Some of you may know James Corden as the frisky, funny British host of “The Late Late Show” – one of Viacom/CBS’ own. But if you are not one to stay up past 12:30 a.m., then maybe you’re one of the hundreds of millions who have caught Corden on his YouTube channel. Taking a talk show stuck in an ‘after hours’ time-slot, and making it available online around the globe.
With charm and wit, Corden gets A-list stars to open up in a way that seems to surprise them as much as us. Amazing for someone who was virtually unknown in the U.S when he moved here six years ago. But James Corden will tell you he had already put in his 10,000 hours – a deft physical actor, who, by his late 20s, had achieved success and fame in Britain.
Corden says he’s on a lifelong quest for happiness and he’ll do almost anything to move the needle on his audience’s happy scale.
Bill Whitaker: James, we are ready if you are ready.
James Corden: I’m ready. Yes, are you ready?
Bill Whitaker: I am– I think I’m ready.
Eight feet away and right on cue.
James Corden: Can I be honest, Bill? I wrote an email. And I was saying, “What should I wear? Should I just wear a suit?” And they said, “No.” They said, “Bill won’t be wearing a suit.” (LAUGH)
Bill Whitaker: Oh, no. But I read that you’re kind of a fashion person. I said, “Well, I guess I should– up my game a little bit.”
James Corden: Well – and I have to say it’s not gone unnoticed. You’ve matched the (LAUGH) socks to the suit. That’s–
Bill Whitaker: Beyond…
James Corden: –important to have a well-dressed ankle. That’s what I think. Yeah.
We spoke with James Corden at the fabled sunset tower hotel in West Hollywood, a stone’s throw from another iconic institution, CBS Television City, where for five and a half years, he’s clocked in at 9 a.m., four days a week, to take on the serious business of delivering a show each night – now taping under strict COVID-19 protocols.
Bill Whitaker: How has it changed your show? How has it changed what you do?
James Corden: Well, I think it’s– its changed everything in a sense, you know, We like to think of it as being about scale, about size and getting out of the studio and running out into the road and shooting big sketches, big numbers, big ambition. And obviously those things are very difficult at this moment.
With no audience and fewer guests on the couch, Corden’s more than made do, first doing the show from his garage and now back in the studio, easily riffing with his band and on this occasion, this reporter to witness the process, warts and all.
Corden thinks everything they do now is looser and he puts a premium on calling it as it is.
James Corden: I will say that as time’s gone on, as we’ve been living under this administration, I don’t even consider it to be politics. I consider it to be right and wrong. I consider it to be good versus evil. (LAUGH) We are more than comfortable talking about anything. We also feel like we’re an entertainment show. Our primary concern is to just try and make you laugh somehow. That’s really what we love to do. And– I’ll really stop at nothing to try. (LAUGH) It may not always work. (LAUGH) But I’ll give it my best shot, you know.
Corden burst onto the late night landscape, not to rip up the notion of the talk show, but to make one that would travel on the internet. Add to that, much of the show’s success is rooted in Corden’s nature: an affable, droll Brit who’s appeal draws megastars – and who each night hosts more of a cocktail party than a late show.
And then there’s what Corden modestly calls their digital outreach: highly-produced segments designed more to break the internet, than travel through it.
Bill Whitaker: Tell me about some of the sketches that have caught on. Spill Your Guts.
James Corden: Spill Your Guts or Fill Your Guts. yeah There is a common thread in all of these. And all of these are about showing the human being inside this very, very famous person. That’s actually what it is.
Nowhere is it truer than in the front seat of James Corden’s Range Rover. A few years ago, you would have been forgiven for not knowing what Carpool Karaoke is – today you have no excuse.
James Corden: (LAUGH) Carpool Karaoke– the core of it really isn’t the songs. The core of it is the intimacy of the interview. That these are some of the most famous people on Planet Earth. You know, the– the– the biggest singers in the world and they’re in an– environment which is completely humanizing.
James Corden turned a guileless invitation to drive around Los Angeles into something he hangs the show on. Each carpool is a viral ‘sure-bet,’ sometimes taking an entire day to produce and often outpacing his TV audience by 100 million views. Notable, because at first, nobody wanted to do it.
Bill Whitaker: It was hard to get them to get in your car?
James Corden: Hard, are– you’re joking, of course it was. Imagine getting that call. (LAUGH) You’re, like, Adele’s publicist. Like, “Yeah, so it’s a host whose show is completely unproven. They’ve never hosted a show before. We’d love you to just get in a car and drive around and sing your songs. And we’re not really sure about the insurance on this one.” You know, It was crazy. I mean, we managed to get Mariah Carey and I will always be indebted to her for saying yes. So I genuinely honestly don’t know if we’re having this conversation if she hadn’t said yes. I think it’s that important to our show.
Bill Whitaker: Do you have a favorite?
James Corden: Well, there’s– there’s so many. I mean, the– the — doing it with Paul McCartney will probably take some beating from me personally. It was just a– just a day I’ll never, ever forget.
Bill Whitaker: What sticks out in your mind about that day?
James Corden: All of it.
James Corden: Sometimes I think if that was an auction prize what would it go for, you know, and I’m at work. What?
And like so many other segments, Corden’s carpool with the Beatle has brought a smile and a song to more than 56 million people who’ve watched it online.
James Corden: It’s really the– the bedrock of– of what our show is built on. But I think when the show started we were in, I don’t know, eight or ten countries. And I think now we’re in over 100 countries. It’s utterly bemusing to me how far that reaches.
Bill Whitaker: This is like a cultural phenomenon.
James Corden: I just– yeah, I– I– I’m– I’m– I’m– (LAUGH) you’re making me feel incredibly British (LAUGH) by not being able to even look you in the eye (LAUGH) during a compliment or any kind of recognition of success. (LAUGH)
Corden grew up an hour outside of London. The only son of working-class parents – his mother was a social worker and his father, a musician and Bible salesman. Corden was scarcely interested in academics – drama class being the exception.
James Corden: I got a B in drama and a C in home economics, which I think is clear to you that those are the only– if you look at me now, those are really t– (LAUGHTER) two things I took a primary interest in, which is performing and eating. (LAUGH).
Bill Whitaker: You talk about– often about the– the struggle you have had with eating and with your weight.
James Corden: Yeah.
Bill Whitaker: And you were bullied because of– of your weight in school.
James Corden: I don’t look back at my time at school that–that I was bullied because of my size in truth that’s probably where all of that faux confidence comes from. It was all a defense mechanism of like, well, I’ll be the biggest target in the room. Bullies don’t like that. Bullies’– confidence is, like, kryptonite to bullies.
James Corden’s confidence was equal to his ambition. At 17 he found his calling and his voice, albeit, with just one line in a musical in London’s West End. He was a working actor for much of his 20s, but big lead roles were elusive, so he decided to write the part for himself, co-creating and starring in one of the U.K.’S most popular TV comedies, “Gavin and Stacey.” It won him awards and made him famous in the U.K. At 34, Corden married Julia Carey, they’re now raising three children in Los Angeles – because Hollywood came calling after his performance on Broadway in the slapstick one man, “Two Guvnors.” It won him a Tony Award for best actor and grabbed the attention of American critics and television executives alike.
James Corden: It was glorious. Doing that show and playing that role. And– and I can really chart sort of everything that’s happened in my professional life as everything before that play and everything that happened after that play.
And there’s a lot to consider, the lastest is a glitzy musical adapted from Broadway about four washed-up theatre actors attempting a comeback through celebrity activism. “The Prom” premieres on Netflix December 11. With big numbers and spectacular sets, the film shows off Corden’s talents for what he calls his ‘other career’ – a deep love of acting and performing.
Bill Whitaker: So many of your fans have never seen you do the song-and-dance routine.
James Corden: You know, When I took the job as the host of “The Late Late Show,” lots of people told me, “Oh, y– that’s it. You’ll never act again.” So really I was so keen to prove them wrong. That there was a world in which I could do this. And I guess this is a test for that.
The movie features Corden, alongside Andrew Rannels and Oscar winners, Nicole Kidman and the marvelous Meryl Streep. We spoke with her remotely.
Bill Whitaker: So what did you think when you found out– James Corden was going to be a co-star in your film.
Meryl Streep: Well, I was– I was thrilled. I think he’s one of the most preternaturally talented actors– writers, improvisers, musicians. He’s– he’s a quadruple, quintuple threat. – so it’s– it’s fun to work with him. It’s fun to be with him.
Bill Whitaker: How is it that he gets such a wide array of people, in– including people like you, to– to go along with some of the crazy stuff he does on his show?
Meryl Streep: Well, he– you know you’re in safe hands, I think. I don’t– I– he’s not gonna push you over a cliff. It’s like great– great directors– you feel safe with them. And I think– James h– you s– you trust that he’s– he’s got this in hand. Yeah.
At 42, it’s a good bet James Corden will continue to surprise, delight and evolve before our eyes. With a sage understanding of his fickle industry. Corden delights in his success but doesn’t take any of it for granted.
James Corden: I think my job is to care about the show– to– to a ridiculous amount, the beat of it, the tone of it. Until the moment I start hosting it. And then my job is to just only be on a quest for fun. A lifelong, up at dawn, pride-swallowing siege for fun.
Bill Whitaker: I love that.
James Corden: That’s all it’s about, isn’t it? That’s what everything’s about.
Produced by Michael Karzis. Associate producer, Julie Holstein. Broadcast associates, Emilio Almonte and Mabel Kabani. Edited by Craig Crawford.
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