James Corden, the future host of CBS’s “Late Late Show,” and star of "The Wrong Mans" -- the second season arrives on Hulu Wednesday -- sounds a little fatigued, which makes sense under the circumstances. He is the new father of a 3-week-old baby, who is 5,400 miles away in the U.K. (Corden himself was born 36 years ago in Hillingdon, on the western outer edge of London). He is navigating reporters and critics in LA wondering about his new film, “Into the Woods,” which opens Christmas Day. And he is also getting ready for the launch of “The Wrong Mans” -- his BBC Two and Hulu comedy/drama series that he co-created and stars in with close friend Mathew Baynton -- arriving Wednesday.
Meanwhile, during a phone interview on Friday, he cheerfully engages annoying questions from me about his rationale for undertaking a late night gig that devours energy, lives and even souls -- and which hardly leaves any time for the care and feeding of new babies, either.
But Corden, evidently, is resilient as well as talented, and he is indeed talented: A Tony Award winner for 2012 Broadway farce, “One Man, Two Guvnors,” adapted from a Richard Bean play that first had a run at London’s National Theater in 2011, he’s also starred in a handful of acclaimed movies -- including 2006’s “The History Boys” -- and had lead roles in a number of popular Britcoms, notably “Gavin & Stacey.”
Then there’s “Mans,” which is critically acclaimed for all the right reasons -- notably acting (his and Baynton’s) and a harrowing tight-rope act that somehow manages to balance comic elements with dramatic spy-thriller ones. It’s about a pair of office co-workers, Sam (Baynton) and Phil (Corden) who become unwittingly -- definitely unwittingly -- involved in a violent international spy-versus-spy conspiracy, which for some reason has decided to cast its net over the small English village where the lads happen to live.
In the season beginning Wednesday on Hulu, that all changes when Sam and Phil are relocated to a remote, parched patch of earth somewhere in Texas. There are important reasons…
Meanwhile, there’s this new CBS adventure, which he undertakes March 23. He replaces Craig Ferguson who wrapped ten years on the air Friday...
Here's an edited version of our chat:
The second season of “Mans” is a major departure -- a departure all the way to Texas even. Why?
“It just sort of feels like it’s season one, part two.... We just felt that they have to have been altered by what happened to them last season [and] we felt we had to be honorable to the characters and how they would have been altered….”
The first episode ends up in a prison -- that’s certainly a major life alteration for the boys...
“We did have the idea of setting the whole season in a prison [but] we realized this season was going to be shown at Christmas, and realized that Christmas is all about going home [a major plot point, by the way]."
Will there be a third season?
“Maybe, but at some point I have to go and make this other show [on CBS] for a bit. But I hope at some point we’ll be able to."
Let’s do talk about this “other show”: You’ve had some significant accomplishments on Broadway and in film. Doesn’t a daily talk show essentially end all that?
“I’ve thought about this long and hard and ultimately I’ve had a career that wasn’t just one thing but many things. I think you actually have to look at your [professional] life and what you want out of it, and I want to be creative every single day. That’s all I want [professionally], and on some level also perform. And that’s simply not the case if you’re shooting films all the time and it’s not the case if you are in a long-running play or musical….The greatest thing about doing a live performance [on stage] is that everyone is working toward 7:30 curtain-time and then you do it again. But you can ramp that up creatively 100 percent when you are doing a brand new show every single day…. Besides, it’s just an absolute honor and privilege to get the chance."
But starring in movies isn't too shabby, right?
"When you're doing a film, you spend most of your time in a caravan [trailer] where there's a small bathroom in back that has a small plastic toilet with a blue water and a foot flush. And the highlight of your day is occasionally getting out of the trailer and walking over to a big building where you do a scene. And you do that day after day. It is bleak and you are cold and wearing thermal underwear, and -- when the film is done you go out and promote it… .” [Corden pauses, sighs, suddenly aware he’s in the midst of the promotion part of the cycle.]
I read somewhere too I guess that this allows you to be closer to your family [Corden's wife and two children will relocate from Britain to Los Angeles].
"I'm a husband and father to two children and someone offered me a chance to be in one place and come home every day after work and be a consistent and present father and husband, which is the single hardest thing you could ever possibly get in this industry....I can’t think of a single greater reason [to do this]. No kid has ever sat through a therapy session saying, ‘My dad was around too much when I was growing up’ or, ‘My parents gave me too many cuddles.' I owe it to my son and I owe to my daughter and wife, and when they offer you an opportunity like this, I don’t known how you can genuinely say no."
You’ve never really done exactly this before, of course. What are the challenges?
"I don't know if I'm capable but I'd certainly rather do it than have regrets, or playing it safe. Plus [it beats] this idea of being in films where essentially you are just auditioning and auditioning from one to the next and you're at the mercy of directors and producers and critics and awards panels. Besides, I'm not just going to sit at a desk and ask questions every day, but am going to try my hardest to make a variety show every day. There will be music and skits and songs and dancing -- everything, but I'm not going to just be sitting there with a celebrity and say, 'Tell me your funny story about that time in Venice...' "
Has anyone like David Letterman or Ferguson given you advice?
"No, but everyone has been incredibly nice -- I like [Letterman] very, very much, and Jimmy Fallon has reached out to me, and I had a few long chats with Stephen Colbert, and Craig has been particularly amazing. He said you’re going to have a blast -- you’re going to love some days when you feel like you’re the luckiest man on the planet, and then there will be other days when you don’t know what you’re doing….”
Over the years, I've learned that the one truism about hosting a late night talk show may in fact actually be true: That this is the hardest job in show business. Have you girded yourself to that possibility?
"All I'll say is, I did eight shows a week of 'One Man, Two Guvnors' -- 496 performances and during that time, Matt [Baynton] and I would write ['Wrong Mans'] in [the afternoon], then I'd grab 15 minutes' sleep, then get ready to do a show -- which was the most exhausting show I'll ever do" because it included improv elements and parts that were changed or adjusted right up until curtain time. "I'm sure I have no idea how hard it's going to be and I won't know until I'm actually doing it. But I feel I'm ready."