James Corden has convinced everyone from Adele to Tom Hanks to sing along to their favorite songs in Carpool Karaoke, a recurring segment on The Late Late Show with James Corden. He even stole the show at the 2017 Grammys. But somehow, the British actor and performer has never publicly revealed his go-to karaoke song. Until now. Here, Corden explains his favorite songs to perform, talks about how he ended up hosting The Late Late Show, and more.
What was the first thing you auditioned for?
Oh, man, my first audition, I think I was about seven or eight, and I auditioned for The Sound of Music, The Settlers. I did not get it.
Did you get nervous?
Uh, I still get nervous now. I’m nervous right now.
Really? You don’t seem nervous.
I don’t – I like nerves. I think nerves are good. I think you’re only ever nervous if you want to do your best.
Do you remember a time in your life that you didn’t want to perform?
I can’t remember a time where I didn’t want to perform. I can’t remember a time ever. There was nothing else. People would often say oh, you need something to fall back on and I would think well, that’s just contemplating failure. And I think you can’t do that, you know. My parents have been nothing but encouraging to me from minute one really, you know. They encouraged me to pursue this in the same manner that they could encourage me to pursue it if I wanted to be a plumber. All my mum and dad ever wanted was for me to find the thing that I enjoyed the most and pursue that. And when it became clear that there was just no other, this was all I ever wanted to do, was perform in some capacity, then they were nothing but supportive. And they’re as supportive today as they were when I was at school. It’s a difficult conversation to have with your parents when you say, “You know those grandchildren you really love? We’re gonna move them 12 hours away. ‘Cause we think it would be the right thing to do for our life,” and they go, “yeah, if that’s what you think, do it.”
What was the first play or musical you remember seeing?
The first time I remember going to the theatre, I went to see a musical called Me and My Girl in the West End, with Gary Wilmot, who is an incredible actor. I can remember vividly things that happened in the show and thinking, “Oh, I’d like to do that.”
I stopped having birthday parties when I was about nine, because we didn’t have much money and all I wanted was to go to the theatre. Theatre tickets are not cheap, so my parents said look, if you want to go to the theatre on your birthday and that be your present, we also can’t have a party, which I didn’t mind.
In 2004, you were cast in the play The History Boys, which later became a movie. Would you say that was the turning point for you professionally?
It was my first play. We did 496 performance of The History Boys in, I think, 26 months. The History Boys was certainly a turning point in my career, but not in the manner that I think that you’re saying because The History Boys actually was a time where I remember thinking, “Oh, I need to try and start creating stuff on my own.” ‘Cause there was, like, eight boys in the show and we were all at a similar point in our careers and they would all get these incredible scripts for, you know, Spielberg movies or big HBO shows. And I would get, like, the guy who drops off a TV to Hugh Grant or, like, a sort of bubbly guy who works at a newsstand.
I remember thinking oh, these decisions are only being made on the way that I look. It felt like the world of entertainment, if you like, was saying, “Oh, no, we were thinking you’re quite good, but people don’t really, you know, people aren’t interested in people who look like you.” So whilst we were doing History Boys, me and my friend, Ruth Jones, decided to write a TV show, [Gavin & Stacey]. So The History Boys was massive in every way of my life. My closest friends are still part of that show. I’m more proud of that play or I’m as proud of that play as I am of anything in my career.
So how did One Man, Two Guvnors happen?
One Man, Two Guvnors was a play that I did at the National Theatre and then the West End and on Broadway, and that came about, I think it was in 2010. I remember where I was. I was in London in Covent Garden. Sir Nicholas Hytner, the artistic director of the National Theatre, called me and he said, “Do you want to do a play next year at the National?” And I said, “Are you gonna direct it?” And he said, “Yes.” And I said, “Yes.” And he said, “Do you not wanna know what it is?” And I said, “I don’t really care. If it’s you –“ That’s just not ever anything you should say no to if you’re looking to be a better actor or performer. So he said, “I’m gonna get Richard Bean to write a new version of this Carlo Goldoni farce called A Servant to Two Masters.”Being in that play changed my life. It’s not even up for debates that I would not be sat here talking to you right now had I not been in that play.
Being in that play is without question the hardest thing I’ve ever done from a work perspective – it just hurt. It physically hurt, like, now that I do this late night show, people will say to me, “Ah, you must be so tired.” And I think this is nothing. This is nothing compared to eight shows a week on Broadway. I think it will take some beating to be the most enjoyable and best part of my career. There were moments doing that play where I can genuinely remember thinking if I could stay in this moment, right now, for the rest of my life, I would.
And that lead to The Late Late Show with James Corden, which you’ve hosted since 2015. How did that come about?
Les Moonves, my boss and the CEO of the CBS Television Corporation, had seen me in a play, along with then president of the network, Nina Tassler. And unbeknown to me, they had hatched a plan to try to get me to be on their network. But originally, I was writing a sitcom. I’d come to America and pitched an idea for a TV show that I had. And to my absolute surprise the five networks that I pitched it to had all said that they would like to make a pilot. And I decided to make the show for HBO. It was what I was gonna do and I was also just in the midst of considering doing – I was gonna do a musical on Broadway. I was gonna do A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and Les, I think was quite annoyed that I’d chosen to make it for HBO.
So I went to meet him to tell him why I didn’t feel like he should be annoyed and actually I was doing him a favor ‘cause he was never, ever gonna pick up the show that I was writing to be on his network. And we got talking about Stephen Colbert had just been announced as the host, taking over from Letterman, and Craig Ferguson had just said he was stepping down. And I told them that I felt like this presents them with a real opportunity because Stephen is such an incredible, safe pair of hands and is gonna make such a great show. You’ve got an opportunity to take a risk in the show afterwards because there’s no point in making one unless you’re gonna make a show that will embrace the internet and embrace that generation and embrace the way that people consume their television now, which is occasionally through a conventional television, but more often than not, on their phone or their iPod or their computer somewhere. And I didn’t really feel like I was pitching for the show. I felt like we were just sort of talking and then that afternoon, they asked if I would like to be the host of the show and I said no.
You said no?
I just didn’t feel like it was what I should be doing really and then it was quite instant. The more I thought about it and the more I sat with my wife, who was pregnant at the time, and we had a three year old son, the more I felt like actually I’m being really silly here. Here’s someone offering me an opportunity to be in one place in America and just be creative every day, which is all I’ve ever really wanted to do. All I really wanna do is just be creative every day, to create in some capacity, and you don’t always feel like you’re doing that when you’re filming stuff. So then I went to Johannesburg to film a show that I had written for the BBC and I was filming in a prison, on my birthday and Facetiming my son. And I just thought this is crazy. You should really think about this job and so luckily they hadn’t moved on or found anyone else. So I said all right, I’ll do it.
Were you super nervous about that?
Oh, man, it was f**king terrifying. It’s all terrifying, just moving countries is terrifying, let alone doing a show like this where you’re starting so far below zero, like, I’m well aware that when it got announced that I was doing the show, the first thing that most people did was Google, “Who is James Corden.” It felt like it was a real uphill struggle and one that I thought we wouldn’t actually win. I genuinely thought this was something that would be a great adventure and canceled within a year, like, genuinely it’s what I thought. We rented furniture. I didn’t even let us buy – I would say to my wife, we’re just not buying a couch or anything ‘cause we’ll just have to sell it and that’ll be a nightmare.
Have you now bought the couch?
Yeah, yeah, we have.
What has been the most surprising thing about American audiences to you?
I think the biggest thing I’ve realized doing this show in America is that I live in Los Angeles and I don’t think that that is particularly representative of America. So that’s what I feel that I can very rarely get my head around the vastness of the country and the differences in the country and the absolutely left and the right. I find it’s very strange ‘cause that’s absolutely what’s happening at home right now at the moment as well, the left are pulling the left further left and the right are pushing the right further right. And actually, the only way you could really figure things out right now, at this time, at this moment, in this planet is, is for everyone to be slightly more centrist, for everyone to just go actually split party politics is the stupidest idea, if you think about it. It makes zero sense.
What you need is a greater sense of togetherness, but if politicians aren’t doing that, if news organizations aren’t doing that, then how can you ever try and do that. So what I feel we try to do on our show is, is to try as best we can. Try and find that sort of middle ‘cause neither is right. It’s ridiculous to each other and actually there’s a world in which it could be wonderful.
Carpool Karaoke is a hit segment from your show, but do you have an actual karaoke song that’s you sang before you started carpool karaoke?
My karaoke song can differ. The important thing with karaoke is you gotta read the mood of the room. It’s not about you. It’s about the mood of the room and that’s where people get it wrong. ‘Cause actually no one really wants someone to go up and sing an amazing version of “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston. Do you know what I mean? But there is a world in which that could be wonderful. So I tend to veer towards, like, “Crocodile Rock”, Elton John, because it’s just a crowd pleaser; “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen; and “Mandy” by Barry Manilow. I don’t know the last time you listened to “Mandy” by Barry Manilow. It’s the best f**king pop song that’s ever been written. It’s incredible.
Do you sing in the shower?
I don’t sing in the shower. I’m almost silent. I’m some sort of mute, I never sing in the shower. I don’t also get the appeal of singing in the shower, because I consider the shower to be a place where I’m really just trying to get myself clean, wake up, and enjoy the three minutes that my children aren’t going, “Dad, dad.” And that happens during the shower and it makes me question when is the time in my children’s life where I start to cover my penis, ‘cause my son’s six and my daughter’s two. And now they’ll just open the shower door and go, “Dad, have you seen my whatever,” and I don’t ever go, “Oh, I should cover my penis.” But when is it in my children’s life where I am gonna take that on board? I don’t know. I hope I’ll know the moment.
What is your secret skill?
I’m not a bad cook, you know. I’m all right at it. If you were to come to my house, I would serve you a pretty good beef wellington. I joke with my wife sometimes that I will only serve stuff in our house that I believe to be restaurant quality. If you’re gonna do an avocado on toast, let’s do a proper avocado on toast. Let’s poach an egg, salt and pepper. Let’s get a little radish in there. I enjoy cooking. I do a good roast chicken. In a world where I sort of sometimes fantasize about just opening a sandwich shop. Maybe my life would be so much easier if I just had a sandwich shop and that’s what I do.
Do you have a favorite sandwich?
Actually I’m a simple guy. Like, I like a good, like, turkey club, you know.
Royals 2017: Why Pharrell Williams, Winona Ryder, Tracee Ellis Ross and More Are the Role Models of Today
Winona Ryder wears Fendi dress; Angela Friedman bra; M&S Schmalberg brooch; Fogal tights; Gucci shoes. Beauty: Chantecaille.
Tilda Swinton wears Loewe jacket, shirt, and pants. Beauty: Chanel.
Hailee Steinfeld wears Valentino dress. Beauty: Maybelline.
Tracee Ellis Ross wears Vetements dress. Beauty: Lâncome.
Saoirse Ronan wears Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello shirt and pants. Beauty: Nars.
Chris Hemsworth wears Boss shirt and pants; his own belt and necklace. Grooming: Hugo Boss.
Pharrell Williams wears Sacai shirt; Bulgari necklace (top); his own necklace. Grooming: Giorgio Armani.
Robert Pattinson wears Dior Homme turtleneck; Haider Ackermann pants. Grooming: Dior Homme.
James Corden wears Ann Demeulemeester shirt and hat. Grooming: Neutrogena.
Jared Leto wears Gucci jacket, shirt, and pants; M&S Schmalberg brooch; Artemas Quibble belt. Grooming: Gucci.
New Royalty: Movie Star
My first kiss was on set. It was my very first film as well. My character really liked this boy, and she didn’t know if he noticed her. In the end she got to kiss him. At that time, I was only 11 years old, and not ready to kiss a boy. I asked the director, “How long do you want me to kiss him? How many seconds?” And the director said, “Three seconds.” So while kissing, I counted in my head. Every single take I was like, One, two, three. And then: “Okay, kill, cut!” I definitely suffered for art.
Ronan wears a Louis Vuitton top, cape, and shoes; Falke tights.
Classic Royalty: Movie Star
Is there anything that scares you? I’m not easily scared, and I’m wary of being bored. I think risk-taking is a subjective thing. One person’s risk is another one’s comfort zone. And, to be honest, I’m too lazy to get easily scared. Maybe I’ve got a bit of my brain missing, but I love not knowing what I’m doing next. What about when it comes to clothes? Did you always have a fashion-forward outlook? Again, what somebody might think of as unusual is, to me, supercomfortable, inspiring, and interesting. I’ve never truly been that aware of fashion; I’m interested in style.
Swinton wears a Haider Ackermann shirt; Alexander Calder necklace from Stephen Russell, New York.
New Royalty: Renaissance Person
Where do you get your ideas? The shower is a frequent place. Actually, near any running water—whether it’s the faucet or the shower. And sometimes I get ideas on a plane because of the sound deprivation.
Do you record your ideas on your phone? I just hold on to them. The best way to remember something is if you home in on the excitement. That you don’t forget.
Is there a song that makes you cry? It’s been maybe 10 years since I heard something that made me cry. There is an old Donny Hathaway song called “Take a Love Song,” and it would make me emotional. But I think I was eating a lot of weed candy at the time, so that may have pushed me over the edge.
Whom do you consider Royal? Wes Anderson. I love what he does. Bill Murray running from a playground in Rushmore made me very happy. Anderson’s composition is amazing: his color, the music that he uses. I’m not an actor, but, in a heartbeat, I would just walk by or whatever he asked me to do in one of his films.
Williams wears a Chanel jacket and necklace; G-Star pants; Adidas Originals = Pharrell Williams shoes; his own shirt, belt, bracelets, ring, watch, and socks.
Classic Royalty: Renaissance Person
When did you start dancing? When I was 3. I loved it. I did recitals and I loved being onstage. I particularly loved the collective mind of the audience. Applause was nice, but I liked the silence of the audience better. The silence means, Oh, my! You have their rapt attention.
MacLaine wears an Akris turtleneck.
Classic Royalty: Activist
I came to New York in the ’70s to become president of Planned Parenthood. It was a time of great difficulty for the city—and for the country—but also one when women made tremendous progress toward being in control of their lives and their bodies. My position allowed me to be a spokesperson for women in the midst of the great changes that were taking place and the turmoil that occurred as a result of them. Today, 40 years later, the continuing opposition to Planned Parenthood comes from people who want to roll back the clock.
Wattleton wears a Row coat; Vhernier earrings; Verdura necklace.
New Royalty: Activist
When I was 11, my parents gave me an iPhone. I think it shaped who I am as a person because I had access to everything very, very early on. But now I’m 18 and I have gotten rid of it. I was worried about the mental-health effects it was having on me. The phone was taking over my life. I felt like I was floating away, and part of that had to do with being in a virtual world without any tangible substance. I felt like I was always refreshing Instagram instead of refreshing my life.
Stenberg wears a Prada top; Buccellati earrings.
New Royalty: Renaissance Person
To me, Paula Abdul is royalty. I just saw her live, and the whole time I was watching her, I was hitting the person next to me and saying, “Oh. My. God. Yes!” I’m late to the game, but Paula Abdul is completely amazing.
Steinfeld wears an Yves Salomon coat; Nili Lotan dress; Mahnaz Collection ring; Lynn Ban earring.
New Royalty: Renaissance Person
There were eight boys in The History Boys, and we were all at a similar point in our careers. The other seven would get incredible scripts for Spielberg movies or big HBO shows, and I would get a one-page script for the guy who drops off a TV for Hugh Grant. I remember thinking, These decisions are being made based on the way I look. I realized then and there that I needed to try and start creating stuff on my own. And I did.
Corden wears a Berluti jacket; Burberry shirt; Balenciaga scarf.
New Royalty: Society
The notion of being born into the right stratosphere no longer exists. More and more, young people want to dedicate their lives to doing something meaningful that has a positive effect on the world. That’s what is valued now—not your name or your lineage.
Bush Lauren wears a Ralph Lauren shirt; Zimmerli of Switzerland tank; Hermès scarves; Vicki Turbeville earrings; vintage bracelet from Stazia Loren, New York.
Classic Royalty: Society
You got involved with God’s Love We Deliver during the ’80s AIDS epidemic. It was a terrible time. We delivered meals to people who were sick. A lot of my friends thought I had lost my mind. There was so much fear.
How did you meet Robert Trump? At a fundraiser. We were married in 1984. But years later things changed, and, in 2007, we divorced.
Did you go to your former brother-in-law’s presidential inauguration? Yes. It was kind of an out-of-body experience. [Laughs] It’s like, Am I really here? I went to all the balls, and there was a wonderful small lunch, and Donald and Melania were there. She looked beautiful.
Is it strange to see your last name everywhere? Yes—very, very strange. I mean, forget paying with a credit card. It’s always, “Are you related?” It never ends.
Trump wears a Chloé dress; David Webb earrings.
New Royalty: Model
I always go into a zone when I’m posing for a photographer. I like to try and get into whatever character is wanted for the photos. For this shoot, I tried to be kind of vulnerable and soft because I can be quite hard with my resting bitch face. I wanted to look innocent, but mysterious. And royal. Very royal.
Aboah wears a Calvin Klein 205W39NYC dress; Stephen Russell earrings; Vhernier bracelets; her own rings.
Classic Royalty: Model
What is your secret skill? Fucking.
Fucking? Mm-hmmm. It’s an awfully good thing to be good at, no? And it goes on forever, guys and girls. You should remember that.
Hutton wears a Row coat.
Classic Royalty: Superhero
My first audition was for some random sort of commercial. I remember walking in and having to tell them about myself, and none of it was very interesting because I never got those jobs. My first regular acting gig was on a soap opera called Home and Away. I did that for three and a half years, and I went through every melodramatic tragedy that one can go through: plane crashes, fires, robberies, landslides. I had three different kids with three different women. And my character was 19 for three years. I never had a birthday. Never aged.
Hemsworth wears a Boss jacket, shirt, and pants; Western Spirit bolo tie; stylist’s own belt.
New Royalty: Superhero
I don’t fuck with karaoke. I tried it once, and it was the biggest disaster. The song I bombed on was “Eye of the Tiger.” It was at a wedding, in front of hundreds of people. The only line of the song that I knew was “eye of the tiger,” so I just mumbled, and it was awful. Deep shame. Now I stick to singing my own songs onstage with my band, Thirty Seconds to Mars. There are some things you just know you’re not good at.
Leto wears an Ann Demeulemeester shirt; Gucci pants; Mikimoto pearls; his own ring and necklace.
New Royalty: Television
As a boy, I was very, very sensitive. Ever the emotional young thing. In eighth grade, a drama teacher put me in a play, and I got really involved with theater. Within a year, all the kids who were making fun of me were my allies. I remember thinking, Instead of being a weird guy in the corner of the classroom, now I’m the weird guy that everyone has to pay attention to! And, like, Wow—maybe someone will kiss me!
Middleditch wears a Prada shirt; Coach 1941 pants; Artemas Quibble belt; Calvin Klein 205W39NYC boots.
Classic Royalty: Television
Since signing on to Stranger Things, I’ve become a binge-watcher of TV. My favorite show is The Americans. It’s brilliant, and Keri Russell is just mind-blowing. I watched the entire last season all at once, and I was crushed when it ended. I met Keri, and I was like, “What’s going to happen?!” I had turned into a fan-geek. But she wouldn’t tell me. Everyone in TV has to keep things a big secret—which I’m learning.
Ryder wears a Dior dress and hat.
New Royalty: Movie Star
I didn’t think I could play Dr. Dre in Straight Outta Compton. I was asked to audition, and I remember saying no because I didn’t want to be the one to mess it up. I was nervous because it was Dr. Dre. And now, after the film, I walk down the street and people ask, “Is that Dr. Dre?” Nobody did that before Compton. Now everybody does it.
Hawkins wears a Giorgio Armani jacket, shirt, and pants; Tom Ford shoes.
Classic Royalty: Movie Star
What was your first acting job? When I was 15 or 16, I was cast as Reese Witherspoon’s son in the film Vanity Fair. I went to the screening, and no one had informed me that I had been cut from the film. But the casting director felt so guilty that she gave me a first run at the part of Cedric in Harry Potter, which I booked. So, in the end, I was quite glad to have been cut from Vanity Fair.
How did you prepare for your role as a bank robber on the run in Good Time? I stayed in character for several days and got a job at a car wash. I wanted to change myself so that people would not be able to recognize me for the whole shoot. And it worked. We were filming in a packed subway at rush hour; I was directed by text message, and no one could tell we were making a movie. Not one person took a cell-phone picture, which would have ruined the whole thing. It was great to not be recognized.
Pattinson wears a Berluti jacket; Charvet scarf.
Classic Royalty: Television
After Everybody Loves Raymond ended, it wasn’t hard to say no to other sitcom offers. This sounds awful, but I had all the money I needed, my wife had all the money she needed, and creatively I wanted to do other things. I thought, Suddenly I have time, I have money, I have a bit of fame, and this is going to be fun. After three months, it wasn’t fun anymore. I had a kind of emotional breakdown until I started creating the next show. People ask me sometimes, “How do you keep going?” And I like to say, “I have to keep moving, or I catch up with myself.”
Romano wears a Balenciaga shirt.
New Royalty: Television
Your mom is Diana Ross. Did you ever borrow her clothes? I’m not going to lie: It was more like stealing. One time, she left the house and I saw her car go down the driveway. I marched myself into her bathroom and started taking clothes. I liked to put them in my closet and live with them as if they were mine. Just as I was loading up, my mom walked into the bathroom. She said, “What are you doing?!” I was like, “I’m organizing your closet for you!” To this day, I visit her closet and call it shopping.
Ross wears an Alexander McQueen dress; Gianvito Rossi shoes.