When James Corden takes The Late Late Show to London for a week of shows starting on Monday, he’ll truly try not to drop the ball.
The always-moving host of the CBS late-night talk show is staging a game of celebrity dodgeball that will rival the wattage of the Ben Stiller-Vince Vaughn big-screen comedy. It’s set up as a showdown between the United States and the United Kingdom, and for two countries who share a Special Relationship and a once-bloody political history, this contest even features someone from the White House: Former First Lady Michelle Obama.
“We had the opportunity to do something with the first lady, and we thought it would be a nice angle if [she and James] were a little contentious about what’s better, the USA or the UK,” executive producer Rob Crabbe tells EW. “There’s only one way that they could ultimately decide which country is best — and we decided that should be dodgeball.”
Corden & Co. proceeded to assemble an impressive array of talent on both sides: Led by Obama, the female Team USA features Melissa McCarthy, Mila Kunis, Alison Janney, Kate Hudson, and Lena Waithe, while male Team UK, fronted by Corden, boasts Benedict Cumberbatch, John Bradley, Harry Styles, and Reggie Watts. Getting a bunch of celebs to agree to whip rubber balls at each other proved easier than imagined. “The yeses came as fast as the asks went,” says Crabbe. “I think it’s very helpful when Michelle Obama is involved. Turns out that people are interested in her and interested in doing a comedy sketch with her. And then we rounded it out with [bandleader] Reggie Watts, who gave us an opportunity within the piece to make some jokes about James forcing him to turn on his country or face unemployment.”
The best-of-three showdown — which came down to a two-on-one situation in the final game — turned out to be surprisingly competitive. “They absolutely wanted to win, and there was no preening for cameras or anything like that,” says Crabbe. “I was surprised by how seriously everyone took it. It stopped being a comedy segment once the whistle blew.”
When the game(s) began, who turned out to be the ringers? “Michelle Obama has legendary guns and they work very effectively in throwing dodge balls,” reports Crabbe. “And Benedict Cumberbatch is pretty crafty. Alison Janney has a pretty serious competitive side. She was both taunting and pretty fierce in the actual playing.” And what about Corden? “I don’t know that he played a lot of dodgeball before this game, but he can be rousing and aggressive and motivational with his teammates,” says Crabbe.
During the week of shows in Corden’s homeland (June 17-20, 12:37 a.m.), you’ll see Corden and Chris Hemsworth compete against each other in a different venue — working various jobs in a restaurant in London. The cast of Dark Phoenix will be subjected to a double-decker bus tour of London led by Corden. (“I can’t promise that they got the most accurate architectural details on their bus tour,” says Crabbe. “We even got to work in a Viking pub crawl. “) Just a Chunnel ride away in Paris, Corden will headline a new installment of Crosswalk: The Musical, with songs from Les Miserables. (“Turns out French commuters don’t like being slowed down by dancers in the crosswalk,” shares Crabbe.) Guests appearing on Corden’s temporary couch at Central Hall Westminster include Tom Hanks, Gillian Anderson, Millie Bobby Brown, Sir Ian McKellen and Louis Tomlinson. No idea how Hanks or Brown might have fared with a dodgeball in hand, but click on the exclusive preview above to see what happens when Obama gives her squad a pep talk (“when they go low, we also go low, because that’s how dodgeball works”) before both the Americans and the Brits have a ball.