James Corden hopes to sing along in karaoke-crazy Asia
LOS ANGELES—I remember interviewing James Corden in 2014 for “Into the Woods,” where he played the Baker. It was November. He was preparing to succeed Craig Ferguson as the host of “The Late Late Show.” While James enjoyed a career in film, TV and onstage in the United Kingdom, he wasn’t well-known in America.
“I think it’s going to be a disaster,” the British performer said about taking over the late-night CBS talk show in that interview. “I’m going to try my best, then it will probably get canceled. To show you how much I think it’s going to be canceled, my wife asked, ‘Should we buy somewhere in Los Angeles?’ I went, ‘Absolutely not, we’re getting somewhere on a month-by-month lease, because there’s a very strong chance that when this show is cancelled, we will be marched to the airport and told to never come back.’”
Well, flash forward to almost three years later, “The Late Late Show with James Corden” is hardly a disaster. Thanks mostly to its segment, “Carpool Karaoke,” which is seen by millions on YouTube, the show is a hit. James’ leap across the pond was a good move.
While he won a Tony in 2012 for the play “One Man, Two Guvnors,” James became a household name with the success of his “Carpool Karaoke” sessions with singers and personalities, such as Adele, Justin Bieber and Michelle Obama.
The versatile talent, who was in the West End, Broadway and film iterations of “The History Boys,” recently hosted the Grammys for the second time. He hosted the Tony Awards in 2016.
Now, he voices the titular character in Will Gluck’s wonderful animated feature adaptation of Beatrix Potter’s beloved story of a rebellious rabbit. Aside from its impressive visual effects (from the critters’ fur to how they kick up gravel as they sprint), “Peter Rabbit” is enhanced by a humorous script and a marvelous cast of voice talents, led by James, Margot Robbie (Flopsy), Daisy Ridley (Cotton-Tail), Elizabeth Debicki (Mopsy), Sia (Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle) and live-action actors, Rose Byrne (Bea) and Domhnall Gleeson (Mr. Jeremy Fisher).
“Yeah, we have had a busy few years,” said James in an understatement in our recent talk at The London West Hollywood Hotel. He was casually dressed in a sweater, jeans and sneakers.
“That was around ‘Into the Woods.’ It was incredibly daunting to move far away from loved ones and do such a thing. I didn’t even know what I took on (‘The Late Late Show’). But we wanted to make a show that would embrace the internet, and that was all we were talking about during the two-and-a-half months that we had to launch the show.
“We talked about making a show that wasn’t restricted by its time slot. I never thought we would hit the ground running as quickly as we have. We’ve had 3.7 billion views on YouTube alone, which means we’re now the third most subscribed-to linear television show on YouTube.
“We have 13-and-a-half million subscribers to our YouTube page. We play in 165 countries now and we’ve managed to spin off two other segments from our show, one in Apple and another on TBS.”
From a month-to-month rental house, James and his wife, Julia Carey (who were introduced to each other by James’ long-time roommate and “History of the Boys” costar, Dominic Cooper), have moved into something more permanent.
“It’s been a real incredible time for us,” the 39-year-old Brit said. “We now have bought a house, and we just had our third child six weeks ago, and I couldn’t feel happier.”
While James happily reported that their new digs is “stylish,” thanks to Julia who has an interior design firm, he prefers to be in bed these days. “I cannot impress on you how important sleep is in our house at the moment, with a 6-week-old daughter.”
But James will get up anytime to drive around and sing along with his famous passengers. He got excited at the idea that he should be driving and crooning in karaoke-crazy Asia.
“Oh man, we would love to so much!” he exclaimed. “Do you know this band BTS (South Korean boy band)? We were one of the first [American] shows that they performed on. But we would love to bring it back to the home of karaoke.”
James obliged when asked to share his three best “Carpool Karaoke” experiences. “Stevie Wonder changed everything for us, in a way,” he began. “When he guested, it made people go, oh my God. It’s very difficult to say to an artist who doesn’t want to do it. But when Stevie has done it, they go, ‘Oh God, if it’s good enough for him, I’ll do it.’ That one changed everything.
“The one we did with Adele—it’s just inconceivable to me that that has now been watched by 177 million people. It’s amazing to me that a clip we made is still viewed 200,000 times a week.
“Finally, the one we did with Bruno Mars, because I’m such a fan of his. It was the one that I had been looking forward to for so long. He does so [few guestings].”
But the most dramatic episode occurred off-camera. James related that when he was filming with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, it led to a dance-off
on a street corner between
him and the band’s lead singer, Anthony Kiedis.
James recounted, “Suddenly, across the road, a woman came out of her house with her baby flopped over her arms, saying, ‘Help me, something’s happened to my daughter!’ Anthony sprinted across the road. This woman was beside herself crying. Anthony took this baby. Her eyes were rolling back in her head. He laid this child down and kept lifting her up and putting her down and rubbing her back. I was going, ‘Someone call an ambulance!’
“Anthony was the calmest man I have ever seen in my life. Suddenly, this baby let out like the biggest burp you have ever heard (laughs), then just went (exhales) … and she was fine.”
“The wish list is long and thorough,” James answered when asked who he is dreaming of belting along with next. “Bruce Springsteen, Beyoncé, Kendrick Lamar, Eminem, Taylor Swift, Paul Simon, Cardi B and Barbra Streisand.”
In the meantime, he is honored to voice Peter Rabbit, whose series of books by Beatrix Potter has sold over 151 million copies in 35 languages.
“There’s almost nobody who grew up in Britain who didn’t read these books or loved this character,” said the actor, whose schoolmates at the Jackie Palmer Stage School included Eddie Redmayne and Aaron Taylor-Johnson. “When I got offered the chance to voice this character, I felt daunted by the prospect. It was only when I was told that people have been trying to make a ‘Peter Rabbit’ film for decades, and the Beatrix Potter estate had never given their blessing. But they read Will Gluck’s script and felt that this was true to the character that had been created.”
The actor shared his earliest memories of encountering Mr. McGregor’s blue-jacketed nemesis in the garden. “I can’t remember if it was my mom or dad who read the book to me, but I remember thinking this is the first time that I have ever been read a story with a character who is naughty (laughs). Because most stories you’re read as a child don’t involve a child going against the wishes of his elders.”
James, who’s in the cast of the coming “Ocean’s 8,” said that when he thinks about how lucky he has been, he doesn’t see it from the perspective of his successful career.
He explained, “I think about my 6-week-old and 3-year-old daughters who are healthy, and a 6-year-old son who seems to be thriving. I have a wife who seems to like me (laughs), but believe me, no one is more surprised than I am by any of those things.”
E-mail email@example.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/nepalesruben.
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