Tonys: James Corden Heads Back to Broadway as Awards Host (Q&A)

Edward Erne/CBS
James Corden at the 2016 CBS Upfronts

The 'Late Late Show' ringmaster talks to THR about being in the room where it happens Sunday night in the trailblazing year of 'Hamilton.'

James Corden made his Broadway debut in 2006 as part of the ensemble of Alan Bennett's awards-laden The History Boys, about a bright sixth-form graduating class and their maverick teacher at a British boys' grammar school. He returned in 2012 in Richard Bean's rollicking commedia dell'arte update, One Man, Two Guvnors, which landed him a Tony for lead actor in a play.

His next project for the New York stage was to be starring in a revival of the ancient Roman musical romp A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, following in the footsteps of Zero Mostel, Phil Silvers and Nathan Lane. But that plan was put on hold when CBS asked him to become Craig Ferguson's successor on The Late Late Show.

On June 12, when he hosts the 70th Annual Tony Awards, Corden gets to combine his love of the stage with the emcee skills he has honed since March 2015 on late night, bringing a few of his writers from the CBS show along for the ride.

Having already paid tribute during the upfronts last month to this year's hottest Tony contender, Hamilton, in a musical number inspired by the show, Corden marked the start of Tony week with a special Broadway edition of his popular Late Late Show segment "Carpool Karaoke," featuring Lin-Manuel Miranda, Audra McDonald, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Jane Krakowski. He took a moment Monday, before plunging into intensive Tony preparations, to speak with The Hollywood Reporter about the gig.

How are rehearsals coming along?

I'll be able to tell you in about four hours because I'm on my way there now. It's day one.

As both a seasoned stage performer and a television host, is fronting the Tony Awards the ideal way to draw on that dual experience or a completely different animal from both?

I haven't really thought about it in terms of experience. The two times I've worked on Broadway I've been lucky enough to go to the Tony Awards, and both times have been nights I'll remember for the rest of my life. So to be asked to be part of it in any small way, I feel very, very honored.

Is there anyone among past awards-show emcees that you most look to as a standard of excellence?

Well, the Tony Awards are slightly different from other award ceremonies, I think, because you don't come out and do a 10-minute monologue at the top. More often than not people open with a song. Neil Patrick Harris is a brilliant host. But in terms of awards show emcees — not the Tony Awards — I don't think you'll ever beat Billy Crystal at the Academy Awards.

Do you have a favorite moment of past Tony telecasts?

Hugh Jackman did this thing where he hopped around the stage and backstage. People should have a look at that; I really enjoyed that. It was something I'd never seen before.

A key weapon in the Tony host's arsenal is familiarity with the highs and lows of the Broadway season. You've been busy producing an hour of television a night out in Los Angeles, so how much have you managed to keep up with the shows in the running for this year's Tonys?

I've seen a few and I'll see a few more this week. I do sort of feel like the strength to hosting the show is almost to not make it too inside-baseball, but to think about the audience at home. A lot of these people won't have seen Shuffle Along or Waitress or The Humans, so you need to try and keep them engaged also. It's a fine line to walk between making lots of jokes about the Broadway season but also recognizing that this is television live across the country at 8 p.m.

You mentioned the tradition of a splashy opening number — any chance we'll see one from you?

We're going to try! We'll find out today, really.

Hosting the Tonys in the year of Hamilton is a bit like hosting the Oscars when Titanic was up for everything. How do you inject an element of surprise?

I just feel very, very proud to be hosting the show on a night when there is a genuine cultural phenomenon at the center of it. There are not many musicals that burned boundaries into the greater public consciousness, not just in America but internationally. The thirst and the warmth for that show is, firstly, absolutely deserved, and secondly, incredible to witness. And so I feel very lucky to host this awards show in a year when such a huge thing is part of it.

Any particular presenters or nominees you're looking forward to hanging out with?

The list of nominees is great and the presenters are brilliant, but I don't know if there'll be much hanging out. I'll just be busy trying to host it. I'll be doing a lot of getting changed; I have six costume changes. That'll be my night really.

You had to put the idea of doing Funny Thing aside when The Late Late Show came along. Is there a dream project you'd like to do on Broadway somewhere down the line when your schedule permits?

Yeah, that show I'm a huge fan of; Little Shop of Horrors I'm a huge fan of. Guys and Dolls. The list just goes on and on and on, really. And that's not forgetting that there'll be lots of people out there right now writing new musicals, like Lin-Manuel Miranda was.

Is there any particular show this season that you would love to have done?

Well, you always want to be in Hamilton. And I wouldn't mind being that wolf in The Crucible — he has a pretty easy show.

Aside from Hamilton, is it undiplomatic to ask what shows you're rooting for?

I really enjoyed School of Rock; I think it's a brilliant new show. The Humans I thought was terrific, and Bright Star I also really enjoyed. Waitress I'm seeing this week. I feel very excited about seeing that show because I'm a big Sara Bareilles fan.

The Tony Awards will air live from New York City's Beacon Theatre on CBS, on Sunday, June 12, at 8 p.m. ET/PT time delay.

A version of this story also appears in the June 17 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.