With scores of well-known comedians vying for the job, it came as a shock to many when CBS decided in September that the replacement for outgoing Late Late Show host Craig Ferguson would be British comedic actor James Corden. Not only is he unknown to many in the U.S., he didn’t even know he was up for the gig.

James Corden On Taking Over Late Late ShowIn an interview today, Corden told Deadline the backstory on how he hooked the Late Late Show gig just as his movie career is taking off, as well as what audiences can expect when he finally sits down behind the desk on opening night March 9.

One attribute that should help in his new job is his self-deprecating humor: “The whole thing is gonna be a f*cking disaster!”

“I think I’ll be better at acting than hosting a TV show — it’s going to be awful,” he said. “Every bit of this is a massive risk. It’s brave to take a guy you never heard of and give him an hour of TV.”

The Tony-winning actor who has a trio of musical films in a row — One Chance, the story of Britain’s Got Talent contestant Paul Potts; Begin Again; and the Stephen Sondheim musical Into The Woods in which he portrays everyman hero The Baker — continues to be dumbfounded on how he got here. He said CBS began considering him only after the actor met with CBS president and CEO Leslie Moonves and entertainment chairman Nina Tassler to discuss writing a possible comedy series. (Back in the UK, Corden was co-creator of the award-winning BBC romantic comedy series Gavin & Stacey.)

“When I met Les and Nina we got on like a house on fire,” says Corden.

When asked if the late-night recruiting process was similar to Louis CK’s alter-ego experience on Season 3 of Louie — where the comic is groomed to be David Letterman’s replacement by a Moonves-type played by Garry Marshall — Corden says, “It couldn’t have been more different, or more opposite of what he went through.”

Corden gave props to Walt Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn, who watched him during the preproduction workshop for Into The Woods, for helping him come to the final decision to take the job.

“I cannot tell you how incredible that guy is,” Corden said. “In a flurry of emails, when it was leaked that I was taking over, he sent me the defining email which factored into my decision process as to whether I should do the show or not. It was amazing what he wrote. It was the most concise and precise email: Here are your pros and cons — you can’t think about the cons. He spoke about the evolution of TV and platforms and ultimately finding an audience. It was a brilliantly constructed email from someone so smart and bright. I read it, and decided afterwards, I’m going to do it.”

Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson logo

In regards to the current prep for Late Late Show, Corden laughs: “We have a staff of two! No one is employed. We’re so far away (from prepping). I have another series to shoot at home yet. I gotta promote Into The Woods, and there’s a film I have to finish writing. Literally, the employees on The Late Late Show are myself and my best friend Ben (Winston). There’s a lot to do between now and March. Rehearsing? Jesus, we might not have time to rehearse. The whole thing is going to be a f**king disaster. Remember this phone call! You’ll say, ‘To his credit, he called it early on!’ There’s no reason for this show to work.”

While Corden says his version of the late-night show will be “new in every sense”, there are “elements of consistency and continuity. It would be brash to throw them all out the window.”

Given the 12:30 PM time slot, Corden thinks the shows should be “a party every night. I’ll be the youngest of the guys in the chairs in late-night. By definition, we have to make the youngest and freshest show.” As previously announced, Late Late Show will stay in LA, giving Corden an edge when it comes to booking celebs.

Recently, Ferguson, as well as other late-night show hosts including Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert, have phoned Corden with words of encouragement. “They’ve told me, ‘Give your show time to grow, don’t beat yourself up in the first six months,’ ” he said. Corden will be a guest on The Late Show With David Letterman on Friday.  Into the Woods bows on Dec. 25, and Corden bowled director Rob Marshall and producers Marc Platt and John DeLuca over during a performance in One Man, Two Guvners on Broadway.  Soon after the Tonys, Corden met with Platt and two weeks later found himself singing for Marshall and DeLuca.

into the woodsThe role of The Baker is one of the meatier roles in Into the Woods. He literally sings one of the big final songs “No More”. In many ways, Into the Woods is a metaphor of the turmoil in our world, and The Baker represents the every man. Expounding on this, Corden says, “I think the Baker and the Baker’s wife represent the audience entering into this make-believe-world. They are the only ordinary hearts beats in this story of slippers and beanstalks. What I try to hold on with the Baker, is that he should react in an everyday manner, because he’s an everyday guy.    He’s the man on the street thrust into an extraordinary world, trying to find his way out of it. When stuff happens in the world –a natural disaster, an attack — there are certain people who may not want to take responsibility, but stand up and do. It’s rarely the princes in this world who get their hands dirty and run toward the fire.”

Still, with a promising movie career within reach, why would Corden want to take on the headache of being a late-night talk show host?

James Corden on Taking Over The Late Late Show“Why not?,” he said. “There are any number of reasons. I never wanted a career to be just one thing. Like at home, I hope I can still go back and act. It’s my dream to do a musical on Broadway, to do another play, to try and write a film that gets made and to write another TV series. The challenge of [late-night show hosting] is so much harder than being an actor in films. I know a lot of people think being in films is amazing. It’s not. You spend a lot of your day in a caravan, in a car park. So, the thrill and the challenge of trying to make an hour of television is far greater than playing someone in some biopic.”