There is a small carved woodblock in James Corden’s new office at the CBS lot that reads “Take time for what matters most.” It’s a gift from his sister and basically the only personal touch — save a framed family photo — in his workspace, even though Corden has been in Los Angeles for months.
“What? You don’t like what I’ve done with the place? I’m looking into it. I’ve got plans for a great office, but my time is better spent at the moment on other things,” Corden told Yahoo in an exclusive interview just 17 days before showtime. “It is not lost on me what a privilege it is to be given such a voice in America, where 10 people know who I am. I don’t intend to waste it, so it is discussions about formats and sets and guests instead of wall art.”
While Corden, who won a Tony in 2012 for his performance in One Man, Two Guvnors, says it was “a big decision” to take a break from acting and writing to take the Late Late Show job, he says “far greater decisions than that were taking an 11-week-old baby and a 3-year-old son away from their grandparents and moving my wife and them to a new country.” Fortunately, though, his son Max seems to be adjusting to life in Southern California quite well. “I was worried about how my son is going to get on at school and I asked the other day, ‘How are you enjoying it buddy? Is it good?’ And he just went, ‘It’s so fun. We get to be outside all of the time, Dada.’ And you’re like, ‘Oh, of course, because the weather is so great here.’ And that just wasn’t the case in England. So it has to work. I owe it to them.”
So the Baker from the Oscar-nominated Into the Woods, who actually had gone to CBS to pitch a sitcom when he was offered the Late Late Show hosting spot, put his head down and went to work with the show’s new producers Ben Winston and Rob Crabbe, and the new band leader Reggie Watts (Comedy Bang! Bang!), to reconfigure the show to play to his singing-and-dancing strengths and extremely charming personality. Unlike many of his competitors, he did not hone his skills in stand-up, although he created, wrote, and starred in the wildly hilarious and popular series Gavin & Stacey.
“No one was more surprised I got this job than me. I’ve never interviewed anyone, and when I got it, I’d never even been on an American talk show,” says the High Wycombe native. “These shows in particular are bred on familiarity and are never great straight away ever. Not even when you include the best hosts in the world. So much of it will be about an element of discovery for the audience. I hope we can find our place within the crowd and our audience. But that’s going to take time.”
His anonymity, lack of experience, and foreign citizenship have provided the team with some freedom to start from scratch. “I didn’t grow up watching Johnny Carson, Dick Cavett, Letterman, Leno. No disrespect; they just weren’t on in Britain. My heroes growing up were Michael Parkinson, Terry Wogan, Jonathan Ross, Graham Norton,” says Corden, adding that the set is entirely new (there’s a bar!) and that he will imitate Norton’s format of bringing all of the guests to the couch at the same time. “We will absolutely respect all the traditions of late night 100 percent, but the fact that all those things are not on my radar and engrained in my process is freeing and the prestige of that won’t weigh us down. The greatest thing I could overhear someone saying about the show is ‘I don’t know what it will be like tonight.’”
That isn’t to say that if something is just not clicking with viewers, that he will dig in his heels just to be different. “No one has a right to have a TV show. If your show is not fulfilling your audience’s requirements, they’re not wrong — you are. We’d be mad not to listen. It would be ridiculously bullish to hear people aren’t liking it but go, ‘Well, they hate us, but who cares?’” he says, admitting that he already expects that tweaks will likely need making. “We could prep the show for a year, but we will learn more in the first two weeks of doing the show than we could in that year. The only thing I can guarantee is, fly or fall, it is going to be interesting.”
He’s praying for fly because he has also, like his son, grown quite fond of living in California. “They make the f—king Simpsons here. You can’t argue with that. Larry Sanders and Seinfeld. Great bands, great comedians, good weather, brilliant people. The traffic is mental, but I like driving.” So it’s safe to say he’s been drinking the California kale-aid? “Funny you should mention that. I do like a good cold-pressed juice. I’m well into that stuff. Juice Served Here has one called a Cream Party,” Corden says. Noting the involuntary giggle at the drink’s name, Corden launches into a bit: “You’re disgusting. It is just coconut milk. Don’t make it weird. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a couple of mates sitting down to have Cream Parties. ‘You guys want to have a Cream Party? Do you want to taste my Cream Party?’ Nope, not hearing it.”
Joking aside, Corden promises the Late Late Show team is doing everything in their power to produce a talk show worth watching in an already crowded market. “Whether people watch it or not, it’s not going to be for lack of trying to make a show that feels unique, organic, and fun. If we can pull that off sooner rather than later, we have a real chance at being a great place to be for your last hour of the day.”
It is obvious the pressure is on, but Corden is still able to take a step back and exhale. “If I allow myself to think about it too much, it is not good for me. So I just have to Google Earth myself every time and recognize that these are high-class problems. It’s a high-class problem to go, ‘Oh man, my late night TV show didn’t work. Back to the drawing board.’”
The Late Late Show With James Corden airs weekdays at 12:35 a.m. on CBS.