Thursday 19 September 2019

One chance after another

James Corden is waiting for the bubble to burst but, for now, he's laughing, writes Stephen Milton

James Corden

Stephen Milton

When, as an adolescent, James Corden enrolled in his local after-school drama club, it was simply a way to keep him entertained and out from under his parents' feet till dinner time.

The tubby youngster never saw it as a stepping stone to stardom and none of the other theatrical acolytes appeared to have that emergent Hollywood sheen – even fellow attendees Eddie Redmayne and Aaron Taylor-Johnson.

"It was called the Jackie Palmer Stage School in High Wycombe," the actor casually explains, surprisingly chipper after a drawn-out day of promotional interviews.

"I did it for five or six years, where we'd put on shows and musicals and the funny thing was, in just little High Wycombe, small-town Buckinghamshire, there was me and Eddie Redmayne and Aaron Johnson all in the same group."

"Isn't that kind of crazy? Eddie was the best choir boy and would always sing Walking in the Air, while Aaron was a good bit younger so he would be dressed as a squirrel doing something in the background.

"And I would be singing Nicely Nicely from Guys and Dolls, doing my thing. It's just funny how it all turns out – that out of a group of not too many kids, there's quite a few there who've done good."

Something of a slight understatement, let's be honest. Redmayne's cherubic vocal stylings landed him a lead in Les Miserables while Taylor-Johnson's penchant for dressing up led to comic-book movie action, Kick-Ass, Godzilla and the forthcoming Avengers follow-up.

And Corden? Well, he's not doing too badly himself. There's his career break as lovable layabout Smithy in Gavin and Stacey; a Tony award for Broadway stage hit One Man, Two Guvnors; hosting duties at the Brits for the last three years, bessie mate status with David Beckham and Harry Styles and a flourishing movie career; his latest role in musical Into the Woods, alongside Meryl Streep and Johnny Depp, solidifying his new Hollywood credentials.

And despite a disastrous alliance with former Gavin and Stacey cohort Mat Horne – which produced their god-awful sketch series, Horne and Corden, and the wholly unnecessary Lesbian Vampire Killers – it seems he's done Jackie Palmer proud.

Not least with his latest undertaking in One Chance, a biopic of Britain's Got Talent winner Paul Potts. From the first moment Pottsy stepped out on stage, all quivering lip and gnarled teeth, delivering a monumental performance of Pavarotti's operatic ditty, Nessun Dorma, it was a triumph for the underdog, a favoured blueprint for show maestro Simon Cowell.

With the performance clocking up 111 million combined hits on YouTube, the mild-mannered Carphone Warehouse manager slaughtered the competition, going on to sing in front of the Queen and shifting over two million copies of his first album, One Chance. When Corden was first approached for the lead role, however, the star had his reservations.

"I had the exact same feeling to it as everybody else does when you first hear they're making a film about the life of Paul Potts.

"You say, 'REALLY. Are you sure you want to do that? A whole film?' I didn't think it was something I wanted to be a part of."

"But then I met [director] David Frankel and he said, 'I don't want to make a film about a guy who won Britain's Got Talent'.

"The movie is about a boy from an industrial port town in Wales who dreams of being an opera singer in a world where no one really listens to opera and, through endless adversity, and the pitfalls that comes his way, he refuses to give up. That two-minute YouTube clip of him singing Nessun Dorma, it's emotional and uplifting and inspiring. Imagine how good that video would be when you've seen everything before, seen everything in that boy's life to get to that point.'

"That had me pretty much sold."

An absorbing, ultimately heartening romp, One Chance follows Paul's inspiring journey, from harangued young dreamer to celebrated chart-topper, via a series of pitfalls and relentless bullying from a young age.

Corden, who last year married Julia Carey, mother of their two-year-old Max, poignantly identified with the torment suffered.

"I don't know anyone who wasn't bullied in school, at some point, and I definitely had my rough times.

"And if you're fat, like I was in school, what I chose to do, which was very different to Paul, was make myself a bigger target; say the things about myself before anybody ever could. And that was how I dealt with it.

"To be honest," he pointedly adds, "I didn't spend that long with Paul, a couple of hours at most because, firstly, he is one incredibly busy man. He's in Korea right now singing at a football match, so my time with him was limited.

"But he really gave us the freedom to exercise our interpretation of his story. Ultimately, there's a small use of artistic licence but, largely, there's a verisimilitude throughout, particularly with the torment he endured. And that's upsetting and rousing at the same time."

Propped on a soft armchair in London's Corinthia Hotel, the 35-year-old is surprisingly svelte in a form-fitting grey cardigan and tie combo. Though, he admits, on winning the Potts role, the diet was somewhat stalled.

"I love food so much and if someone says you're playing Paul Potts in a movie, you're like, 'Okay, bacon sandwich please." Affably relaxed, he's almost completed a full day of promo for One Chance before heading back to nearby Shepperton Studios to resume shooting with Streep and Depp on the Stephen Sondheim musical Into the Woods, an intertwining saga inspired by Grimms' fairy tales. His biggest role to date, Corden is still anxiously waiting for his P45. "I'm desperately trying to hold this job down and not get fired.

"When you're working every day with Meryl Streep, an actor who I can say is one of the few to achieve greatness in her lifetime, you're just waiting for the bubble to burst.

"And it will, there's no doubt about that. These are all transient things and they'll go as quickly as they came. I'm never blasé about any of this."

Squeezing it in while he can, there's an upcoming role with Keira Knightley in John Carney's Can a Song Save Your Life? – "the man's a hero, and I would work with him seven days a week if I could" – before hosting the Brit Awards for the fourth time in a row.

"Well, I'm not definitely doing it. There's a small diary issue but if I do it, it'll be the last time because while it's an amazing job, it's also ridiculously horrible.

"It's the most fun the day before, where you're swanning around an empty O2 and Coldplay are playing for you. But from the moment they say, 'And you're live in five, four...' that's when you cannot breathe.

"Stuff is constantly being cut or there's a problem with the stage and you're ordered, at that moment, to go interview Alt-J. I don't know if you've interviewed Alt-J, but it's a tough one live on ITV.

"But it'll be fun. Maybe I'll bow out with a duet with Gaga."

With a busy year ahead, it seems unlikely we're ever to see a return of Gavin and Stacey, which he penned with co-star Ruth Jones.

"You know, it's really all about time. Time to think about it, time to create something spectacular. It has to be so, so, so good just to be fine, so we'll see. Just a matter of time really."

One Chance is in cinemas today

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