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James Corden: “If This Show Doesn’t Work, I Don’t Think It Means That My Career Is Over”

The new host of The Late Late Show spoke to BuzzFeed News about why it will be wrong to judge the programme as a failure if ratings are poor, and why he’s stopping nearly all his other commitments to concentrate solely on it.

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If you're in the UK, you'll know James Corden as a Brit Awards host, a star in Gavin and Stacey and The Wrong Mans, and as Craig, the 11th Doctor's flatmate, in Doctor Who. If you're in the US, you might recognise Corden from his role in the film of Into the Woods and his involvement in the Tony Award winning One Man, Two Guvnors. He's had a varied and successful career as actor, writer, producer, and comedian. So why is he giving up other commitments up to focus on presenting The Late Late Show, a chat show that runs daily in America at half past midnight?

BuzzFeed News met Corden at his offices in CBS Studios in Los Angeles, where the show will be recorded. What was supposed to be a half-hour interview ran well over an hour as we spoke candidly about why he reckons ratings will be poor for his show and why he doesn't think his career will be over if it doesn't work. This is what he told us:

He's nervous about The Late Late Show.

"We don't even know whether it's any good. We don't know what it will be yet, you know what I mean? I have no idea whether it is going to work I really, really don't. I couldn't call it either way. It feels like such a mountain to try to climb.

"I think it has been a long time since a host has started a show at zero, where I'm starting, without having been on Saturday Night Live for ten years."

Unlike rivals like Conan O'Brien, he wasn't inspired to do the show by growing up watching US late-night hosts such as Johnny Carson and David Letterman.

"They are not my influences. I'm fans of all of them and there are times when I've lived in New York where I'm doing plays I've always, always enjoyed watching them, but it is not a thing that we have at home. But maybe that can be refreshing."

He said that no amount of preparation could properly prepare him for his first show.

"You have to try to find what your voice is and how you're going to make people laugh and how people are going to share stuff, and that's a hard thing to know right now because we could prep this show for a year, but we will learn more in the first two weeks of doing it than any of that time before. I'm really enjoying this time of sitting, trying to find funny things and trying to find a way of make it appealing to an audience, but at the same time you just don't know."

He said the later slot will give him freedom to make the show interesting.

"If I was doing this show at 11.30, where The Late Show and The Tonight Show and where Jimmy Kimmel's show is, you would be talking about tentpoles and people's home comforts and things that people want, need, require in that timeslot. I think 12.30 gives it a place, gives it like an element of freedom I think that hopefully we can find and play on and do something interesting, you know… You hope."

He said part of the appeal of doing the show was the similarity to working in theatre.

"My favourite thing that I've ever done, and the thing that made me want to do this ultimately, was that I've been happiest in my career when I've been in plays, because I love a day with a focus. I love a day that builds to a point, a day that everyone is moving towards. Seven forty-five – the audience, the ushers, the guys selling the tickets, the crew, the lighting technicians, your sound technicians, your actors, your stage managers, and you all come together at 7.45 and you (snaps fingers), and you do it again tomorrow, and I really enjoy that.

"But obviously once you've got a playwright it is the same every night, whilst this has to be a brand new show every night. It's also what is quite freeing in it, I think. There's always another show tomorrow, so you can't wallow in your misses nor celebrate your hits, cos there's another show tomorrow, you know."

He said The Late Late Show will be his absolute focus for the next year.

"I don't have any commitments elsewhere other than this show right now. Other than I go back to shoot A League of Their Own [a British TV panel show] in June and July, all of my commitments is on this show. I just can't waste this opportunity.

"If I look at times in my career when things haven't been very good, it's because I've not been working hard enough on those projects or I've had too many things on the go. What that means is you'll never really just focusing on the very thing that is in front of you right now, and ultimately I think that the only way that you can really live your life is to just go... If you're always just trying to be the best you can right now, then you'll only be a success, I think."

He looks up to The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and wants to replicate its success.

"I'm a massive fan of Jimmy Fallon. I had a night with him in New York before Christmas. He was so unbelievably sweet, as everyone has been I have to say, and I just said to him, 'Your show gives me hope and fills me with fear in equal measure at exactly the same time,' because I watch his show and go, 'Ahhhhhhh.' He's having a great time. This is an uplifting, celebatory, positive show. That's what I want to do. And I will never be able to do it like that, you know.

"I mean, who am I trying to kid? He's been on Saturday Night Live, he's best friends with Justin Timberlake, he's been in casts with Will Ferrell. We're fucked! (laughs)"

His self-deprecating attitude towards the show's chances doesn't mean he isn't positive about it.

"I am hugely positive about what we can do; whether we do it or not is another matter. I just think it would be incredibly bullish to think that you could succeed in such an environment. I hope I can, and if I don't it's not because I haven't tried and I haven't worked my hardest, but the success of this show is reliant on so many outside factors as to whether it is good or not, and also these shows aren't never good straightaway. They are just not. They never have been. They never will be, because they rely on familarity. They rely on a connection between host and audience, which takes time to build."

He said it made sense for BBC Three, the channel where Gavin and Stacey gained success, to move online, because that is where audiences are heading.

"My point is, it doesn't matter whether it exists online or whether it exists on television, it is, what is the budget for that channel? If you're cutting the budget at a detriment to programme then this is a bad thing. If you're cutting the budget because you will be able to watch the same quality programme but it will exist in a different space, then that's great. I think it is archaic to be thinking about television sets and computer screens as a different thing today, you know."

He could have filmed The Late Late Show in New York, he said, but it didn't work out.

"There was an option to do this show in New York, which is a city I know really well and I love really well, me and my wife are very happy there, but I came to the conclusion that [in New York] there's the Tonight Show, there's Late Night, there's the Late Show, there's The Daily Show, there's the Nightly Show and then there'll be us, and I know where are on that graph. We are sixth. We are very much sixth. And here [in LA] there's Conan's show, there's Jimmy Kimmel's show, so we are genuinely going, well, we could be third or we could be sixth on the list in the scramble to get guests. And that's, yeah, that's that really."

He reckoned that if the show is cancelled it won't harm his career.

"If this show doesn't work, I don't think it means my career is over. It is just the nature of things, that you are [supposedly] either the greatest thing in the world or you're shit, and neither of those things are true. Do you know what I mean? You just have to remember that and just go, 'We're just going to try our best to make a show that feels fresh and fun, and interesting and funny. And if we can do that, that's all we can do, to try and enjoy it.'"

He claimed to be expecting poor ratings over the summer, but said that wouldn't mean the show was a failure.

"We will rate badly – it will do well with Letterman's last shows because we will have a great lead-in, and then in summer it drops right off, I promise you right now. We will really be doing well if we can hold some form some sort of viewership, because we follow nothing. We follow repeats of CSI or whatever, so it's going to be a difficult time, but I said this to the team, we have to use this as an advantage to absolutely work out what our show is, who our audience is, and what they want. That's what we have to spend our time on, making the best show that we can, and my god, we are going to try our best to compete, but it's tough. To kick a show off at 12.30 that has had a repeat as a lead-in, that is really really hard.

"In September, Stephen [Colbert] will start his show and we should be absolutely gunblazings by then, and that's going to be the story, but someone somewhere is going to write a story about how our show is failing and they will be ridiculous to do such a thing. It will be madness to. This show will be determined on relevance, and if we can find a relevant voice and a relevant place, and if we can thank god, that will be great, but that's still unknown."

The Late Late Show with James Corden debut on CBS in the US on 23 March. There has been no confirmation of a UK run as yet.

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