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James Corden rights those wrongs ; Once accused of acting like a spoiled brat, James Corden has turned his reputation around, winning prestigious...

September 21, 2013


James Corden rights those wrongs ; Once accused of acting like a spoiled brat, James Corden has turned his reputation around, winning prestigious awards. SUSAN GRIFFIN speaks to the star about his latest TV project, a comedy thriller already making waves in the States

THERE was a time when James Corden's name was synonymous with petulant arrogance, but it's a modest man sitting before me today following a screening of his latest TV project, The Wrong Mans.

So modest, in fact, that when asked about upcoming projects, he happily mentions One Chance, the film in which he plays Britain's Got Talent winner Paul Potts, but only swiftly references Into The Woods.

It's left to his good friend (and The Wrong Mans co-star and co- writer) Matthew Baynton to mention that the latter movie also stars Meryl Streep and Johnny Depp, no less.

I've not met Johnny yet but I've got all my scenes with Meryl, and we've been rehearsing for a month. It's terrifying and thrilling, admits Corden, who turned 35 in August.

It's a far cry from the man who collected a second award for Gavin & Stacey at the 2008 Baftas and whinged that the show should also have won the Best Comedy gong.

That embarrassment was swiftly followed by the abysmal Horne & Corden sketch show, which he wrote with his Gavin & Stacey co-star, Burton Joyce's Mat Horne, and the equally appalling Lesbian Vampire Killers.

Those failures didn't deter his cockiness though, so it says a lot of the new and improved Corden that he finds the idea of his face adorning promotional banners for The Wrong Mans in America bewilderingly amusing, rather than a given.

While the programme's being broadcast here on BBC Two, in the US it's being shown on streaming site Netflix, which is hyping it as heavily as it did for Kevin Spacey's hit drama House Of Cards.

I'm really thrilled, but you do wonder whether they've really thought it through, says Corden, chuckling. There'll be posters everywhere and people will go, 'Who are these two?' Corden has already made some headway in the States. His performance in One Man, Two Guvnors, which transferred from London's West End [where he won an Olivier award] to Broadway, New York, earned him a Tony Award. He and Baynton wrote the majority of The Wrong Mans in the theatre dressing room.

We had a lot of days where there'd just be long moments of silence, where we'd think someone would hopefully have an idea soon! recalls Corden, who has a two-year-old son, Max, with wife Julia.

Corden plays Phil Bourne, a mailman at a county council office who lives with his mum but craves excitement and adventure.

Baynton stars as Sam, the only person who puts up with Phil, but is himself a lowly office worker whose lack of ambition has caused him to stagnate.

One day, following a chance phone call and a case of mistaken identity, Sam becomes embroiled in a life-or-death conspiracy - and Phil is there to support him all the way.

The premise is not unlike Simon Pegg and Nick Frost's trilogy (Shaun Of The Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World's End) in which ordinary men get caught up in extraordinary situations.

If anyone thought it was the same then we'd be thrilled, but I feel like it's a very different thing, says Corden, who notes that he and Baynton were never interested in making a movie.

Early on, he and Baynton, who met during the making of 2008's Telstar: The Joe Meek Story, talked about how comedy is always made on a small scale, set in houses or bedsits, and decided to embark on writing a pilot that was big and bold.

We wrote 35 pages and thought, 'Let's write it on as a big a canvas as we can', so we would put in very specific details about the car, says Corden, referring to a crash that happens a few minutes into episode one.

The only problem with such an impressive start, though, is making sure the rest of the series is as good.

Jim [Field Smith, the director] said, 'You can't let up now. You can't have a really groovy car crash a minute in and then let the show be about a group of people who work in an office. That has to be the minimum you offer every episode', recalls Corden. He'd just push us to make it bigger and edgier and faster. As a result, the show boasts a multitude of impressive stunts. There's a bit where we jump from one building to another, a bit where we jump from a bridge into a moving train, there's some fire, a big fight scene, a lot of falls. We really enjoyed all those things and it was 100% real. We couldn't afford doubles.

Although The Wrong Mans is being promoted as a comedy thriller, it's not a spoof, and the team found themselves reminding guest actors they weren't making Naked Gun.

We needed the stakes to feel very high, and for the pair to be in real danger, and know that things could go wrong, says Corden. It had to visually sit like that for those jokes to sneak in and cut through those moments. If you took all the jokes out, it still had to work as a drama.

So if it's based on realistic circumstances, Corden surely must have wondered how he'd perform in a real life-or-death situation? All I know is I'd be useless, he says. But I'd give it a shot.

Extra time - The Wrong Mans THE who's who guide to The Wrong Mans: Lizzie (Sarah Solemani) - Sam's ex-girlfriend and new boss who still looks for the best in him. She becomes increasingly exasperated by his irrational behaviour and refusal to explain himself. Linda (Dawn French) - Since the death of her husband, Phil's mum Linda has become used to relying on her son to look after her. In a crisis, however, her former life as a nurse proves remarkably useful.

Stevens (Nick Moran) - He's racked up almost Pounds 1m debts at a local underground casino. This leads to the kidnapping of his wife, Scarlett, and when Sam and Phil get involved, things get a lot worse.

Scarlett (Emilia Fox) - Beautiful and enigmatic, Scarlett's kidnapped by a Chinese gang seeking repayment of her husband's unpaid debts. Her unlikely rescuers, Sam and Phil, soon regret getting involved with her plight.

Cox (Rebecca Front) - Ballsy MI5 boss who's trying to find a way through the tangled conspiracy that sprawls in front of her. The Wrong Mans begins on BBC Two on Tuesday, September 24.

James Corden's film One Chance is released on Friday, October 25.

'There's a bit where we jump from one building to another, a bit where we jump from a bridge into a moving train, there's some fire, a big fight scene, a lot of falls. We really enjoyed all those things and it was In 100% real. We couldn't afford doubles.'

A service of YellowBrix, Inc.

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