One Lady, Two Men and One Interviewer

Published April 11, 2012

We predict that One Man, Two Guvnors will be the Broadway hit of the spring/summer season. This forecast may be based on the show’s tremendous success in London and our personal opinion after seeing it last Saturday (it’s hilarious), rather than Interview‘s famous crystal ball, but still, we have a reputation to uphold and wouldn’t lead our dear reader astray.

The play, an adaptation of Carlo Goldoni’s The Servant of Two Masters (1746) by Richard Bean, boasts Nicholas Hytner as its director (his film work includes The Crucible and the teenaged girl favorite, Center Stage) and James Corden, Oliver Chris, and Jemima Rooper as the titular man and guvnors. After a year of acting together, the cast are clearly very close. When Interview met with Jemima and Oliver, they spent the first few minutes of our interview chatting away with each other about what Jemima had done the night before (hung out with another group of English actors in town to film the TV show Doctor Who) and why Oliver was absent (“I will be sampling everything that New York has to offer, I really wanted to hit New York hard but now I’ve come and I’m feeling really peaky.”) “We haven’t seen each other for a whole day!” explained Jemima of her on-stage boyfriend—the two play a couple, Rachel Crabbe and Stanley Stubbers.

The comedy, set in Brighton in 1963, is farcical and fourth-wall-breaking—something that critics will surely describe as a “romp.” There was, however, some concern that the jokes would not translate across the Atlantic—”we took out all the really obscure cricket jokes,” Oliver told us, “but we made fewer changes between [London’s] West End and Broadway than [between] the National Theatre [also in London] and the West End.” This did not seem to be much of a problem when we went to see the play; according to Jemima “the audience weirdly seems to get more jokes than they did in London, like New York gets the subtler things.”

Interview sat down with James Corden, who plays the protagonist Francis Henshall, to talk trouser-splits, Ryan Gosling, and whether or not Corden is experiencing cultural shock.

EMMA BROWN: Did you worry that an American audience might not understand some of the jokes?

JAMES CORDEN: Yeah, of course it’s in the back of your mind, you’re hoping it will translate. It would be really arrogant of us to not have any of those fears, but nothing could have prepared us for the reaction we got on Friday when we did our first preview, if anything the noise and the laughter was bigger than it was in London, and there were 700 less people in the audience. We were performing for I think 1,700 people at the Adelphi [theater] in the West End, and I think there are 1000 in this theater, but it felt just as big, positive and lovely. We’ve done five shows so far and gotten five standing ovations, so it feels like we might be all right. We’re doing some more rehearsals now, we are going to tweak some bits and change some bits and try and make it as tight and get rid of as many parochial references, or things that perhaps just didn’t quite land. But so far so good.

BROWN: This is not your first time on Broadway; you were here in 2006 with Alan Bennett’s play, The History Boys. Are you excited to be back?

CORDEN: Yeah, it’s an amazing place to work. It’s overwhelming sometimes, I thought it would take longer after The History Boys finished to come over here and work again because it doesn’t happen with every play. It happens probably one play every two years. Even since we left after The History Boys, it felt like a quest to try and do something to try and come back.

BROWN: Where do you live here?

CORDEN: On the Upper West Side, near the park, ’cause I have a one-year-old son. Me and my girlfriend, I think if it’s just us, we would want to go to SoHo, West Village, East Village, but when you’ve got a one-year-old who’s going to walk any day now, the park is a godsend. If the show does well we’ll be here for five months.

BROWN: In England, you’re very famous.

CORDEN: I’m huge. [laughs]

BROWN: But here you are not. Do you like being less well-known here, or do you dislike it? I know Russell Brand used to complain about it in his stand-up.

CORDEN: I like it if I’m walking around with my girlfriend and son, it’s lovely to not be stopped. I don’t like it if I’m trying to book restaurants, it’s a nightmare. I was trying to book a restaurant the other day for 8:30 and they were like, “We’ve only got 10:45.”

BROWN: Do you try?

CORDEN: No, you can’t. What can you say?

BROWN: “Uhh, you might not know this, but I’m in a Broadway play and it’s going to be sort of a big deal, so…”

CORDEN: That means nothing! “I’m in a Broadway play” goes for nothing! That side of it I don’t like.

BROWN: When you are playing a sort of farcical and exaggerated character, how do relate to your character?

CORDEN: The weird thing with this play is that there is a weird, invisible line quite where I start and the character begins, and that changes throughout the play. But I don’t do a big Daniel Day-Lewis morph into my character. I can’t really, I have to sort of dip in and dip out of it.

BROWN: Do you feel like you’re often typecast as a facet of yourself, or of your public persona?

CORDEN: Not really, I’ve never felt like that because these are ultimately my choices. This is just something I’m doing now, I’m loving it and I think this is one of the best parts I’ll ever play, I don’t know if I’ll play a better part on stage.  When it comes to the next thing I do, I would like it be slightly further removed from who I am.

BROWN: Do you have any on-stage horror stories?

CORDEN: I had quite a nasty trouser split one night. It was a proper one; there was no disguising it. And I was wearing pink Calvin Klein underpants. It was funny, but at some point you’ve got to get it sewn up.

BROWN: Do you have anything that you absolutely want to do while you’re in New York?

CORDEN: When I was here before, I went to MoMa, sometimes twice a week, so I’d like to go back. There’s always stuff that I’ve never seen before. You’re always introduced to something new that you didn’t know that you loved, so I would do that.

BROWN: Are you going to bring your son with you? Begin his cultural education at a nice young age.

CORDEN: I probably will, actually. [He] likes anything that just stimulates his mind, there’s kind of no better museum to take him to.

BROWN: What or who makes you laugh?

CORDEN: People laughing always makes me laugh, people falling over.

BROWN: Do you get really embarrassed when you fall over, because you know you’d be laughing at you?

CORDEN: You’ve got to just let it go and know that other people are enjoying the fact that you’ve fallen over. It makes you feel better about the next time you laugh when you see another person fall over. These things go in cycles; someone has to fall over at some point, even the coolest man on earth. Ryan Gosling has fallen over…once. He has! It’s just a fact, Ryan Gosling has fallen over and we should all embrace that.

BROWN: He’s probably laughed at other people falling over too.

CORDEN: Yeah, but it a really cool way. He might be the coolest man I’ve never met.

BROWN: What’s the worst, “Oh, you’re from England” question you’ve ever gotten?

CORDEN: I don’t know if I have any, really. There’s always this kind of odd idea that people would say, “Oh, do you know the Queen?” But really people are much smarter than that. [laughs]

BROWN: I’ve definitely been asked, “What in line to the throne are you?” To be fair, it was only once, but still.

CORDEN: Oh, really? I’ve never gotten any of that. I think people look at me and realize that I am definitely not in line to the throne. It feels very easy living here. The world is a much smaller place than it used to be, it doesn’t feel like a huge cultural difference living here.

BROWN: Whom would you most like to interview, if you could interview anyone?

CORDEN: Philip Seymour Hoffman. 100 percent. I’ve met him once. He’s an amazing man and a brilliant actor. I would give anything to interview him and talk to him about his career. He’s a god in my eyes.

BROWN: What would be your first question?

CORDEN: “How are you?”

ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS OPENS APRIL 18 AT THE MUSIC BOX THEATER ON W. 45TH STREET.