This evening, James Corden becomes the host of CBS’ The Late Late Show. If you’re like most people, your first reaction to that news is “James who?”
Inheriting the chair from Craig Ferguson, who held it for nine years, Englishman Corden is the latest and least familiar face on the changing late-night talk landscape, but he brings a stellar resume filled with Brit TV credits as an actor, writer, producer and host, including Dr. Who, The Wrong Mans, The Brit Awards, and Gavin & Stacey. He’s also done movies—How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, The Three Musketeers, Into the Woods—and won a Tony Award for One Man, Two Guvnors on Broadway.
But even if Corden is only semi-familiar to American audiences, first-week guests Tom Hanks, Mila Kunis, Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart are guaranteed to bring in some eyeballs. We asked him how he plans to take over the wee hours.
“There’s no rhyme or reason why I should be given the opportunity to host a late-night talk show. But in terms of being creatively fulfilled, I don’t know if there’s a better thing that I could ever do than try to make an hour of television every day.”
How did you get the gig? And why did you want it?
I was talking with CBS about the possibility of doing a sitcom, writing one. Then Craig Ferguson said he wasn’t going to carry on and I felt there was a real opportunity to do something with that show. There’s no rhyme or reason why I should be given the opportunity to host a late-night talk show and talk to America every night and hopefully try and make them smile before or more like whilst they fall asleep. But in terms of being creatively fulfilled, I don’t know if there’s a better thing that I could ever do than try to make an hour of television every day.
How does your show differ from all the others out there?
We hope to find that. It’s only in the doing of it that it’s going to tell us what it is, and our audience has to take on the ownership of the show as much as we do. We’re going to make mistakes, and we’re going to get things wrong, but hopefully, we’re going to get something right as well. And I think we have a really great shot with the team that we’re putting together. It’s going to evolve as we do it. We want to make a warm show that’s really funny.
Will you sing at all?
I hope so! I’d love to, if we have a great idea for a song. We would love nothing more than to keep surprising audiences.
Did you talk to Ferguson about it?
Yes, he happened to call me on the day my daughter was born. He said, ‘Whether you like it or not there are only two guys on the planet who know what it’s like to come from the UK and become a late-night talk show host and one of them is me and it’s about to be you and I would be remiss to not give you advice and I am here for you if you need anything.’ It’s overwhelming how unbelievably kind and generous people have been. Stephen Colbert said, ‘If there’s anything you need, call me.’ I feel like I’m at the bottom of the mountain and I can’t see the top, and to know that there’s a few guys along the way to help me if I feel like I might fall is all I could ever ask for.
Did you pick up any tips from your appearances as a talk show guest?
I don’t think you can do anything but learn from being there and sitting with David Letterman. I was amazed by how relaxed he was, by his approach in dealing with you, and I felt so supported by him. You can only learn from those guys. You know, as an Englishman, my influences are Graham Norton, Chris Evans, Jonathan Ross, Michael Parkinson, not Johnny Carson or Cavett, Letterman, Leno. I never grew up with those guys every night. So I hope that I could bring a flavor of the people who I love and admire from home.
Who were your comedic influences growing up?
Steve Coogan/Alan Partridge was a massive thing for me. Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer had a show called Big Night Out, which was wonderful and then after that Ricky Gervais. John Cleese and Monty Python. There are endless, endless things.
Do you have to brush up on American pop culture for the job?
We’ve always gotten the very best of American television—Seinfeld, Larry Sanders, Friends. But Mom, for example, is not a show that’s been through to the U.K. yet. I want to watch and absorb as much as I can about American TV, news, sports. I’m going to try as best I can to absorb as much as I can of it. There are so many brilliant TV shows now. I love Scandal, Transparent, House of Cards.
You’ve moved to L.A.—what do you miss about home?
My parents and my friends, and I have a three‑year‑old son and baby daughter, and if I think about how far I’m taking them away from their grandparents, it’s enough to make me cry. That’s why I have to make the most out of this wonderful opportunity to do something brilliant. I love West Ham United Football Club to bits, but they are not the things I feel far away from. I’m blown away to even get to work here, and to be in California, it’s so great.
You have a couple of movies due out later in the year, Kill Your Friends and The Lady in the Van. How do you feel about putting your film career on hold?
People get really carried away about how fulfilling making a movie is. I mean, I love it—Into the Woods was the greatest filming experience I’ve ever had, but it’s not like most. Most of the time, you sit in a trailer on a parking lot, freezing cold, and you’re going to the toilet on a very low plastic toilet that you flush with your foot. Most of your day your acting is walking from a car though a door, over and over. What I loved about doing One Man, Two Guvnors on stage is it was a day with a point and a focus. This show will be a scramble and a race to do something that’s funny, and then we do it, and it’s gone, and there’s another one tomorrow.
Photo: Art Streiber/CBS