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How Peter Rabbit allowed James Corden to reconnect with the home he left behind

William Mullally

Published: Updated:

I’m sitting in a hotel room in London and James Corden is holding my foot.

“That is a good Jordan.”

He looks at me, ready for me to banter back, but, as no one has ever grabbed my foot in an interview before, I’m a bit too shocked to come up with anything.

“Yeah,” I say.

“You’re aware of it. I want you to know that I know you’ve pulled some kind of incredible baller move with these flights and it’s made me feel inadequate.”

“That’s true,” I say.

“You’ve made me feel inadequate with your choice of footwear but I’m loving it. I’m enjoying it.”

“I’m enjoying it too,” I say, as he lets go of my foot.

Three years ago, James Corden left the UK. At the time, the idea seemed a bit mad. After all, he was a rising star. He wrote, produced and starred in hit sitcoms such as Gavin and Stacey, hosted panel shows and seemed on the cusp of being one of the UK’s next major leading men. To trade that for a late night talk show in America? Where he was a virtual unknown? What was he thinking?

Then, in his first week, he brought Mariah Carey along for his drive to work. Carpool Karaoke was born, and James Corden became a superstar.

While the show allows him to show off his myriad skills—singing, dancing, sketch comedy, general conviviality—the best moments are those where James Corden the viral phenom fades and James Corden, the boy from a small town in England called High Wycombe, comes to the fore.

In one clip, he’s sitting in the car with Stevie Wonder, and Stevie has just called James’ wife. James cries as Stevie sings “I Just Called to Say I Love You” on speaker phone, and James can’t believe his luck. As good as he is at being the talk show host in the suit, you get the feeling that all he loves in the world is his family, and that all of this is just for them.

peter rabbit
peter rabbit

As we sit in London to talk about his latest film Peter Rabbit, based on the beloved children’s picture book series by Beatrix Potter, I wonder what it must be like coming home, after becoming the man he’s become so far away from it.

“Do people treat you differently when you come back?” I ask.

He jolts his head back for a moment before his smile returns.

“I have to say, it’s lovely. It’s a lovely feeling to come back to a place that is ostensibly my home. It’s what I always think of as home, I just don’t live here right now. When I come back, I feel sometimes overwhelmed. People feel really happy. Everyone wants to know what it’s like. Every cab driver wants to talk about it. If I go to watch my football team…I don’t know.” He cuts himself off.

“I feel silly talking about it in such a way but it’s a very warm reaction that I don’t in any way take for granted. It’s not lost on me what that means when people are like that, you know?”

“It’s a big question to nonchalantly throw at you,” I say.

“No, it’s nice. I was thinking about it last night. Normally I’m here with my family, and if you’re here with your kids you’re trying basically to just keep them alive all the time. Whereas when you’re on your own, I went to the theater last night on my own, and it was immediately like, ‘oh, I don’t know if I should be here on my own’. It all came a bit intense. But then I was just like, this is lovely, you know? People are really nice.”

Peter Rabbit is one of the UK’s true cultural treasures, a mischievous creature with a denim blue jacket who tries to steal vegetables from mean old Mr. McGregor’s garden. It’s easy to imagine that garden not far from where Corden grew up in High Wycombe. It’s easy to see what drew Corden to the project, even unconsciously, connecting back with the kind of small town that reared him.

“Growing up in High Wycombe, you’re able to put yourself back in small-town England with this project from a recording booth in Los Angeles,” I say.

“Yeah for sure, and a lot of this was shot in Australia, so that’s even more alien. I don’t know if I ever thought about the small town mentality of it, but the jokes in the movie about thinking your town center is London, I remember growing up in High Wycombe, going down to Wycombe town center and thinking that that was the center of the world, that it was some sort of metropolis, you know what I mean? Then you get older and you realize it’s actually quite small!” Corden says.

I want to know if Corden also took the project thinking about his family—if he was making the film for his kids, with them in mind. He admits that his need to continue to do films is a bit more selfish than that.

“The truth is that I’ve been fortunate enough to do a few of these animation things, and for me personally, selfishly really, it’s just an opportunity to work with directors, which is what my life always was before I took on this, let’s be honest, frankly ridiculous job that I’m doing right now, so it’s just a lovely opportunity for me, at the start of the day or the end of a day, to go into a booth and work with a director on a script, you know? That’s just not part of my life right now, to physically act in stuff, and that’s a part of my life I very much miss. That’s something that I don’t want to lose. I don’t want those muscles to not be there. I really enjoy going to work with directors, particularly on something like this where you’re so involved in the core of the process,” Corden says.

While his job on the Late Late Show may not be enough to completely satisfy him, it is still the most nourishing part of his working life.

“Mostly what I really enjoy is just being creative every day, in truth. That’s all I really want to do. The most nourishing moments are sitting with a group of writers who work on our show, and you sit, a few of us, I think we have eight writers on our show, sometimes it will be three or four of us, sometimes it will be just patches of people. You look at the board and you say, who’s coming on in the next few weeks,” Corden says.

“The best times are, for me, when you look at the board and go, ‘oh, Jamie Dornan is coming on for the new 50 Shades. I wonder if there’s a sketch we can do.’ Then you just sit with people who I think have some of the most creative minds I’ve ever met, comedically, the writers on our show, and you think, what if we do that scene from the first 50 Shades movie where he shows her his play room, but it’s not S&M toys and bondage gear, it’s that he’s a huge model train enthusiast. Then you just start tossing around ideas. My favorite bit, which is not my idea, and I cannot take credit for it, It was a writer called Louis Weymouth on our show, and he says what if you blindfold him with a bandana and then at the last moment, pull it down and tie it so it’s like a train conductor.

“That’s the most nourishing moment for me. That’s just an out and out comedy sketch. Hopefully he’ll be available. We shot it in an hour, and I’m really proud of it. That’s when the job is best for me. You go, ‘oh the Avengers is coming out, I wonder if there’s an idea we can do about that’. We’re shooting something on Monday, which I’ll tell you about when we’re not filming, I’m so excited to do it, it’s really funny. I hope! I don’t know,” Corden says.

After the cameras stop rolling, Corden and I continue talking, as he boisterously describes his plans for upcoming shows. While Peter Rabbit may give him the chance to connect with the UK, the question of whether he’s getting sick of Los Angeles answers itself—this is truly a job he loves.

- Peter Rabbit is in theaters across the Middle East March 29th -