British Actor Expands His Niche ; James Corden Juggles the Chances Bestowed by 'Silly Romp' on Broadway

By Rohter, Larry | International Herald Tribune, August 8, 2012 | Go to article overview

British Actor Expands His Niche ; James Corden Juggles the Chances Bestowed by 'Silly Romp' on Broadway


Rohter, Larry, International Herald Tribune


As his run in "One Man, Two Guvnors" enters its last weeks, the British actor James Corden has been juggling the opportunities that have come out of his success in America.

The actor James Corden arrived in New York this spring not exactly a household name and was cast in the lead of a comedy some people feared might be too British to succeed on Broadway. He promptly won the Tony for best actor and a passel of other awards, putting that doubt to rest. Now, as his run in "One Man, Two Guvnors" enters its last weeks, he has become a case study in multitasking, juggling the opportunities that have come out of his sudden success here.

Eight times a week since mid-April Mr. Corden, 33, has been playing Francis Henshall, a portly ne'er-do-well of ravenous appetites who finds himself working for two bosses in a faded British seaside resort in 1963. He describes the play, which originated at the National Theatre in London and will have been performed 425 times when its run on Broadway ends on Sept. 2, as "a silly romp" but added that the brute physicality that his part requires makes it "a killer, it hurts all the time."

In addition Mr. Corden is shooting a movie offered him by producers who saw that performance. At the same time he is writing the script of his next BBC television series, scheduled to start next year, taking voice lessons for his role as an aspiring opera singer in yet another film to be shot in the autumn and trying to meet the demands of being the father of a 16-month-old.

"Oh yeah, when I get home next month, I host a TV show, which only takes two weeks, and then I get married," Mr. Corden said, speaking with unabashed enthusiasm in his dressing room at the Music Box Theater. "So all my dreams are coming true. Some people would say, 'You can't do all those things.' I don't know why. They don't really give an answer. I think they're probably wrong."

Mr. Corden's role in "One Man, Two Guvnors" is physically demanding not just because he is onstage most of the time, but also because he bumps, careens and slams into objects, takes tumbles and pratfalls and even smacks himself in the head with a trash can lid. He is nursing an injured wrist, but considering that his weight has approached 300 pounds in the past, about 135 kilograms, he has held up remarkably well.

"For someone who has done so much television work there's a really surprising fearlessness about James," said Cal McCrystal, the play's physical comedy director. "Usually they are scared to throw themselves about, and I think that when he read the script, it was probably 'Crikey, this is a big ask.' But he got a personal fitness trainer and even though he was very overweight when he started, he worked his fitness up, lost 70 pounds and was very well prepared."

Many of Mr. Corden's funniest bits come in scenes with Oliver Chris, who plays one of his employers. Like Mr. Corden, Mr. Chris has been with the production since workshops began in 2010, so he has had a chance to watch Mr. Corden's gift for "creative misbehavior" blossom even as the demands on him have grown. "It's insane what his life is now, but as the show's momentum has built, he has stayed calm and dedicated to the show and never goes over the top," Mr. Chris said. "Look, I'm as cynical and charred a soul as most actors, but he just absorbs all the excitement and radiates the same lovable warmth."

"One Man, Two Guvnors" has been playing to packed houses on Broadway, and among those who saw the play and admired Mr. Corden's performance was John Carney, who wrote and directed the movie "Once." That led to Mr. Corden's being cast as a street musician in Mr. Carney's latest film, "Can a Song Save Your Life?," which was scheduled to finish shooting on Tuesday.

"For this role of a struggling artist you want someone with vitality and optimism, and even to a casual observer you can see James has that the minute you meet him," said Tobin Armbrust, a producer of the film. …

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