James Corden is one of England’s biggest stars, but his name is likely to be greeted with blank stares on this side of the pond.
That could change now that the comic force of nature has lined up film projects with the likes of Johnny Depp and the team from “Once.” He already pulled off an impressive trick in 2012, when he beat out no less than Philip Seymour Hoffman for a Tony Award for his pratfall-filled performance in “One Man, Two Guvnors.”
On Monday, America gets a big helping of Corden’s inspired brand of lunacy when his humorous thriller “The Wrong Mans” launches on Hulu.
Corden not only headlines the show — which, like the actor himself, is already a hit in the U.K. — but he co-wrote it with co-star Mathew Baynton. The two knew each other from “Gavin & Stacey,” a romantic sitcom that aired on the BBC from 2007 to 2010 and put Corden on the map in his native country.
“We wanted to do something that was based on thrillers and action films like ‘The Bourne Identity’ or ’24,’ but with normal people and ask what if this was set in real life?” Corden told TheWrap. “In the Bond films or the Bourne pictures, a character will say, ‘We have to go to Paris,’ and it will just cut to Jason Bourne coming out of the Metro and stepping onto the Champs-Élysées.”
“Here, we have to book tickets and get on the plane, and we have a moment where we’re online booking tickets and moaning about how expensive it is. Or we’re driving and we have to stop to get food. We capture the mundaneness too,” he added.
The show follows two office workers who get ensnared in a criminal conspiracy after one of them comes across a cell phone at the scene of a deadly car crash. It’s a mistaken identity plot straight out of Hitchcock, which explains why its title works as a homage to one of the Master of Suspense’s films.
For Hulu, which co-produced the six-episode series with BBC, the show had the kind of genre-bending appeal associated with films like Edgar Wright‘s “Hot Fuzz” and “Shaun of the Dead.”
“It”s an English show, but it has action thriller elements that make it more accessible than other English television,” Charlotte Koh, head of development for Hulu Originals, said. “With all the action, there’s something that makes it inherently a more visual type of show. There are helicopter chases and the whole thing has a cinematic quality that means it’s for more than just anglophiles.”
Hulu, which is bolstering up its original content as a way of differentiating itself from Netflix and other streaming services, has already partnered with the likes of “Saturday Night Live”s’ Seth Meyers and “Desperate Housewives” Eva Longoria. It lures those top-shelf talent by offering them more creative freedom than broadcast networks, even if the budgets are less generous.
“We want ambitious original programming,” Koh said. “We’re filling a gap for shows that deserve to be made, but ones that for whatever reason, other outlets won’t make them. We tell talent, ‘we want to facilitate your vision.'”
It was a pitch that registered with Corden.
“They were so incredibly passionate about the project,” he said. “Other parties were interested in the script, but when we met with Charlotte, her notes were incredibly creative and encouraging. She was the only person who just said ‘We love the script, just make your show.’ She didn’t say, ‘Wouldn’t be great to get X or Y to be in it, because that would help it play to an American audience.'”
Corden is currently shooting the big screen version of “Into the Woods” opposite Meryl Streep and Johnny Depp and will soon be seen in “Can a Sony Save Your Life?,” a romantic drama that inspired a bidding war at the Toronto Film Festival.
After that, he said he’ll begin writing a second season of “The Wrong Mans.”
“I owe it to the characters to do another season,” he said.