EXCLUSIVE: Why James Corden Is the Right Man to Host the Tony Awards -- Spanx and All!

by Stacy Lambe 6:30 AM PDT, May 17, 2016
Photo: CBS

“I look like James Bond if he was wearing Spanx,” James Corden jokes with ET after being told how dashing he looks in his tuxedo. The Late Late Show host is all dressed up on a Thursday afternoon in April as he films his first promo for the 2016 Tony Awards, which will honor the best of the 2015-2016 Broadway season on Sunday, June 12 at the Beacon Theatre in New York City. The ceremony will air live on CBS. “If I peeled this away, you would see I am in Spanx from an inch below here” -- [pointing to his neck] -- “to my ankles.”

Spanx or not, Corden couldn’t be a better (or more excited) fit to host a toast to Broadway. An actor first, the 37-year-old personality rose to prominence in the U.K. playing Timms in a 2004 London stage production of Alan Bennett’s play, The History Boys

“From that moment, my life changed,” Corden told The Guardian in 2011, referring to the play, which saw him reprise his role in international productions -- not to mention his Broadway debut -- and in the 2006 film adaptation co-starring a fleet of rising stars, including Dominic Cooper and Looking’s Russell Tovey.

Corden followed his successful run on stage with the Bennett-approved BBC Three series, Gavin & Stacey. The series, which he co-created and co-starred on, earned the actor his first of many accolades, including a BAFTA for Best Comedy Performance, during its three-season run. 

Shortly after the series ended in 2010, Corden honed his hosting skills on the British sports-themed game show, A League of Their Own, before returning to the London stage in the lead role of One Man, Two Guvnors. The comedy, about a naïve man employed by a local gangster and an upper class criminal, earned universal praise, with the actor’s turn on Broadway winning him the 2012 Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play.

“That is just a night that will be ingrained in me for the rest of my life,” Corden says of taking home the brass medallion statue. “I will never forget when I won that award. It just meant so much to me.”

By the time he won his Tony, Corden was a bona fide star, sharing the screen with Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo in Begin Again, and later, with Emily Blunt and Meryl Streep in the film adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods while creating and starring on the critically acclaimed BBC Two series, The Wrong Mans.

Of course, it wasn’t long before he was called upon to replace Craig Ferguson as host of the CBS late-night talk show and creating the wildly popular segment and primetime special, Carpool Karaoke. An unabashed fan of the theater, Corden has made room for the likes of Idina Menzel, Kristin Chenoweth, Eric Idle, and Tituss Burgess (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidtand Broadway’s The Little Mermaid) on his late-night couch.

“What I’m most impressed with is how he makes every moment work. He’s always dedicated to each specific guest,” Chenoweth, who co-hosted last year’s ceremony with Alan Cumming, says. “He’s at the top of his game. There’s a reason people are freaking out about him.”

Photo: CBS

“The best times of my life I have spent working on Broadway,” Corden says, despite his recent success on The Late Late Show, adding: “To go back again -- I haven’t even walked past the Beacon Theatre since that night when I won -- so, to go back hosting, it is too much.”

“It just always felt like a dream that I would get to host,” Corden continues, admitting that this is the only way he’d ever really get to return to Broadway. “I have to probably break my contract at CBS, or get fired, or not renew it. It is one of those three.” 

His timing as host couldn’t have worked out better, considering the year Broadway has had. The wildly successful Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s biographical musical about Alexander Hamilton, earned a record-breaking 16 nominations and an adoring fan in Corden.

“I feel like it has changed everything. It has changed the whole game because there are so many great shows,” Corden says of Hamilton, which infuses elements of hip-hop and R&B into traditional musical theater

The season’s other critically acclaimed productions include Shuffle Along, or, the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed, which earned 10 nominations; Long Day’s Journey Into Night starring Jessica Lange and Michael Shannon; a nominated return to the stage by Michelle Williams in Blackbird; Megan Hilty's first nomination for Noises Off; the all-female-created Waitress musical; and the revivals of The Color Purple and She Loves Me.

Corden is taking over hosting duties from Chenoweth and Cumming, who both stepped in following multiple (and celebrated) turns by Neil Patrick Harris and Hugh Jackman. Wishing she actually could have asked Corden for advice when she hosted, Chenoweth says the key to a successful host is to be yourself. “I think that's what makes Neil Patrick and Hugh so good. I know that’s what will make James so good.”

So, how will Corden honor all these productions while marking his own place alongside Jackman and Harris? By embracing theater’s live element. He jokes about opening the show with a modern dance number and even teases the possibility of a Hamilton-like rap battle with Miranda. “I would love nothing more,” he says, “but I don’t fancy it would be much of a battle.”

However, Corden shoots down the possibility of adapting Carpool Karaoke for the ceremony. “I sort of feel like to leave the theater to show something that you have shot a week before -- because it has to be edited -- I do not know how that would feel in that night,” he explains. “Maybe we’ll change our minds, but right now, I do not imagine so.” Instead, he would rather leave room open for the many musical performances. “I am just there to keep it going.”

“My hope and dream is that he invents something for the Tony Awards,” Chenoweth says.

The most difficult thing, Corden admits, is balancing prep for the awards show and maintaining his busy schedule shooting The Late Late Show, with nearly 40 hours of TV to get through before the ceremony. “People keep going, ‘What are you doing for the Tonys?’ And I’m like, ‘I do not know what I am doing on Monday,’” he says.

“I just don’t want to mess it up,” Corden professes after some prodding. “I do not want to be, you know, the worst. I do not want people going, ‘Oh, would be great if it was not for that British bloke.’” (A dashing British bloke at least.)

But before any of that can happen, Corden has to manage getting out of his Spanx. “We need the Spanx team to roll me out of these,” he jokes. “We roll it down like pastry, and I just fall out of the Spanx. That is what will happen now.”

--Additional reporting from Nischelle Turner