If James Corden was to walk down a street, likelihood is, he’d be stopped several times en route and asked for a photograph, autograph, or both. But in America it’s a different story altogether, and as a relative unknown on the other side of the Atlantic, it was something of a struggle for the comic actor to land a role of this magnitude, as he takes on the lead in Disney’s Into the Woods.

We spoke about how he landed such a role, and he discusses his on-set pranks, with a memorable joke concerning a certain Meryl Streep…

How helpful was One Man Two Guvnors in getting this role?

It helped in every way. I wouldn’t be in this film if it wasn’t for that play, there is no question about that. Rob (Marshall) came to see the play and then asked me if I’d do the workshop to try and get the movie green lit – just a performed reading if you like. So I went along, and because of that I didn’t feel nervous when I auditioned because I wasn’t auditioning for the lead role in this big movie with Meryl Streep, I was auditioning for a workshop that might end up being a film, possibly with Meryl Streep and if it does I almost definitely wouldn’t be in it – that was very clear. So when I did the workshop I loved it, and when I was packing up Rob came over and said ‘I just want you to know that if we ever get this made I won’t make it without you.’ I absolutely believed him because he’s not the sort of guy to throw stuff like that around. But deep in my stomach I knew, I understand the constraints of trying to make a film and when it gets to the business end Disney are going to go, ‘seriously Rob – who the fuck is this guy? Lets cast someone actually famous’.

Is there anything that really surprised you about this experience?

I’m surprised by the narrow constraints lots of people are forced to work with, that you are really judged by the first two or three things you ever do in your career, and therefore that is your trajectory for the rest of time. It becomes a lifelong struggle to break those shackles off. If we sat here ten years ago saying Matthew McConaughey will be universally crowned the finest actor and given the best performance of a year, you’d have all laughed and said, ‘the guy from the rom-coms? Yeah, okay’. I don’t understand why that is the case in the arts, but it is. There is a want and a need to go ‘you are this and we will place you there, and forever you will remain’.

But you’ve been able to jump around, as a writer too, you do comedic and dramatic roles…

I dunno. Sometimes I wish I had a shot of doing parts like that, but they don’t tend to come your way because you look a certain way or are a certain way. But to answer the original question, Chris Pine’s voice – I did not see that coming. Rob told me he had an amazing voice, and I don’t know why I thought he couldn’t sing as well as he can, but when he starts hitting out big old notes, it’s like, he’s the kid in school who was captain of the football team, beautiful and a really great guy. If he wasn’t such a great guy I would really hate him.

In regards to shooting a musical – what we see on screen is this beautiful scene where you burst into song and the music kicks in. But what’s it like to shoot? Can it be awkward?

What’s strange is that because we recorded the whole score before we did it, often you’d be singing along to a track of yourself which is great. But there will be these terrifying moments where Rob comes and says, ‘let’s do one live’. And your whole body would freeze. You put this little earwig in so you can hear the track but you sound like the guy on the tube who has his headphones on and doesn’t realise he’s singing along. So that’s how it felt, but because we were all in it together, you just have to jump in two footed. We’re all pretending this is normal. We’ve all signed up to this idea that anything we’re doing is an acceptable way to live your life. In the same way we’ve all bought in to the idea that paper is money and value. You’re all just in it, and you think, this is just what we’re doing.

What do you do to keep you busy and focused between takes?

Because the majority of my filming experience has been on films that, from a budget point of view we are so up against it, it’s a really great day if you have bourbons on set. It will spread like wildfire if chocolate hobnobs are around. On this, I mean… I’ve never known luxury like it. You could literally go, ‘where the hell is my armadillo?’ and within an hour an armadillo would be presented to you with someone going, ‘I’m so sorry your armadillo wasn’t here earlier’. So I would consume close to my body weight in bread and then play a bit of football, play some FIFA. Also, one of my finest moments, I would say ever in my life, is when I managed to start a rumour that Meryl had been fired. I mean, I never thought that would take off. I was sat with Anna (Kendrick) and two heads of department were in the distance having, what looked like, a heated conversation. Anna said, ‘I wonder what that is about’ and I went, ‘Oh, Meryl has been fired’. She went, ‘yeah okay’, but I was like, ‘honestly she’s been fired’. Then Christine Baranski walked over and she’s a devil who loves fun. I managed to just give her enough of a sly wink and I asked, ‘have you seen Meryl, is she okay? How did she get fired?’ and Christine, as quick as a flash, just went, ‘She’s in bits James. Who fires Meryl Streep? I’ve never seen her so upset’. Then Anna was like, “Oh my God, are you serious?’ Then someone from the crew goes, ‘what?’ and before you know it… I was literally in the middle of it thinking, well, I can do anything. If I can convince anybody on Earth that Meryl Streep might be fired from this film. Then of course Meryl walks on in her costume and every one thought, I can’t believe I even contemplated that ever happening.

Did she hear about it?

She fired me. No, she cracked up. Christine Baranski’s greatest line was when she said to people, ‘Glenn Close is on a private jet’ [laughs].

Into the Woods is released on January 9th. You can also read our interview with Anna Kendrick here.