When actor James Corden begs the audience for a sandwich during the hit British farce One Man, Two Guvnors, it could be for real.
"I've been on a diet," says Corden, who has slimmed down from just south of 300 pounds to just north of 200. "I basically realized that bread is evil and is trying to destroy me. It's like kryptonite to Superman."
For nearly a year, Corden got plenty of exercise performing the raucously physical Guvnors in sold-out runs at London's National Theatre and then in the West End. And he's got the bruises to prove it.
"If you're big like me, you can't throw yourself backward over a chair eight times a week and not expect to get hurt," Corden says. In a bravura performance that requires smashing his face with a trash can lid and getting his tongue caught in a mousetrap, Corden has managed to scratch an eyeball, tear the cartilage in his knee and choke on a peanut. But he sees getting hurt as "a little tax on the job. It's not gruesome — just little knocks and scrapes."
Playwright Richard Bean adapted One Man, Two Guvnors from Carlo Goldoni's 1743 Venetian comedy The Servant of Two Masters, with the action updated to 1963 in the British seaside town of Brighton. Corden was recruited for the lead by National Theatre director Nicholas Hytner, who Corden calls "pretty much the cleverest man you're going to meet" — so clever that Corden signed on without even asking what the project was."
|photo by Joan Marcus|
That gamble paid off in his career-making turn as the always famished and easily befuddled "One Man" working for "Two Guvnors" (Cockney slang for bosses). Those two employers keep the hapless hero constantly on the go. Imagine Costello with two Abbotts, throw in some flying fish heads, and you begin to get the idea.
"The hardest thing is the pace of it," Corden says. "There's 40 minutes where I don't leave the stage — not even for a drink of water. And while it looks like chaos, it has to be done with absolute pinpoint precision. Really, it's as mentally exhausting as it is physically."
Plus, he sings. Really sings, with the show's onstage band, which plays skiffle music, Britain's precursor to rock 'n' roll.
But as a founding member of several high school boy bands, Corden was up to the task. Indeed, he made his West End debut at the age of 17 in the 1996 musical Martin Guerre and is best remembered for his immortal interpretation of the lyric "Roast the meats."
"Yeah, that was a real springboard for me," he says.
And then there's his xylophone solo. "I can't actually play the xylophone," Corden explains. "It's not like I have this amazing skill set. I can only play that one song."
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