During his Broadway edition of Carpool Karaoke, James Corden asked his car full of theater luminaries for "advice" on how to win over the audience at the Tonys, which he'll host this Sunday.
"You've all been to the Tony Awards. We have record-breaking winners in the car right here," Corden said, clearly referring to the legendary Audra McDonald. "I've never been nominated, but congratulations," Modern Family's Jesse Tyler Ferguson, currently performing in Fully Committed, quipped.
The same cannot be said for Corden. Though he put on a naive act while driving the car, Corden's been to the Tony Awards before — and once even came home with a statue.
The Late Late Show has made its host a viral star, but theater — especially in New York — is integral to his backstory. When he was just a teenager, Corden performed on the West End as an ensemble member in Martin Guerre, a musical from Les Misérables writersAlain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg. (One of the stars of that production? Iain Glen, a.k.a. Game of Thrones' Jorah Mormont.) Corden didn't much like the experience, and, by his account, was sort of a jerk about it.
Tonys host James Corden is no stranger to the Broadway stage
James Corden seen arriving at the BRIT Awards 2013 at the o2 Arena on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013, in London. (Photo by Jon Furniss Photography/Invision/AP)
FILE - This June 25, 2014 file photo shows James Corden at the New York premiere of "Begin Again" in New York. Corden may be stepping in for outgoing CBS host Craig Ferguson. Corden "appears to be in contention" to take over "The Late Late Show," according to an industry source who spoke Tuesday, Aug. 5, on the condition of anonymity because that person wasn't authorized to speak publicly about the negotiations. CBS declined to comment. Scottish-born Craig Ferguson has hosted "The Late Late Show" since 2005. In April he announced he would be leaving at year's end. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)
Actors Keira Knightley and James Corden laugh as they are interviewed on the rooftop of picturehouse cinemas in central London during a photo call for the film Begin Again, Wednesday, July 2, 2014. (Photo by Joel Ryan/Invision/AP)
James Corden accepts the award for Comedy and Comedy Entertainment Programme for A League Of Their Own with Aaron Paul and Jamie Redknapp at the Arqiva BAFTA Television Awards at The Theatre Royal in London on Sunday, May 18, 2014. (Photo by Jon Furniss/Invision /AP Images)
Actor James Corden arrives at the premiere of "One Chance" on day 5 of the Toronto International Film Festival at the Winter Garden Theatre on Monday, Sept. 9, 2013, in Toronto. (Photo by Arthur Mola/Invision/AP)
Director John Carney, left, and James Corden attend the "Begin Again" premiere after party at the Bowery Hotel on Wednesday, June 25, 2014 in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
James Corden seen on stage during the BRIT Awards 2013 at the o2 Arena on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013, in London. (Photo by Joel Ryan/Invision/AP)
Dave Grohl, left, and James Corden seen during the BRIT Awards 2013 at the o2 Arena on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013, in London. (Photo by John Marshall/Invision/AP)
Emeli Sande, left, and James Corden seen during the BRIT Awards 2013 at the o2 Arena on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013, in London. (Photo by John Marshall/Invision/AP)
James Corden holds his award for "One Man, Two Guvnors" at the 66th Annual Tony Awards on Sunday June 10, 2012, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini /Invision/AP)
From left, Adele makes a speech as she receives album of the year and the show's host, actor James Corden, cut off Adele's second acceptance speech, during the Brit Awards 2012 at the O2 Arena in London, Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2012. (AP Photo/Joel Ryan)
James Corden at the Brit Awards 2012 at The O2 Arena in London, Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2012. (AP Photo/John Marshall JME) THIS CONTENT IS IS NOT PART OF ANY SUBSCRIPTION SERVICE AND ANY USAGE WILL CARRY A SEPARATE FEE
James Corden hosts the Brit Awards 2012 at the O2 Arena in London, Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2012. (AP Photo/Joel Ryan)
Actor James Corden with partner Julia Carey arrives for the BAFTA Film Awards 2012, at The Royal Opera House in London, Sunday, Feb. 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
Hosts, Australian singer Kylie Minogue, centre, and British actors James Corden, left, and Matthew Horne, right, perform at the Brit Awards 2009 at Earls Court exhibition centre in London, England, Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2009. (AP Photo/MJ Kim)
James Corden arrives for the Brit Awards 2011 at The O2 Arena in London, Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2011. (AP Photo/Joel Ryan)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 20: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) (L-R) James Corden, David Walliams and Rob Brydon attend the closing night of 'Monty Python Live (Mostly)' at The O2 Arena on July 20, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Dave J Hogan/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 02: James Corden and Mark Ruffalo attends a Meet The Cast event for 'Begin Again' at Apple Store, Regent Street on July 2, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Danny Martindale/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 25: Actors James Corden, Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo and Adam Levine attend the 'Begin Again' premiere at SVA Theater on June 25, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 18: James Corden arrives at the Arqiva British Academy Television Awards after party held at the Grosvenor house, Park Lane on May 18, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Niki Nikolova/FilmMagic)
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 19: Host James Corden presents The BRIT Awards 2014 at 02 Arena on February 19, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Matt Kent/WireImage)
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 17: Suki Waterhouse, Bradley Cooper, Julia Carey, James Corden and Anna Wintour attend the TOM FORD show at London Fashion Week AW14 at The Lindley Hall on February 17, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Nick Harvey/WireImage)
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 17: (L to R) James Corden, Anna Wintour and Bradley Cooper attend the TOM FORD show at London Fashion Week AW14 at The Lindley Hall on February 17, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by David M. Benett/Getty Images)
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - OCTOBER 22: Chris Pine and James Corden at the Groucho club on October 22, 2013 in London, England. (Photo by Mark Robert Milan/FilmMagic)
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"Whatever you think of my ego now, my ego at 17 was out of control," he told the London Evening Standard in 2015. "I imagined I would be in the chorus and someone would pick me out and give me a role. I was actually at the back of the stage, so far back I could touch the wall. I didn't even have a mic in the second act. I realised then I would have to work in TV."
It would have been unwise for Corden to dismiss theater completely, and fortunately he didn't. He was cast as one of the titular "boys" in Alan Bennett's The History Boys, a play about a group of young men trying to get into Oxford and Cambridge. The History Boys premiered, in 2004, at the National Theatre in London, and eventually made its way across the pond, leading to Corden's Broadway debut, in 2006. He played Timms, the comic relief prone to getting whacked on the head.
It wasn't the most consequential part, though he did make an impression. (The actor in that show who seemed most destined for stardom was Dominic Cooper, now in AMC's Preacher on AMC, and he and Corden are still friends. If you want to be delighted, watch them banter on The Late Late Show about their time as roommates.) The History Boys went on to win the Tony for Best Play, and a movie based on the production, also featuring Corden, was released in 2006.
The following year Corden did a stint in a British production of Brecht's A Respectable Wedding. By the time he reunitedin 2011 with his History Boys director Nicholas Hytner for One Man, Two Guvnors, his celebrity had grown in Britain thanks to the sitcom Gavin & Stacey and various hosting stints. This time onstage Corden would not be lost in an ensemble: Hytner recruited writer Richard Bean to adapt the classic Italian comedy The Servant of Two Masters with the comedian in mind.
What Bean turned in was a riotous affair set in the swinging '60s, complete with musical interludes and frequent fourth-wall-breaking. Corden quite literally threw himself into the part of Francis Henshall, a dope who starts working for two different men. (Actually, one man and one woman dressed as a man.) Each performance required the actor to careen across the stage:
Following runs at both the National Theatre and in the West End, the show moved to Broadway in 2012, with Corden getting rave reviews. New York's Scott Brown wrote that Corden was, "a born showman seemingly made of the same hyperkinetic polymers that go into Superballs, avidly contorts himself to fit every twist and turn."
Still, no one expected him to win a Tony, since the 2012 Best Actor in a Play category was stacked. Corden was up against James Earl Jones, Frank Langella, John Lithgow, and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Hoffman was nominated for his interpretation of Death of a Salesman's Willy Loman, and seemed the likely winner. One of the greatest living actors in a Mike Nichols revival of one of the greatest American plays? It was practically a lock. But Tony voters apparently preferred the belly laughs Corden provided. In his emotional acceptance speech, Corden called Hoffman "my favorite actor in the world."
Then Hollywood came calling. Corden was cast as the Baker in Rob Marshall's Into the Woods, and subsequently tapped for The Late Late Show. Before the CBS deal went down Corden was attached to a Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim's A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, which ended up being postponed after he landed the talkshow gig. While that was disappointing, Corden's obvious love of show tunes and the late-night platform means we get things like Broadway Carpool Karaoke and Crosswalk Musicals starring Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne — and that, if anything, he should be giving, not soliciting, advice on how to get Broadway crowds going.