James Corden is a tricky man to track down. RT catches up with him as he’s pushing through the throngs at Toronto Airport. He’s fresh – well, fresh-ish – off a flight from London, “and there’s loads of photographers here. And I look a right state!” the actor/writer/presenter relays into his mobile phone as he negotiates the arrivals hall. And indeed there’s much grunting and excited argy-bargy in the background. “Oh, thank you sir,” says Corden to the driver waiting to ferry him to the Hyatt hotel.
The paparazzi, he hastily makes clear, are not here for him per se. Corden has arrived in the Canadian city for the Toronto International Film Festival, so they’re door- stepping any actor touching down. Still, they could quite conceivably be on the lookout for the Brit of Gavin & Stacey fame who has since taken the States by storm.
Corden is in not one but two films premiering at the festival. Can a Song Save Your Life? – in which he has a supporting role alongside Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo (“Yeah, well, Harvey Weinstein bought it for $8 million. And it only cost $4.5 million to make, so I’m sure they’re all thrilled. But I’m also certain I don’t see any of that!”) – and One Chance, the biopic of Britain’s Got Talent winner Paul Potts, in which the 35-year-old plays the Carphone Warehouse manager turned opera singer.
But enough of this Hollywood fluffery. The real reason we’re talking to Corden is the arrival on BBC2 of his first new scripted TV show since Gavin & Stacey. Actually, it’s really his first new scripted TV show since he and Mathew Horne’s ill-starred sketch show. But moving swiftly on...
Like Gavin & Stacey, Corden co-wrote and co-stars in The Wrong Mans. Unlike his and Ruth Jones’s sweet tale of star-crossed lovers in Wales and Essex, The Wrong Mans – a collaboration with Mathew Baynton (see panel, right) – is part thriller, part comedy caper. The six-part series revolves around a pair of hapless office workers (Corden and Baynton) who are drawn into a seriously heavy plot involving seriously nasty villains. In the opening two episodes alone there is an epic car crash, a kidnapping and a touch of torture. The Wrong Mans is both edge-of- the-seat exciting and laugh-out-loud funny. A “straight” sitcom it ain’t.
“It’s the thought of idiots being in a position where they have to mix in the underworld,” says Corden. He and Baynton – who first met on the set of 1960s-set film Telstar: the Joe Meek Story – first hit upon the idea after Corden wrote Baynton into Gavin & Stacey.
He may these days be in demand for film and theatre work (his stellar transatlantic run in One Man, Two Guvnors won him a Tony on Broadway last year), but Corden stresses that the series is very much a team effort. And not just a two-man team. He and Baynton’s ambitious idea was brought to life with the assistance of script editor Jeremy Dyson (The League of Gentlemen) and director Jim Field Smith (Episodes), and by a stellar cast of supporting actors. Sarah Solemani, Dougray Scott, Dawn French, Stephen Campbell Moore and Rebecca Front all appear.
In the opening episode there’s even a blink- and-you’ll-miss-it role for David Harewood, best known as Homeland’s CIA chief.
“We shot that scene for the pilot in 2010!” exclaims Corden, which speaks of the deliberately long and thoughtful creative process behind The Wrong Mans. He called Harewood – an old pal from the TV show Fat Friends – and asked if he was free for a quick bit of filming. “It just shows you how quickly people’s career can change, but now it just looks like the biggest piece of stunt casting you’ve ever seen!” he laughs. “To the point where if we could have afforded to reshoot that scene, we probably would have.”
Good thing they didn’t. On The Wrong Mans, the entertaining devil is in the detail, from the off-kilter title onwards.
But now, judging by the fresh hubbub coming down the phoneline, it’s time for Corden to go. He’s arrived at his hotel, and is on stage in two hours to help introduce One Chance. Paul Potts has had significant success since winning 2007’s first series of the TV talent show but he’s still largely unknown internationally. Corden doesn’t think this will impede One Chance’s... well, chances outside the UK – “because the film stops at the moment he auditions for Britain’s Got Talent. It is about a boy from an industrial steel town in Wales who is bullied his whole life, and throughout endless adver- sity never gives up his dream of wanting to be an opera singer.
In 12 hours Corden is due to be back on a plane, returning to London. And a heart-stopping eight hours or so after that, he’ll be on a giant, forested soundstage at Shepperton studios, for the first day’s filming on Disney’s Into the Woods.
As he clambers out of his car, Corden tells me that the movie adaptation by Rob Marshall (Chicago) of Stephen Sondheim’s musical stars Johnny Depp (as the Wolf), Meryl Streep (the Witch) and Chris Pine (the Prince) and Anna Kendrick (Cinderella), as well as our plucky, polymathic Brit, playing the Baker (Emily Blunt is his wife).
But the line is breaking up – did Corden really say that he has “probably the biggest male role in the film”, meaning he’s top of the bill, above Depp? “Ah, I suppose, yeah,” he stutters. “Johnny’s playing quite a nice cameo really,” he clarifies. “He’s got an amazing song. But yeah, I guess so,” he says quietly. Corden adds that he did a four-day singing and acting workshop with Marshall in New York a year ago, “and if I’m honest I always thought they would just cast someone a lot more famous than me in this role. I’m so thrilled that Rob just stuck by me, really.”
The Hillingdon-born boy, who rose to fame on British TV, got a bit too big for his boots but then redeemed himself through grit, hard work and the love of a beautiful woman (former charity worker Julia Carey), to become a Hollywood star – well there’s a film Harvey would love to get his hands on.
See The Wrong Mans, tonight BBC2 at 9:00pm