Woods is the big screen adaptation of the popular Broadway musical; in which The Baker – played by Corden – sets out on a quest to lift a family curse – a quest which sees him cross paths with an assortment of classic fairytale characters and even save the world. With music by Stephen Sondheim – the man behind Sweeney Todd – it’s an incredibly ambitious step for a drama school grad from High Wycombe. An ambitious move not lost on him.
“I think it was a little easier in one sense because, when I went to audition for Rob [Marshall, director] and John [DeLuca, producer], I wasn’t auditioning for a huge movie starring Meryl Streep – I was auditioning for a workshop for a movie that if it got made would star Meryl Streep and if it does get made it probably won’t star you.”
With so many quintessential Broadway elements in Into The Woods, the workshop process was crucial to not only developing the story, but casting it as well.
“At the end of the workshop, Rob came and found me – and I can remember it so vividly. I can ever remember what I was putting in my rucksack at the time, and he held my hand and said ‘I promise you, if we make this film, we will not make it without you’. “Lots of people say things like that in this industry, and lots of them mean them, but over time it gets watered down and it dissipates – and for whatever reason, it doesn’t happen. I’ll always be indebted to Rob for it – and I’m just overwhelmed by what a phenomenal experience the whole thing’s been really.”
Corden, it seems, found a very collaborative director in Marshall; whose previous works include Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and the musicals Chicago and Nine. Quick to champion his director, Corden holds him up as the reason for Into The Woods’ success in transitioning from stage to screen.
“There’s no other reason, and it will embarrass him hugely, but I don’t think anybody will ever take a show that’s three hours long and beloved by so many people – passionately – and cut an hour and you don’t lose a beat of story, a beat of heart, a beat of humour and, if anything, you go ‘I don’t even know what I’ve really missed’, and yet it holds – and no one else can take credit for that except for Rob.”
More than just a case of learning his lines and a few musical numbers, Corden credits Marshall with educating him on what makes a film musical work and what doesn’t.
“I can remember Rob saying to me ‘no one wants to see – in a film – four ballads in a row. It will hold on stage because you’re watching something very different, it’s a personal interaction between you and the performer, and they’re actually there doing it’. He said ‘It’s all about protecting No One Is Alone because that’s the heartbeat of the thing’ and you kinda go ‘yeah, yeah, sure’… but I’ve watched other musicals since and gone ‘ah, you’re completely right!’ The first ballad in this movie musical knocked the wind out of my sails, the second one, I was like ‘yeah, it’s good….’, the third one, I’m like ‘phoof!’, the fourth one goes for nothing – and that’s not because the performances aren’t right, they’re amazing – but to have a director who can do it and pull it off in the way he has, that’s so wonderful, that’s the reason I don’t think there’s anyone else on Earth who could have done it. I genuinely don’t know if anyone else could take this text and make a film that would work in this manner. Truly.”
For audiences, a huge draw for Into The Woods will naturally be the idea of a fairytale crossover adventure, what with fairytales being such business in entertainment – and given yet another boost in popularity over the past year with the success of Frozen. As a father, Corden himself however finds traditional fairytales rather out-of-step.
“I always remember finding them a little bit scary, I think that maybe because at school they started with Hansel and Gretel – which might be the darkest story you could ever read a child. I haven’t read my son many, I don’t know if it’s a particularly healthy thing to tell children that this notion of happily ever after will just exist forever, and that will be your life – and I think it’s a wonderful thing in this film that, in the song I mentioned earlier, No One Is Alone, there’s a moment where Anna’s character and my character are talking to the young children, saying giants can be good and witches can be right, and you decide what’s good and you decide what’s right, which I think is a really positive message to say to children. To say whatever your life is, and whatever your circumstance, there’s some screw-ups coming your way. You can’t deny it, the screw-ups – they’re coming for you – and in those moments when you feel like that, when life takes those turns, you’re going to feel like you’re completely on your own in the world. You’re going to feel completely on your own and you won’t be, and you’re not, because no one is. And that’s made me think about how I’ll read things to my children and the emphasis that I’ll put on certain things.”
Don’t feel too bad for young Max Corden in the meanwhile, for – as his father reveals – he doesn’t lack in other bedtime stories.
Back in the daylight, music has fast become a key component of Corden’s onscreen career; having hosted the Brits a whopping five times, and collaborated with Gary Barlow, it’s fitting that he’d turn up in a musical sooner or later. But, is that where his musical ambitions end?
“Almost for my own enjoyment, I’ve started to think I should make a Christmas album. I love Christmas music so much – I start listening to it in October!”
A huge fan of Michael Bublé (he scored tickets to see the Canadian crooner at the O2 over Christmas), Corden finds traditional holiday songs enchanting.
“I sort of started thinking that maybe I’ll just do it on my own! Maybe I’ll just like… (he breaks to sing the chorus line from Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas before continuing) …so, yeah, I might do that! You’ll never hear it! But maybe… I’ve got a feeling I might just do it for my own pleasure!”
Despite having a number of prominent roles on stage and screen, Into The Woods marks Corden’s first foray into a mainstream musical; something he’s keen to build on in the West End.
“It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do! My whole dream, all I wanted at school, was to be in a West End musical – and then I was lucky enough when I was seventeen to be in a musical called Martin Guerre… which was… I’m not speaking out of turn to say it was a disaster! But I was in the chorus and was stood so far in the back that for a lot of the show I could touch the back of the wall. I get a lot more excited about the prospect of being in a musical than I do about almost anything else, really. There are so many shows that I love – and that’s not including the new ones that haven’t been written yet!”
When asked about his dream roles however, he has a very specific wish list.
“A dream of mine is to play Max Bialystock in The Producers. It’s a role I would give my right arm to play one day. Pseudolus in A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum is something I hope I’ll get the chance to do one day. When I saw Hedwig, I just was like ‘oh my god, this is the greatest part that’s ever been written!’ There’s a musical that Rob actually worked on on Broadway, which many people don’t know here, called Kiss Of The Spider Woman by Kander and Ebb. There’s a role of a guy called Molina, whose an imprisoned drag queen costumier, which I really love. That’d be a turn up, wouldn’t it..?
Into The Woods hits UK cinemas this month.
James Corden: 5 Facts
Corden was born to Malcolm and Margaret Corden in Hillingdon, Greater London
His early film credits include Whatever Happened to Harold Smith? (1999), Mike Leigh’s All or Nothing (2002), Heartlands (2002) and Cruise of the Gods (2002).
From 2000 through early 2005, Corden starred in the British television series Fat Friends as Jamie Rymer.
From 2007 through early 2010, Corden co-starred in his own series, the BBC Three sitcom Gavin & Stacey. He co-wrote the series with his Fat Friends co-star Ruth Jones.
On September 8, 2014, CBS announced that Corden will replace Craig Ferguson as host of the American late-night talk show The Late Late Show beginning on 23 March 2015.