“Nobody Loves a Narcissist”: How Did America Fall in Love with James Corden?
In the opening act of Ryan Murphy’s sickening 2020 musical film Prom, Broadway stars Barry Glickman (James Corden) and Dee Dee Allen (Meryl Streep) face humiliating news. Their musical Eleanor Roosevelt received a quick kick from critics. âIt’s not the show, it’s you two. You’re just not sympathetic, âpublicist Sheldon Saperstein (Kevin Chamberlin) said, delivering a blunt truth about showbiz. “No one likes a narcissist.”
James Corden’s bank manager wouldn’t agree. It was reported this week that the Late show the host has been offered Â£ 7million to extend his talk show participation until 2024 – and that’s in addition to the two big-budget movies he’ll star in this year: a 2018 sequel Peter Rabbit and a new adaptation of Cinderella. To his credit, Corden has never been shy about his own narcissistic tendencies. In his autobiography, published ten years ago when he was 32 and knowingly titled May I have your attention please?Corden explained that it was by behaving badly during a baptism at the age of four that he first learned an important lesson about his own psyche. “If people are looking at me, and only me,” he wrote, “it’s amazing.”
Part of him may have been thrilled, then, with the social media response to the first trailer for Cinderella. Although he only made a fleeting appearance in the midst of a star-studded cast, he was undoubtedly the one people were watching. “How is it that James Cord [sic] is in everything? one Twitter user grumbled, in a post that has been liked nearly seven thousand times. “What is he doing? I don’t understand.
In the case of Cinderella, there is actually a pretty simple explanation: it’s his movie. The new version would have been “conceived and developed from an original idea of ââJames Corden”, although the French author Charles Perrault, who wrote Cinderella in the 17th century, one might ask how we define “original idea”. In addition to producing the film, Corden is also credited as one of the writers of the updated story. With that in mind, his decision to just present himself as one of the three mice / footmen seems downright non-narcissistic. Fans of Cinderella unhappy at the prospect of her presence can at least thank their fairy godmothers that he didn’t write himself in the lead role of Buttons.
Corden’s rise to Hollywood star producer status may well surprise those in Britain who were very happy to see him behind him when he left home to take over. The late show by Craig Ferguson in 2015. At the time, stand-up comedian Stewart Lee summed up the mood of many with this memorable line: âThe loss of Britain is also the loss of America.
At this point in his career, Corden was suffering from what one could generously describe as “overexposure.” He had been playing professionally since 1996, with leading roles including a student role in the Channel 4 books. Teachers and a Tango commercial, but his breakthrough came with a key role in the ITV drama Big friends, which ran from 2000 to 2005, and a winning spin in Alan Bennett’s The boys of the story. Corden created the role of Timms in May 2004 when Bennett’s play debuted at the Royal National Theater, and he was one of the original actors who returned for the 2006 film adaptation. It remains one of his best. and the most charming on-screen performances, though you never would have guessed back then that Corden would be the cast member who would someday have his face plastered on billboards across Los Angeles. The New York Times the exam grants Corden just a two-word mention, and those words are “overweight” and “clown.”
It was the success of the BBC sitcom Gavin & Stacey, which Corden wrote with his Big friends co-star Ruth Jones, who has proven both her making and her initial downfall. The show, a sweet and heartwarming comedy about ordinary families, grew from 500,000 viewers at the start to 10 million viewers by the end of its broadcast. This made Corden a household name across Britain and was a hit with critics and awards shows, but success quickly rose to his head. He admitted it in his autobiography, reflecting on the 2008 night he won a TV Bafta for Best Comedic Performance, while Gavin & Stacey won the audience award. Accepting the second prize, Corden used his time on the podium to complain that Gavin & Stacey was also not nominated for best sitcom. âInstead of applause, I was greeted with silence, shock and disbelief,â he wrote in 2011. âNow of course I can see why and what it must have been like – ungracious, ungrateful and villainous. Rather than using my speech to thank everyone who had helped on the show, I had wasted the moment and belittled myself in the process.
It would have been one thing if Corden’s displays of naughty arrogance had been limited to glitzy award parties, but soon after that same attitude manifested itself in his work as well. Given carte blanche by the BBC to develop a new sketch show, he delivered Horne & Corden, a collaboration with Gavin & Stacey co-star Mathew Horne, who has been universally exhausted (the New statesman captured the general mood: “The result is excruciating – as funny and as childish as a sixth grade review”). The pair followed this up with the equally repulsive horror comedy Lesbian vampire slayers. In March 2009, in an article titled “James Corden: The Backlash Begins”, this newspaper was led to ask: “After an arrogant turn at the Baftas and a panning for his last sketch show, is the tide turning towards the shiny new comedy star?
This article ends by acknowledging that Corden got the message. “Once promised this film (Lesbian vampire slayers) is out of the way, we’re really going to go, âCorden reportedly said. “We can go for it a bit and hopefully resurface later.” Corden not only kept his word, but stepping away from television at that point turned out to be the smartest decision of his career. In 2011, he returned to the stage in Richard Bean’s One man, two governors and produced a superlative performance that saw him locate a nuance under his usual emphasis. When the play hit Broadway, Corden won the Tony Award for Best Actor. This led to him being cast in the 2014 Rob Marshall film about the Stephen Sondheim musical. In the woods, which put him in front of all the good executives in Hollywood as CBS launched their search for a new host for The late show.
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Despite his success on Broadway, when Corden accepted this high-profile TV gig, he was still an unknown amount to most American viewers. In an exciting 2015 preview for the show in the US edition of GQCorden has been bizarrely portrayed as a “British comedy actor and writer (say, John Oliver crossed with Chris Farley)”. (Maybe not ?)
What Corden needed was a brilliant idea with which to win over uncertain Americans. He had just what was needed. In 2011, Corden filmed a sketch for Comic Relief that featured him as Gavin & Stacey‘s Smithy, touring London singing “I’m Your Man” by Wham with George Michael. Corden’s instinct told him the format had legs, and he was right on several occasions. Corden’s third night on March 26, 2015 Late show, Mariah Carey joined him for the very first Carpool Karaoke and a phenomenon was born. Corden has since given lifts to a call from the biggest names in music, including Madonna, Stevie Wonder and Elton John. The Paul McCartney Edition won an Emmy for Best Special Variety. The most popular clip, featuring Adele singing her firecrackers, has now been watched over 240 million times on YouTube.
Needless to say, Corden is no longer an unknown quantity in America. Alison Willmore, film critic at Vulture, tells me that for most viewers in the US, Corden is first and foremost “the Carpool Karaoke guy”. âBecause of the way talk shows work now, it all depends on what stuff they put online,â she says. âRideshare karaoke is absolutely what he’s best known for, and it’s something he owns. Each of the different late night hosts has their own signature, with varying degrees of success in terms of how much people actually love them, but people obviously love Carpool Karaoke. It’s a simple concept that clearly shows the things it’s good at.
Enjoying the weird carpool karaoke wasn’t enough to prepare Willmore for Corden’s appearance as Bustopher Jones in 2019, however. Cats. It is doubtful that anything could have done. In his review for Vulture, she wrote that there is “something magical about the mere fact that this film exists, in all its obscene and absurd wonder, terrible cinematic choices and jaw-dropping bursts of talent.” His criticism was at the more charitable end of the spectrum. Cats holds an aggregate Rotten Tomatoes score of 19%, even lower than Lesbian vampire slayers (28 percent). While it would be unfair to lay much of the blame on Cats on Corden, Willmore points out that this was hardly an advertisement for his musical talents: âFor people who have seen Cats, I don’t know if they were like, “You know, the person in this cast that I would like to see do another musical is James Corden.”
Which brings us back to Cinderella. The film hits Amazon Prime on September 3, and Willmore reassures me that American audiences will be just as puzzled by Corden’s presence as their British counterparts. It’s not that he’s reached the same level of overexposure as he was a decade ago – especially since many viewers still expect him to be the Carpool Karaoke guy. “The Cinderella the musical is already such a weirdness to people, âsays Willmore. âHe has an extremely versatile cast. Corden adds to the “what-the-f *** -ness” of this one. I don’t know if people feel like he’s overexposed as much as they feel likeâ¦ what is he doing the? “
Whether you’re a Corden fan or not, the answer to the eternal question of what he actually does always seems to be the same: more than you might think.