James Corden has proved himself in comic and dramatic roles. Now the larger than life writer, actor and presenter seeks to consolidate his movie star credentials with the tale of an opera singing underdog…
Everyone likes a good underdog story. It’s a real staple of British media. We just love being inspired by someone who can stand up against the odds and prove that where there’s a will there’s a way.
When Simon Cowell developed his singing competition concept out to a broader talent show format in 2007, Britain’s Got Talent followed shows like Opportunity Knocks and New Faces to bring hope to people with the power to entertain but not the wherewithal to get the gigs.
James Corden, who in the new movie One Chance plays the show’s first winner, opera singer Paul Potts, is someone who’s never been afraid to show off his own talents. After making his name as a promising young actor in TV series Fat Friends, he went on to co-create, write and star in the hugely successful comedy, Gavin & Stacey.
From there it’s all seemed so easy, from presenting the BRIT Awards to playing one of the leads in the award-winning comedy play One Man, Two Guvnors, hosting Sky1’s sports panel show A League of Their Own and co-creating another comedy hit, The Wrong Mans. Now he’s confidently moving into movie star territory too.
So what kind of preparation was involved in toning down his usual over-the-top performances to play the quiet, shy Paul Potts? “I think it’s safe to say when someone rings you up and says do you want to play Paul Potts in a film, you don’t need to worry about going to join the gym!” he laughs.
“He’s a lovely guy, very soft and kind-hearted. He’s very amiable. I had to talk with him so I could try to copy his voice. It’s strange playing someone who’s alive and well in the world, but I think my job was made easier with regards to the fact I was just playing his past and only up to the moment of Britain’s Got Talent. We all know him from there and that’s where the film kind of ends.”
Although Corden has been known to take to the mic every now and then, it’s a different matter altogether where opera is concerned. “I was very happy that I didn’t need to sing opera,” smiles the 35-year-old Londoner. “I sing in my current film [Can a Song Save Your Life?], but I don’t think that anyone should ever have to hear my version of Nessun dorma! There would be dogs in China thinking ‘what the hell is that noise?’ if I started singing!”
Potts, born in South Gloucestershire and raised in Bristol, came to the talent show as an amateur singer who had self-funded his dream of playing in operas. He had been bullied at school for his participation in the choir, denting his self-confidence, but nevertheless he continued with the determination to sing. He went into the BGT competition as a manager at Carphone Warehouse and after winning, went on to record the album, One Chance, which topped the charts in nine countries.
“The story isn’t about Paul Potts and him winning Britain’s Got Talent,” Corden explains. “The film is about a boy who dreams of being an opera singer and everything that was put in his way and all the adversity he was faced with, but he still succeeds. It’s similar to great sports movies.”
And what of Corden’s own career? If it hadn’t taken off as it did, would he have considered the talent show route? “If my career didn’t take off, 100 per cent every day of the week I’d have been first in line, I’d have been there in a heartbeat,” he says.
“I think there’s good ones and bad ones where some of them treat people well and some don’t, but I think on the whole you just get your chance to soar and fly. People say it’s saturated and all of the charts are just people off reality TV shows now, and I think I don’t know what charts you’re listening to, but Adele wasn’t and Ed Sheeran didn’t and Mumford and Sons didn’t and Rihanna didn’t and Katy Perry didn’t and it just goes on and on until you realise that all the biggest acts in the world didn’t do these things. I think people are always out to knock them, but hey – what harm can it do?”