James Corden may be one of the leads in the new film adaptation of Broadway musical The Prom, but he admits he’s glad his school never had one.
While the American tradition of putting on a dance for school leavers is something that has been getting more popular in the UK in recent years, the Late Late Show host says he’s relieved there was nothing like that when he was a teenager.
“As I found out more about what proms are, I am incredibly pleased that that was not part of my life because I can only… the very notion of having a thing where it’s, ‘who are you going to ask to the prom?’ and who’s going to go with you, that would have just been a litany of rejection,” he tells Sky News.
“I’m very pleased that when we went to our Valentine’s disco, I just went with a group of mates from school, and we all tried to smuggle in cans of beer and stuff. I’m very pleased that it wasn’t Americanised.”
Corden is part of a star-studded cast in Glee creator Ryan Murphy’s latest film. He plays Barry Glickman, a washed-up New York stage star desperate to improve his public image, who teams up with some fellow celebs to help a teenager, Emma, after she is banned from taking her girlfriend to her prom in Indiana.
“I mean, this particular project came out of nowhere, really, and when I spoke to Ryan Murphy about it and he told me the other cast that were involved, I felt quite scared by the proposition of it.
“But in talking to him, it just became so clear that he had such a vision for it and that he was going to guide me through it every step of the way, really, so I’m incredibly proud to be part of it, I really, really am.”
His performance though has had a mixed response, with criticism that the straight actor is reinforcing stereotypes in his portrayal of Glickman, who is gay.
Corden and Murphy are yet to respond to the criticism, but Murphy did post about his own experiences on social media ahead of the reviews being published, saying the film is for anyone who has “ever felt like an outsider”.
Writing on Instagram, the film and TV maker said: “I grew up gay in Indiana. I felt like an alien, an outsider.
“Like Emma, I couldn’t bring a date to my proms. So every year, I went with one of my cool girlfriends. They were wonderful and we had fun. But every prom I attended ended in afterparty private tears and a feeling like I truly wasn’t wanted and didn’t belong in this world.
“All I wanted was to be embraced for who I was, and to love whomever I wanted. The Prom has this idea as its beating heart and that’s why I wanted to make it.”
The film introduces Jo Ellen Pellman as Emma, the teenager whose plight is piggy-backed by the celebrities in their bid to do some reputation management.
There was a six-month casting call to find the right actress for the role. Pellman, who had never worked on a film before, says she is still not used to seeing her name in among those of the big stars.
“It’s one of those things where I look at a poster or I watch the trailer or the credits where it says my name in that list of all those icons, these people who I have looked up to for so long,” she tells Sky News. “I still can’t believe it.”
And as a newcomer to the movie business, Pellman says she is grateful to Keegan-Michael Key, who plays her school principle, for showing her the ropes.
“We had so many scenes together, especially at the beginning, and this was my first time on a film set and so I didn’t really know how things worked…
“He really was the person to just, sort of, hold my hand and guide me through this.”
The movie is packed with glitzy dance sequences, sequins and showbiz sparkle. While it was in production before the pandemic, it does feel like a much-needed antidote to the tough year 2020 has been.
Corden says his hope is that it brings a bit of positivity.
“I think we always felt like we were making something that was joyful and uplifting. We started shooting the film in December 2019 and we wrapped the majority of the film in March 2020, not knowing at all what the rest of the year was going to hold.
“We hope so much that it’s an uplifting, joyful experience for people, that’s what we’d love.”
The Prom is out in cinemas now and on Netflix from 11 December