​The "gob-smacked" James Corden

The popular British actor, star of the new movie musical "Into the Woods," is leaving the comfortable confines of the London show-biz scene

James Corden is a British actor of comic bent who's coming to America in two very high-profile ways. Mark Phillips sought him out for some Questions-and-Answers:

James Corden is on familiar territory at the National Theatre in London. He's a big deal here, ever since his breakout role 10 years ago in the original production of "The History Boys," which was later made into a movie. Corden was the tubby kid among the raucous students.

The stage production drew full houses, and won Best Play awards in London and on Broadway.

And since then, Corden has pretty well cornered the market on playing the "rolly-polly amusing one" in various hit TV shows that he's both written and acted in.

His bumbling-best-friend act in the series "Gavin and Stacey" made him a household name in Britain, if not a national institution.

How popular is he? Try taking a quiet walk with him along the river, past the screaming kids.

"They recognized you," said Phillips.

"I don't think that was for me, I think it's more for the camera," he said.

It was for him, all right. Yet the 36-year old Corden is about to leave the comfortable confines of the London show-biz scene and take the biggest risk of his career . . . not once, but twice.

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James Corden, Emily Blunt and Meryl Streep in "Into the Woods." Disney

He stars in the soon-to-be-released Christmas mega-movie-musical, "Into the Woods," as the Everyman Baker caught in a fairy-tale nightmare, along with big names like Johnny Depp and Meryl Streep.

"It's a big production, a huge investment," said Phillips. "Were you surprised to be offered what's effectively the lead male part?"

"Gob-smacked!" replied Corden. "I was absolutely gob-smacked."

Not that he hadn't had exactly that ambition since childhood. Corden says all he ever wanted to do was act.

His ambition was to be the lead in a West End or Broadway musical. "Yeah, but even Broadway was beyond anything I could have -- that felt out of reach. It was inconceivable that I would even be able to come to America."

"What? On a visit?"

"Yeah, genuinely!" he laughed.

But, boy, is James Corden ever coming to America now. And not just in the big holiday movie.

With Craig Ferguson leaving CBS' "Late Late Show" in the coming post-Letterman late-night game of musical chairs, guess who is going to take over the show.

Phillips asked, "Why leave something you obviously love doing so much -- the performing, the stage and film -- to be a late-night TV host?"

"I think I will be stimulated beyond anything I've ever done in my career," Corden said. "Here, every day, an hour of TV. Whether you like it or not, there's another show tomorrow. If I could have told my 12-year-old self that at this stage in my life I would be offered one of these chairs, one of these five chairs, his head would explode!"

Corden has done talk TV before. He's done a sports-based, jokey and jockey game show on British TV, "A League of Their Own."