In a canal-side photography studio in north London, on a miserable rainy winter evening, James Corden arrives fresh – well, fresh-ish (“I’ve got a cold,” he shrugs, manfully) – from another day in a tiny room with Mathew Baynton (Horrible Histories, Yonderland).
He and his co-writer/co-star are busy creating series two of The Wrong Mans, the action-packed comedy that lit up BBC2 in the grey days of last autumn.
“Right now we’re plotting,” Corden says of the follow-up to the inventive six-part series. “That’s the biggest task with that show. Once it’s plotted, that’s three-quarters of the mission. We have yellow Post-it notes all over the walls.”
The Wrong Mans is the Buckinghamshire lad’s first self-written project since the glory days of his and Ruth Jones’s sitcom Gavin & Stacey. (We’re not counting unfunny sketch show Horne & Corden, nor unwatchable film Lesbian Vampire Killers.) Its success, he beams, is hugely pleasing.
“But it’s always terrifying – you feel like you’re in a bunker or a trench when you’re making these things. And at some point you have to go, ‘Right, let’s go over the top and see if we get shot down…’ But it feels like it was all right.
“You know, the best thing is, it’s absolutely the show that we wanted to make,” he adds, with palpable satisfaction. “The percentage that we changed [from the script] was so small. So I’m immensely proud of it, and that it found its audience. But Mat and I have got to try and do it again now,” he exclaims. “And that’s even harder!”
The pair – who met on the set of 2008 music biopic Telstar: The Joe Meek Story – are also working on a script for Working Title. They’re 95 pages into the mooted 115-page draft of School for Santas, which is a film idea of Corden’s. So is it Elf meets Bad Santa?
“It’s more Miracle on 34th Street meets Mrs Doubtfire,” he replies, fiddling with a cup of Lemsip.
He’s just wrapped filming an adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s musical Into the Woods. Corden landed the leading role of the Baker in the Disney blockbuster after impressing the producers with his Broadway-wowing, Tony-winning performance in the National Theatre’s One Man, Two Guvnors. “I only acted with Johnny Depp for one day,” he clarifies, modestly, of his A-list co-star. “But Meryl Streep, we’re in it throughout, she and I.”
Next he’s filming the eighth series of Sky1’s sports panel show A League of Their Own (the most fun he has on any project). Then he’s shooting two films: an Exciting British Book Adaptation that’s been in the works for some time, and a New York Comedy With Three Hollywood A-List Actresses. There is, then, a lot going on for the 35-year-old all-rounder. A man who, after a much-publicised post-Gavin & Stacey ego-blip, is now a bona fide – you might even say unparalleled – success across many media, disciplines and continents.
Tonight, however, in storm-lashed Islington, a few miles from the home he shares in Hampstead with his wife of two years, Julia, and their son Max, three, we are here to discuss the Brit Awards. Corden is proudly stepping up for a Radio Times photoshoot to mark his fifth – and final – hosting of the annual music industry awards show. He’s joined at the shoot by Ellie Goulding, the most nominated female artist at this year’s awards. After some intense my-schedule’s-bigger-than-your-schedule wrangling, the pair have managed to be in the same place at the same time. Although Goulding, who just jetted in from New York and is heading to Paris the next day, can’t tarry long.
So why is Corden hanging up his tuxedo? The Brits, after all, is a top presenting gig. The O2 arena in London will be packed with 16,000 music industry execs, fans and jewellery-rattling celebs. The biggest pop and rock stars in the world will be there. Six million viewers will tune in to watch on primetime ITV…
“Because I don’t think it’s a show that should be hosted by one person for a long time. There are award shows where it actually becomes a plus that it’s hosted by the same person. But the Brits should always have an energy about them that is fresh and new and exciting.”
He was thinking of stepping down last year but was persuaded by the producers, the channel and record label bosses to hang on for one more year. “It’s hugely flattering. If I could go and tell my 11-year-old self that I’d host the Brits more than anybody else, his head would explode.
“But the last thing I want to do is overstay my welcome. And whereas four years ago there might not have been so many people who could do it, now there are. Jack Whitehall would be amazing. Alan Carr would be great. Emma Willis would be brilliant.”
So, like Doctor Who, the Brits presenter will be regenerating as a posh stand-up/toothy chatty man/Celebrity Big Brother hostess? “I don’t know about that!” he guffaws. “I don’t think we should give it that much gravitas!”
What, then, have been the highlights of his five years fronting the Brits? He cites Coldplay’s performance from 2012, and the thrill of watching the dress rehearsal. “It’s an empty arena and I get to watch the best acts in the world – people like Rihanna – basically perform for me!”
And then there’s the YouTube clip that was seen around the world (152 million views and counting). “Adele’s performance of Someone like You in 2011,” he sighs of the singer’s performance of the song that would go on to propel her album 21 to sales of 30 million. “That’s when the Brits changed – from this drunken bun fight in a barn to an actual music show which propels sales.”
And the lowlights? The obvious one is his first go at presenting, when he and Mathew Horne presided over the shambolic 2009 show. The indulgent antics of the double-act, then at the height of their Gavin & Stacey-era pomp, were savaged in the press.
“And cutting off Adele,” he grimaces. “That wasn’t great.” In 2012 Corden quickly hushed the double-winning singer as the Brit Awards’ live broadcast hurtled towards its Ten 0’Clock News shut-off point. Is he still narked by the front-page hoo-ha the next day?
“I didn’t feel like I took a great rap for it,” he demurs. “Because there’s nothing you can really do when…” He stops just before, I’m sure, referring to the frantic instructions flying from the production gallery into his earpiece. “Put it this way: if I’d have cut her off at the point I was told to, she might not have even had the award in her hand! I was like, ‘I can’t go until she’s said thank you!’ Then they started to think that maybe my earpiece wasn’t working – and were going to send a member of the crew n to the stage!” he gasps, eyes boggling at the memory.
He does admit that, had he been a more experienced presenter, he might have handled it better. What else has he learnt? Corden squirms slightly, as mindful as anyone of the memory of his more, shall we say, swaggering, celeb-about-town period. “There’s a moment where you start to think you’re perhaps a bit more of a dude than you really are. The second you start thinking that, you come unstuck. It’s a giddying time, that first flush of fame. I’m reluctant to say I’ve learned anything ’cause chances are haven’t!” he laughs. “But I am less easily led now.”
Speaking to RT last month, Dominic Cooper – Corden’s good friend, fellow History Boys alumnus, former flatmate and Cupid (he introduced Corden to his wife) – revealed the abuse Corden occasionally receives in the street. According to Cooper, if he doesn’t give fans “lots of attention, they can turn in a second… I don’t know why. I think people feel they have a right to James, because of the character he played in that amazing TV show,” he said, refering to Smithy in Gavin & Stacey.
When I relay this to Corden, he frowns.
“Well, I don’t ever feel like I get a huge amount of flak. But people can be like that,” he agrees. But, checking himself and brightening, he says, “If you start moaning about that then you are really in trouble. I would rather that than the alternative,” he laughs, meaning being ignored.
“I don’t think there’s anything worse than very lucky people giving interviews about how hard it is. Because it just isn’t. There are drawbacks, but, you know, I’m about to do a photoshoot with Ellie Goulding – however rude her manager is,” he says pointedly, flashing his suffer-no-fools streak, “for the cover of the Radio Times, ’cause I’m hosting the Brits for the fifth time. It’s not bad,” he says. Speaking of which, does he have his clobber sorted?
“I’ve not really thought about what I’m wearing,” he says, rubbing a stubbly jaw and considering his jeans-and-sweatshirt civvies. “I should probably start giving it some thought.”
Surely he has Tom Ford on speed-dial?
“I do not, no,” he smiles. “I don’t think I’m a designer’s dream. I’ve never had anyone ring up and say, ‘I’d like to give you some clothes.’ I’ve just had to buy them. What I’m wearing for this shoot is what I wore last year!”
And what about his physical shape – has he been dieting in preparation?
“I try to,” he says with a chuckle. “Then you get to the rehearsals and there are snacks everywhere, and lots of waiting around. I end up eating M&Ms, thinking: ‘The Brits are tomorrow, you idiot, what are you doing?’”