In the Los Angeles Times' Sunday Calendar section this week, I interviewed James Corden, who Monday night (or early Tuesday morning) begins his new job as host of CBS' "The Late Late Show." He's only the fourth person to occupy the job since its debut in 1995, following Tom Snyder, Craig Kilborn and his fellow Briton (now an American citizen) Craig Ferguson.
Corden is a warm and personable presence -- a good start for this job -- and as the first of any of the late-night hosts to have a background in musical theater (you can see him now on the big screen in Disney's "Into the Woods") or to have won a Tony (in 2012, for "One Man, Two Guvnors"), he comes at the job with a different skill set. Just how that will work out, and what the show will become in the fullness of time, no one can know and not even Corden will guess.
"What it is on March 23 is not what it will be, and we can't beat ourselves up too much about it," he told me, "because the very nature of these shows is that they're bred on familiarity and they're bred on connection, and it's impossible to have that straightaway."
His first guests (A-listers, 11:30-quality) are Tom Hanks and Mila Kunis, with Chris Pine, Patricia Arquette, Kevin Hart, Will Ferrell and Modest Mouse later in the week. The brilliant Reggie Watts, of IFC's "Comedy Bang! Bang!" and much else, will lead the band -- a great hire that indicates a willingness to engage with the unpredictable.
In the spirit of talk, as Corden makes the transition from interviewee to interviewer, here are some bonus quotes my Sunday print piece couldn't accommodate:
"I've lived in New York twice, and now I'm here in Los Angeles, and if you’re not careful you can start to feel like that is America and I don't think it is. And the biggest thing for me and us on the show is how do we reach the kid in Nebraska or the couple in Michigan [he pronounces it with a hard "ch"]? How do we talk to them, how do we say, 'Come with us -- this is going to be a great place to spend the last hour of your day. I promise this is a place that's going to make you smile and it's going to make you feel better as and when you fall asleep.' Our job is to have fun, because I honestly feel that that is an infectious thing to watch; and if we're having a great time we're halfway to having a great show. We have to make this a quest for fun every day.
"I didn't grow up watching Carson and Cavett and Leno; I grew up watching Michael Parkinson and Terry Wogan and Jonathan Ross and Chris Evans and Graham Norton, and these are people who have influenced me. That's my relationship with talk shows. There are moments when [producer Ben Winston] or I will say something and people go, 'Well, no one does that,' and we'll go, 'Well no one does it here. It doesn't mean no one does it.'
"I have a 3-year-old son and a 14-week-old daughter, and your life as an actor so much is that you have to go where the work is -- you just do. There are probably 12 people on the planet, on the planet, who have the element of choice, who can dictate where they'll work and when they'll work and still be able to feed their families. Last year we were shooting 'The Wrong Mans' [an espionage comedy Corden co-created] and I was in a prison in Johannesburg for five weeks, Skyping my son on my birthday thinking, 'This is only going to get harder.' And here is someone offering me an opportunity to be creative every day, to have a voice, to perform and make this show, to organically create something new. And the more I thought about it the more I just thought this is something I have to do.
"I'm really enjoying L.A. I really, really am. I think it gets a bad rap unnecessarily from people, and I don't really understand why. And from what I can see a lot of people who talk about hating it so much spend a lot of time here; I sort of go, 'You know you don't have to be here, right?' All I can see are wildly creative people, brilliantly creative people -- they make 'The Simpsons' here, for goodness sake. That's the greatest show I've ever seen. 'Seinfeld' was written and shot here; 'Larry Sanders' was done here. There are creative and brilliant people here, and I find that thrilling, I really, really do. And from the perspective of my family, I don't know that there will be a better place on Earth for me to raise a young family with young children. I don't know what it'll be like when my children turn 14 or 15 -- who knows if we'll be here. But for the next few years, I can see it, I can see what our life could be, and it looks great."
Bonus quote from producer Ben Winston:
"We met when I was like 17, 18 and he was 20 and I was a PA on a Channel 4 drama in the U.K. called "Teachers," in which James had a small part, and we just immediately got on very well. We were all living away from home in a place called Bristol, that's where the show was filmed. It was my first proper job and we just hung out a lot together; I think we recognized this sort of fierce ambition in each other. I remember on like the third night of us all living up in Bristol, we went to this pub. It was karaoke night. It was the most depressing pub you've ever seen, there were all these people drowning their sorrows in their pints of beer and this lady singing 'I Will Survive' really terribly on the mike; and it was awful. We were all saying this is terrible, we're not going to stay here very long. And James had put his name down without any of us knowing. And suddenly, 'Mr. James Corden, could James Corden come to the front?' And James picks up the mike and all of us are, 'Oh, that guy James is going to sing.' And he sung this song, 'Let Me Entertain You' by Robbie Williams, which at the time was a huge party anthem hit in the U.K., and he ripped the roof off this pub and turned this depressing, quite awful evening into the most unbelievable night anyone had had. The same woman who had been singing 'I Will Survive' was standing on her table dancing and we were all up dancing and singing to 'Let Me Entertain You.' I looked at him, and I thought, 'This is one of the most talented guys I ever met in my life.'"