The action is all real. We could not afford doubles ; THE BIG INTERVIEWOnce accused of acting like a spoiled brat, James Corden has turned his reputation around, winning some of theatre's top 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 James, 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 ungraciously 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 Matt 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 James 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 Kevin Spacey's hit drama House Of Cards.
"I'm really thrilled, but you do wonder whether they've really thought it through," says James, chuckling. "There'll be posters everywhere and people will go, 'Who are these two?'" James 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 Matthew (a familiar face from CBBC's Horrible Histories) 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 James, who has a two-yearold son, Max, with wife Julia.
James plays Phil Bourne, a mailman at a county council office who lives with his mum but craves excitement and adventure.
Matthew stars as Sam, the only person who puts up with Phil, but who 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.
James and his wife Julia The premise is not unlike Simon Pegg and Nick Frost's Cornetto movie 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 James, who notes that he and Matthew were never interested in making a movie.
"I think of The Wrong Mans as a film, a film that you've seen. The thrill for us, and the motivation, was that we didn't know if it could exist as a six-part, half-hour comedy."
Early on, he and Matthew, 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 big a canvas as we can', so we would put in very specific details about the car," says James, 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 James. "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 that 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 James. "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, James 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."
The Wrong Mans begins on BBC Two on Tuesday, and One Chance is released on Friday, October 25.
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