When Producer Mike Menchel bumped into Weinstein at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, while casting discussions were underway about who was going to portray Paul Potts, Film magnate Harvey Weinstein suggested that his counterpart go see ‘One Man, Two Guvnors’ at London’s Adelphi Theatre, where Richard Bean’s smash-hit play had transferred after its initial three-month run at the National. “Ten minutes into the play, I literally stood up and said, ‘Harvey Weinstein is right! This is the guy,’” says Menchel. “You saw the talent, you saw the similarities, you saw not just the humor but also the heart. He just had it. I went back to Harvey and said, ‘Once again, you are right.’”
James Corden’s name had cropped up on early lists for ONE CHANCE. In those earlier days, he might still have been considered a risk. As a star and co-writer of the celebrated BBC sitcom ‘Gavin And Stacey,’ as well as a regular fixture on comedy panel shows and awards show hosting, he was already huge on native shores. But he was still what might be termed a “local hero.”
The bright lights of Broadway changed that opinion in one fell swoop. What had been the hottest play in London became an equally hot ticket in New York City, and Corden’s magnificent performance as the play’s hapless star Francis Henshall – a glorious combination of outstanding comic timing, breathtaking physicality and charismatic audience interaction – ended up storming the Great White Way in the spring and summer of 2012. And, lo and behold, he triumphed in the Best Actor category at the Tony Awards, beating the likes of Philip Seymour Hoffman for ‘Death Of A Salesman,’ a victory that supplied a rocket-fuelled boost to his film industry profile. James Corden had hit the big time.
“He was no longer an emerging British actor; he had arrived,” enthuses Menchel. “He hit America with a splash and went from being relatively unknown to known in one fell swoop. He’s wonderful and there’s just nobody else for this film. He’s the best actor we could have found for ONE CHANCE, and I’m so excited to watch his trajectory.”
“His name is now on the lips of everyone in Hollywood and he is a movie star, categorically,” states Kris Thykier, who joined ONE CHANCE as a producer in early 2012. “He has an emotional vulnerability on screen that is incredibly winning and compelling. He’s got that classic movie star thing which is that it doesn’t really matter what he’s doing on screen, you want to be in his gang.
And he’s also a very fine actor. He brings the sensitivity that Paul himself must have had to want to sing opera, which is maybe an odd thing in the environment he grew up in.”
“As soon as I heard that James’ name was mentioned, I didn’t think for one second that we should consider anyone else,” says Britain’s Got Talent Simon Cowell. “He is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met – he has what we call the likability factor and I knew that James would like Paul, and I knew that he would want to play Paul in a good light and it is a challenge for him and James is always up for challenges. He was completely and utterly committed and devoted to making this as good as possible.”
Even before he had had the opportunity to see much of his work, Frankel had always been drawn to the idea of Corden playing Potts. “I had never seen ‘Gavin and Stacey’ but I watched some of his chat-show clips and he really made me laugh,” says the director. “Physically he seemed right and he’s so charismatic; I just enjoyed watching him.” Frankel also flew to London to watch Corden in ‘One Man, Two Guvnors’: “I was already sold by then but he was extraordinary in the show.”
Their faith has been amply justified. Potts is a less comedic character than many of Corden’s previous parts, but he has engaged with the role on a deeply human level, and has delivered a performance filled with heart, charm and sensitivity. One of the significant strengths of the One Chance script in Corden’s eyes is the fact that the story doesn’t use Potts’ astonishing success as its starting point but rather builds up to that date with destiny, focusing on his life before and the many stumbling blocks he encountered along the way, from severe bullying to hospitalization for various physical ailments, including being run over by a car. Through it all, he never gave up.
“When you first hear, ‘We’re making a film about the life of Paul Potts’, it conjures up visions of people sitting behind oversized desks saying, ‘I’m going to make you a star, kid!’” says Corden. “Then you read it and go, ‘Oh, this is a film about a boy who lives in an industrial steel town in Wales and wants to be an opera singer. And in spite of everything, he just never, ever gives up on that dream.’ Plus, it’s got an incredibly romantic and beautiful love story.”
“The thing that I’ve enjoyed the most about this,” he continues, “is playing someone who is incredibly shy and lacking in confidence but has this unbelievable self belief that he can stand up and sing. It’s just a lovely thing to play.”
As for the real Paul Potts, he actually met Corden long before there was any talk of being played by him. It was at the end of his first UK tour, and he and his wife Julz were standing at a London hotel bar when a very flustered Corden entered with a carrier bag and pulled up at the bar alongside them. “He had come in from his car and he turned around and said, ‘They broke into my car and all they left was my dirty underwear.’ Julz just burst out laughing, and he said, ‘Why are you laughing? It’s true!’ She just thought it was so funny.”
In early November 2012, at the Churchill Theatre in the London suburb of Bromley, Corden stands on a stage that has been dressed to look like ‘Britain’s Got Talent’, belting out ‘Nessun Dorma.’ The milieu is convincing, and so are the stand-in doubles for judges Simon Cowell, Amanda Holden and Piers Morgan, at least from behind. But the most convincing factor of all is Corden himself, dressed in a slightly shabby suit and nervously coming onto stage to deliver his moving rendition of Giacomo Puccini’s soaring aria. It’s enough to send chills down the spine and bring tears to the eyes, much like Potts’ achieved with his original audition.
While it’s Potts’ voice blaring out of the speakers, Corden is also singing live to ensure his breathing matches that of a real singer’s. The actor is as lost in the music as Potts was back in 2007, conveying every ounce of emotion and concluding with his muted, modest acknowledgement of the audience’s rapturous applause and the judges’ awestruck reactions. It’s a powerful sequence that cast and crew know they have to get absolutely right for ONE CHANCE to send audiences away with the same feeling of elation and delight engendered by that original audition. Fortunately, Corden is able to nail take after take as Frankel changes the camera’s angle and distance and sets up a semi-circular tracking shot to capture his star from every angle he’ll need to cut the sequence together in post-production.
“I loved that day,” Corden says later. “I loved doing it, and it just felt like we came away knowing that our film has a good ending.”
Corden’s previous film roles include THE THREE MUSKETEERS, GULLIVER’S TRAVELS, LESBIAN VAMPIRE KILLERS, TELSTAR, HOW TO LOSE FRIENDS & ALIENATE PEOPLE, WHERE HAVE I BEEN ALL YOUR LIFE?, PIERREPOINT, STARTER FOR 10, HEARTLANDS, ALL OR NOTHING, WHATEVER HAPPENED TO HAROLD SMITH?, TWENTY FOUR SEVEN and the reprise of his West End role in the critically acclaimed film adaptation of THE HISTORY BOYS. In 2012 he also completed BEGIN AGAIN alongside Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo.
“ONE CHANCE” is released and distributed by CAPTIVE CINEMA.
Showing Nationwide in Cinemas.