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.