James Corden now hangs with the Hollywood A-list. Meet the Brit boy making it big. By Giles Hattersley
James Corden — married father of two and surprise new darling of the American chat-show scene — is sitting in his executive Portakabin on the CBS lot in Los Angeles, a Banksy on the wall, doing his best not to look smug. At 37, the errant man-child of British light entertainment has unequivocally made it.
Amazing, I say, you used to have this reputation for sadly shagging your way around London, and now look at you — a family man in your Hollywood alpha office with sun-bleached hair and Prps jeans. “Er,” he replies, blinking bashfully. So bashfully, in fact, I wonder how much of all that drinking/shagging stuff was true. Alexandra Burke? “No.” Agyness Deyn? “Noo-ooo.” Lily Allen? “No way. It really wasn’t...” he breaks off, laughing.
“I did go out a lot. I was having fun. I’m pleased of it now, especially as I never went to university. But, um, yes...” he trails off, smiling.
Not as fun as all this, clearly. It’s been going so well for him lately, he is practically tugging his forelock when he welcomes me into his office after taping a Tuesday-night show (guests: Patrick Stewart and Morrissey).
Not that he was doing too badly before America came calling. He already had a Tony, a BAFTA, two hit comedy television series, a No 1 single and an incipient film career under his belt. But to everyone’s surprise (not least his own), last September Corden announced he was trading it all in for one of the trickiest jobs in showbiz: five nights a week in the thunderdome that is American late-night TV. All but unknown in the US, he reportedly secured a relocation package of £650,000 and moved his family to Los Angeles in January — two months after his daughter was born — and took over on
The Late Late Show in March. Naturally, we hacks were rubbing our hands in anticipation — another Piers Morganesque mauling of an ego-crazed Brit at the hands of the Yanks. But Corden has proved an instant hit with audiences and critics. His YouTube numbers are insane: more than 200 million Late Late
Show online views so far, with 35 million hits alone for a clip in which he drives Justin Bieber around Hollywood in a segment called Carpool Karaoke, belting out tunes and delivering his clever brand of home counties sass to perfection. Other episodes feature Stevie Wonder, Mariah Carey and Rod Stewart — all funny. No wonder he has supposedly just had his contract renewed for £3 million ($6.5m).
Meanwhile, life is sweet. He has moved into a house in Santa Monica five minutes from the beach, taken up tennis, lost a few kilograms, popped round for lunch with fellow Brits abroad Gordon Ramsay and the Beckhams, hung out with his good pal Anna Wintour, been shot for the September issue of Vogue, walked in a Bur-
berry show and is rumoured to have recorded a Christmas single with Kylie Minogue. As Nessa might have remarked in his much-loved TV show Gavin & Stacey: “Tidy.”
“I was unbelievably reticent about doing it,” he says, nestling into his work sofa at the end of another 12-hour day. “I said no quite a few times, because it just wasn’t where I thought my career was going to go — not that I’d even given that much thought,” he adds (yeah, right). “At the time, I’d been commissioned to write a TV show for HBO and I was about to sign up to do a musical on Broadway [Sondheim’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum].
“I actually talked to Piers [ Morgan] quite a lot in my deliberations about taking the job. He was the person saying, ‘You’ve just got to go for it. It’s really hard and the critics will absolutely go for you, but if you just bed in and carry on, you’ll be fine.’
“Luckily, that mauling didn’t really happen, but it was useful to have someone who had been through that sort of thing before.”
Corden makes friends wherever he goes. A people-pleaser by nature — when he isn’t manic with it, he can be as charming as it gets — he’s pally with everyone from the England soccer team to One Direction. I assumed he would have become a ferocious, gimlet-eyed networker now he’s in Tinseltown, but apparently not. He and his wife, Julia, a former charity worker, and their son and daughter tend to keep to themselves. Not long after they arrived in LA, Cindy Crawford invited them for dinner, and when they turned up the other guests were Sean Penn, Charlize Theron and Colin Farrell. It was “lovely”, he says, looking a little freaked out.
“To be honest, I’ve not been out loads, but Gordon [Ramsay] has been on the show and I’ve been to his house a couple of times — that was nice.” Aren’t the Beckhams in London these days? “No, they’re here right now. I’ve seen them. Wonderful. And when I was doing the show [his Tony-winning turn in One Man,
Two Guvnors] in New York, I used to have din- ner with Anna [Wintour] about once a month. I like her very, very much. She’s a passionate and unbelievably supportive woman. The way she uses her power, for want of a better word, is inspiring, really. I remember Nicholas Hytner told me that they were at a dinner, and she said she would like to raise money for the National Theatre. He thought, she’s the busiest woman on the planet, but the next day she called and said, ‘ What can we do?’ That’s something to be celebrated, I think.”
So he has made the cut as a Wintour consort (along with her other favourite, Benedict Cumberbatch, and the perennial Roger Federer). It’s a no-brainer, really. He’s social WD-40. Part smart alec, part obsequiously deferential, Corden tempers his earnestness with enough edge to keep him the right side of cloying. For example, he’s refreshingly open about loving attention. “I don’t know an actor or performer who doesn’t. I know a lot of actors and performers who say they don’t, and I don’t believe them,” he says, borderline peeved. He drops into an impression of a typical hipster actor: “Oh, I can’t bear this, but I do want to sell these watches.”
Growing up in High Wycombe, the son of an RAF musician and a social worker, he was pretty much performing straight out of the womb. He got his first laughs at church (his parents are devout Christians — the values seem to underpin him still), and he got himself on the West End stage by 18, performing a one-line part in Martin Guerre. From here, he skipped from
Hollyoaks and Fat Friends to a Mike Leigh film and The History Boys at the National before, aged 29, he wrote and starred as Smithy in
Gavin & Stacey, which put him within spitting distance of becoming a British national trea- sure. Instead, though, he became a bit of a div, complaining about not winning a particular BAFTA, having spats with theatrical knights and falling out of nightclubs. When a comedy sketch show with his Gavin & Stacey co-star Matthew Horne tanked, the British press moved in for the kill — though, to his credit, Corden honed his social skills, kept on working, married the right girl and got through it. His sports show A League of Their Own became popular, his turn in One Man, Two Guvnors was dazzling, he starred in Into the Woods with Meryl Streep and this year received an OBE.
Now it’s America, where he seems to have ensconced himself as some sort of David Frost/ Russell Brand hybrid. Like most great entertainers he’s a victim of wildly fluctuating confidence. “You have to take it all with a bag of salt,” he says of reports on his crazy life. “It’s always written about in a far more dramatic way than it ever was. People said then that I was at my lowest ebb, career-wise, but me and Ruth [Jones] were writing the third series of Gavin &
Stacey, which, it’s fair to say, was the biggest comedy of that year. I’m proud of the plays I’ve been in, I’m proud of two out of the three TV shows I’ve written, and I’m proud of a couple of the films I’ve been in. I’ll take that every day of the week.”
And if America ever stops swooning for him, he can always come home. As Smithy was so “likable and approachable”, he explains, “people would buy me pints all the time in pubs — and I don’t drink. I mean, I enjoy an eastern standard [a cocktail], but I certainly don’t drink pints and I don’t like lager. People would often say, ‘Does the attention not drive you mad?’ ” He looks genuinely puzzled by the thought. “I would much rather this than the other.”
CORDEN HAS PROVED AN INSTANT HIT WITH AUDIENCES AND CRITICS
The Late Late Show’s new host James Corden